Sunday, July 17, 2016

50 Years Ago: Aiming Toward the Space Shuttle

The M2-F2 carefully maneuvers for touchdown. All photos NASA. 

On July 12, 1966, NASA and Northrop successfully dropped the new M2-F2 lifting body from a specially prepared B-52 bomber over a dry lake bed at Edwards AFB. The craft was advanced from the original design first test by Northrop's M2-F1 which flew back in 1963.

M2-F2 attached to a pylon on the B-52 before the flight.

The B-52 was the same one used to drop X-15 aircraft, with a modified carry pylon that allowed it to carry lifting bodies as well as the X-15s. On this first flight, Milton Thompson guided the craft from a drop height of 13, 716 feet at a top speed of 727 km/hr, which is equivalent to a little over Mach .6. The flight lasted 3 and a 1/2 minutes.

Cockpit of the M2-F2.

The NASA lifting body tests were important precursors to helping engineers in the initial designs of a possible re-usable spacecraft which could glide from orbit back to the Earth. Eventually these designs would become the Space Shuttle.

M2-F1 sitting next to the retired M2-F1.

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