IT’S OFFICIAL: NASA does not give you wings.
Growing up, I was a Lockheed kid. My grandfather, who took a hand in raising me, was a Skunk Works engineer through the golden age of black spy planes and stealth technology. I was born in Marietta, Georgia, just up the road from the historic Lockheed plant. I was not yet five years old when I’d formed the biased opinion that Lockheed’s YF-22 prototypes were the coolest, most fantastic thing in the sky, and the Northrop YF-23 prototypes were lumpy, funny looking attempts at fighter jets, the likes of which could surely never compete with the product of my grandpa’s company. I knew that the two aircraft had battled it out in a prototyping competition flyoff. Lockheed’s YF-22 had won, which was no surprise to me, in my young mind. One morning, my parents informed me that our Lockheed Marietta Plant had won the contract to build the F-22 production model right there in my hometown. We drove by the plant and saw local news media crews enthusiastically broadcasting live, surely proud that so much work was coming to the area. On September 7, 1997, I stood on the flightline with my grandfather at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, and watched the first flight of the first F-22 production model. I was in awe, so proud of my grandpa’s company, and happy that they’d beat Northrop.
Decades later, I’m now able to face the world armed with more equanimity, and I’ve formed a more objective opinion of the Northrop YF-23. Only now, can I understand what an incredible aircraft the YF-23 is, and how close we were to losing that contract. This opinion was reinforced when I finally saw a Northrop YF-23 in person. My first experience with the bird happened on September 9, 2014, at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, California. To see her, I had to be escorted across the Torrance Airport flight line, to an area cordoned off for restoration work, where this bird is half way through with receiving a new coat of paint. When I rounded a corner and I first laid eyes on the her, I was awestruck. The stealthy, triolithic profile of the aircraft was distinctly Northrop, reminiscent of their B-2. The aircraft seemed to change shape as you walked around it.
Photographing up close was thrilling because there were only two ever built, and they were bathed in secrecy for so long. This was the second prototype built, called 87-0801 PAV-II. Many performance aspects of the aircraft are unknown, but we do know that this prototype, with the GE YF120 engine, was the fastest of the four aircraft that competed in the Advanced Tactical Fighter Flyoff. Her top speed is still classified, but it is widely speculated that she could fly faster than Mach two. She was the stealthiest aircraft involved in the prototyping program, but not quite as agile as the YF-22, which may have led to her downfall.
To truly understand the world of aviation, you must look at things objectively. I certainly found a new respect for the YF-23, even with my Lockheed roots. The YF-23 is one of the most incredible flying machines ever conceived.
NASA photo, STS-88 era Krikalev smiles for the camera.
"Girl, can you make me dinner? In Russia, woman like you would be thrilled to make dinner for hero like me."
Yeah, I guess I’ll warm up a Hot Pocket in the microwave for you, Sergei, since that’s the apex of my cooking skillz
"You do zis now, okay?"
NASA announced early this morning that at 4:00PM EST today, 16 September 2014, the winner of the Commercial Crew integrated Capability. will be revealed. The CCiCAP contract will give the selected company (or companies) the green light to build and ferry United States Astronauts to the International Space Station. It requires a crewed test flight with a NASA astronaut to the ISS by 2017.
This is the culmination of the Commercial Crew Development program which was started in 2010. There are currently three companies competing for the coveted NASA contract, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing. Each company’s vehicles are highlighted below, to give you a better sense of the craft that NASA has to choose from.
Company: Sierra Nevada
Vehicle: Dream Chaser
The Dream Chaser vehicle is a modern redesign of NASA’sHL-10 lifting body vehicle that it designed in the 1990’s. The only one of the three vehicles that is not a capsule, it employs a lifting body design, and would land on any conventional runway. Docking to the International Space Station would be accomplished by a docking system located between the two primary Orbital Maneuvering System engines in the aft of the vehicle. Captive-Carry tests have already been completed on a full scale model, and that vehicle is currently undergoing heavy modifications to become the first Orbital test vehicle, which is slated to launch in 2016. It can transport up to seven people to space and back. Similar to the space shuttle, it can be reused an indefinite amount of times after maintenance.
More information here.
Vehicle: Crew Space Transportation 100
The CST-100 vehicle is a conventional space capsule similar to NASA’s Orion capsule. It would transport between 4-7 people to Low Earth Orbit, and could be configured for different missions, such as free flight or docked to a space station. Boeing has partnered with the Bigelow Aerospace company for many of the capsule’s parts, and it would also be used to transport crew to Bigelow’s inflatable space station. Similar to Orion, it can be reused up to ten times.
More information here.
Vehicle: Dragon V2
The crewed Dragon capsule has been envisioned by SpaceX ever since its first unmanned flight back in 2008. The modified version of the capsule, more suitable for astronauts, was unveiled in late May of 2012. The vehicle can be reused up to ten times before significant refurbishment is required, and would land using a combination of landing struts and retrorockets. The company claims helicopter-like landing accuracy anywhere around the world. Seven astronauts could be transported to LEO.
More information here.
Today’s announcement will take place at Kennedy Space Center by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. It will be broadcast online as well as on NASA TV.
I’m a bit disappointed Dream Chaser lost, but at least it’s something.
The historic SR-71 Simulator, on display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas, is a must see for any Blackbird enthusiast. This photoset displays the instructor cockpit, aft of the pilot cockpit. The flight instructor would ride behind the pilot, relentlessly subjecting him to various malfunctions and emergencies to hone the student’s contingency procedure performance. The instructor had a duplicate set of flight instruments, so he could more easily monitor what the pilot saw in the cockpit. This was an easy way to train without endangering the instructor, or risking an actual Blackbird aircraft, which was a multimillion dollar national asset.
Each gauge, button and toggle is connected to a central computer, which you can view in a previous post (click here to view). I thought it was interesting to see a simple household smoke detector, wired to the computer, just like all other components, shown in the final photo. To see photos of the pilot’s cockpit, check out another previous post (click here to view).
The GP-5, same airplane I raved about recently after finally getting to see it in person a few months ago at the Mojave Experimental Fly-in, was destroyed today along with its pilot at the outset of a qualifying run on the first competition day at the Reno Air Races. It appears to have really been a freak accident, apparently the result mainly of outside phenomenon, ultimately resulting in damage to the airframe that prevented plane and pilot from recovering, but information is still coming in.
I didn’t know the pilot personally, but all in a community as close as that of air racing feel loses like this an a certain profound level. I just loved this airplane, it truly was something special, a sport class racer fast enough to qualify with the unlimiteds, and a recent record breaker following two successful attempts at Mojave, and so beautiful it had to be seen in person to be appreciated. I am glad I had that privilege, but I wish so much that smoggy afternoon in the desert hadn’t been the last time.
RIP Lee Behel
F-104N 812, originally called 012, served NASA from 1963 to 1987, retiring after 4,442 flights. After that, she was stored at Edwards Air Force Base and used for spare parts for NASA’s growing fleet of eleven F-104 aircraft. After retirement, 812 went on display in the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB. In 1997, she was moved to the Lockheed Palmdale plant, and converted to look more like an XF-104, with her inlet cones, top fairings, and paint removed. In 2005, she was painted to resemble her original 1963 markings, but still lacking inlet cones and top fairings. She rests on display in front of the Lockheed Skunk Works at Palmdale, California.
812 is one of three F-104N aircraft in total; 811, 812, and 813, manufactured by Lockheed specifically for NASA flight research. These three aircraft met different fates. 813 was lost in a tragic accident on June 8, 1966, while flying in close formation with an XB-70 for a photo shoot. The F-104 collided with the XB-70, causing the loss of pilots Joe Walker and Carl Cross. Pilot Al White ejected from the XB-70, but was seriously injured. 811 was flown by a NASA Dryden test pilot who would eventually become the first man to set foot on the Moon. After that, the Dryden facility has been renamed, “NASA Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center”. 811 is now on display at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.