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| p.1 #5 · Shuttle Enterprise 29 years ago |
Since you are providing some history Lady Jo, well, a little bit of the rest of the story.
Below is a NASA article about John Kiker's innovation. But first, why does the fake shuttle have a pod mounted to the aft section covering the nozzles, and why were the outboard vertical stabilizers added? I was walking around one of our F-101 fighters at Ellington Field when I spotted a convoy of private vehicles headed for the old Lunar Lander Training Vehicle facility. There was John Kiker leading the way. (I met him at our local radio control airplane club) They set up their operations several hundred yards away, just on the other side of 17/35 runway. Suddenly a giant 747 scale Radio Controlled (RC) 747 took to the skies. They flew it for a while and landed. Next, the RC took off with a scale model of the shuttle on it's back. They made several trips like this flying these two models. I saw John Kiker at our next JSCRCC (Johnson Space Center Radio Control Club) meeting. He was giving a presentation on their activities out there. They were verifying what is posted below. He told us they discovered the shuttle without the pod caused a little buffeting on the tail. That is why the pod and the outboard vertical stabilizers are on the shuttles flying piggy back on the 747, from RC airplane testing! He also said they were amazed how much lift the shuttle provided to the combo, and that the system was very stable. Next thing we knew, Enterprise was flying on the 747 doing test flights at Edwards.
John W. Kiker: The $19 Million Man
By Craig Collins
Why not piggyback - John Kiker proposed carrying the shuttle orbiter on top of a modified Boeing 747.
When John Kiker moved to Houston in 1960 to join the group of engineers who would form what we now recognize as NASA’s Johnson Space Center and its Mission Control Center, he was a man apart from the whiz kids who made up a large part of the staff: he already had been working in the field for 15 years, designing deceleration systems for aircraft of all types, and helping with airstrip modifications that enabled the Air Force’s earliest atomic bomb test runs.
At Johnson, Kiker designed the parachute and descent systems for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft, and he assisted in designing the landing and docking systems for the lunar module and the Apollo command module. By 1971, he was chief of the Mechanisms Branch in the Spacecraft Design Division.
Kiker always was ready to share credit for ideas that worked, but the one for which he is best known within NASA is one he developed entirely on his own, and for which many of his colleagues at first questioned his sanity.
During the 1970s, NASA engineers began debating designs for the space shuttle. A big concern of planners was how they would get the shuttle back to its launch site at the Kennedy Space Center if it had to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a far away point. One concept called for the orbiter to be self-propelled, with deployable engines stored in the payload bay. But studies exposed the idea as impractical – any engines that could serve this purpose, along with their fuel and control systems, would consume most of the orbiter’s available storage space. A number of alternative ideas were suggested, including the ferrying of the orbiter on an aircraft carrier.
Only a person with Kiker’s experience, it seems, would have been able to conceive of the simplest, most workable solution. “I thought, ‘Gee, what can I do?’” Kiker recalled in a 1999 interview. He reflected on his career as a model-builder whose specialty had been making modifications to aircraft. “I looked back, and there were quite a few airplanes – the British had a couple of airplanes, a bomber that would take a fighter. And the Germans did that also – you could take a fighter that didn’t have the range, and [you] needed protection for the bombers, and they would fly them off the top of the airplane.” Kiker’s idea – to carry the orbiter on the back of a modified Boeing 747 – was met with initial skepticism, to say the least, but the utility of his idea was finally proven in full-scale approach and landing tests of the shuttle Enterprise at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in October 1977.
Today the image of the space shuttle riding piggyback on one of NASA’s two shuttle carrier aircraft is a well-recognized part of the program’s history. Kiker, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 79, would probably get a kick out of the instruction printed on the rear mounting point on one of the aircraft: “Attach Orbiter Here. Note: Black Side Down.”
When he first proposed the piggyback idea, Kiker estimated that this form of transport would be $19 million cheaper than putting the shuttle orbiter on an ocean-going vessel. The necessity of the shuttle carrier aircraft was made abundantly clear in March of 1982, when heavy rains drenched the Edwards landing site, and the space shuttle Columbia was forced to land at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. “That was the right way to do it,” Kiker said years later. “The only way. If it had landed out at White Sands like it did, and we had not had [the shuttle carrier aircraft], it would still be sitting out there as a monument.”