Wingless Flight

Wingless Flight: The Lifting Body Story

R. Dale Reed
with Darlene Lister
Foreword by Chuck Yeager
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j301
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Wingless Flight
    Book Description:

    Most lifting bodies, or "flying bathtubs" as they were called, were so ugly only an engineer could love them, and yet, what an elegant way to keep wings from burning off in supersonic flight between earth and orbit. Working in their spare time (because they couldn't initially get official permission), Dale Reed and his team of engineers demonstrated the potential of the design that led to the Space Shuttle.

    Wingless Flighttakes us behind the scenes with just the right blend of technical information and fascinating detail (the crash of M2-F2 found new life as the opening credit for TV's "The Six Million Dollar Man"). The flying bathtub, itself, is finding new life as the proposed escape-pod for the Space Station.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6160-0
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. NOTE TO PAPERBACK EDITION
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. v-v)
    R. Dale Reed
  5. Foreword
    (pp. vi-vi)
    Chuck Yeager

    When Dale Reed asked me to write the foreword to his book, Wingless Flight: The Lifting Body Story, I had to think back a long ways to remember the day that Paul Bikle asked me to fly the M2-F1 lifting body. It was a very interesting program that would give a space vehicle similar to the present day space shuttle the ability to maneuver. During the time that the lifting body program was being flown, space capsules were re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere in a ballistic path and had very little ability to maneuver.

    The concept behind the lifting body program...

  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. vii-xxvi)

    Wingless Flighttells the story of the most unusual flying machines ever flown, the lifting bodies. It is my story about my friends and colleagues who committed a significant part of their lives in the 1960s and 1970s to prove that the concept was a viable one for use in spacecraft of the future. This story, filled with drama and adventure, is about the twelve-year period from 1963 to 1975 in which eight different lifting-body configurations flew. It is appropriate for me to write the story, since I was the engineer who first presented the idea of flight-testing the concept...

  7. CHAPTER 1 THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
    (pp. 1-18)

    My journey in February 1953 to the NACA High Speed Flight Research Station (as the Muroc Flight Test Unit had come to be called in 1949) actually began about a decade earlier in two small mountain towns in Idaho, about as far from the center of aerospace innovation as one can get. My roots are with farmers and ranchers, my grandfather having moved his family members from Kansas to the sagebrush country of southern Idaho to carve out their future in agriculture, both of my parents the children of farming families.

    Around age twelve, I was smitten with what would...

  8. CHAPTER 2 “FLYING BATHTUB”
    (pp. 19-40)

    Our goal was to design and build a very lightweight vehicle that could be towed across the lakebed with a ground vehicle and, later, aloft with a light plane, the way sailplanes are towed. Based on the tiny model used in the filmed flights, the first lifting-body vehicle was also called the M2-F1—the “M” signifying a manned vehicle and the “F” designating flight version, in this case the first flight version.

    Months before the M2-F1 was completed, it had already been dubbed the “flying bathtub” by the media. The first time seems to have been on 12 November 1962...

  9. CHAPTER 3 COMMITMENT TO RISK
    (pp. 41-64)

    For the 350-mile trip from Edwards Air Force Base to the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Naval Air Station in Sunnyvale on the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, we removed the “elephant-ear” elevons from the M2-F1 and loaded the vehicle on a flat-bed truck. The ten-foot width of the lifting body on the truck’s bed caused it to be classified as a wide load, requiring two escort vehicles, one in front and one in back of the truck. The M2-F1 created some sensation along the route. The drivers had a lot of fun talking about it to...

  10. CHAPTER 4 ON TO THE HEAVYWEIGHTS
    (pp. 65-86)

    When Paul Bikle grounded the M2-F1 permanently in mid-August 1966, a ground swell of interest in lifting-body re-entry vehicles had been growing for over years within NASA. The initial flights of the M2-F1 had shown that the lifting-body shape could fly. As early as two weeks after the first car-tows of the M2-F1 in April 1963, Bikle had shared his confidence in lifting bodies with NASA Headquarters, writing Director of Space Vehicles Milton Ames that the more the Flight Research Center got into the lifting body concept, the better the concept looked.

    Bikle also mentioned that he was noticing “a...

  11. CHAPTER 5 ANGRY MACHINES
    (pp. 87-110)

    By 1966, the Air Force was considering developing its own lifting-body configuration to add to the program. To gain experience in engineering and flight planning useful later in developing and testing its own lifting body, the Air Force participated in the M2-F2 project. Heading up the Air Force’s lifting-body effort was program manager Robert G. “Bob” Hoey, who had extensive experience with the X-15 and experimental flight testing. Air Force Captain John Durrett assisted with general engineering. In January 1970, after the X-15 program ended, program engineer Johnny Armstrong joined the Air Force’s lifting-body team. Although the team was relatively...

  12. CHAPTER 6 BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
    (pp. 111-128)

    The crash of the M2-F2 left us with no lifting bodies to fly for almost a year. When the M2-F2 crashed in early May 1967, the HL-10 had been a hangar queen for over four months, and it would remain grounded for another eleven months while its aerodynamic problems were fixed before its second flight. Bikle had grounded the M2-Fl permanently, the “flying bathtub” that had launched the lifting-body effort four years earlier now destined to be a museum artifact. Another lifting body was in the works, the Air Force Flight Dynamic Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base having a...

  13. CHAPTER 7 WINGLESS FLIGHT MATURES
    (pp. 129-154)

    Costing between two and three million dollars and involving 60 NASA employees, the rocket-powered lifting-body programs for the M2-F2, M2-F3, and HL-10 were major undertakings for the Flight Research Center. However, this effort seems small in comparison with the several hundred million dollars being invested by the United States at that time, mostly through the Air Force, in lifting re-entry technology.

    In the early 1960s, the Air Force funded several studies within the aerospace industry of winged-vehicle configurations, variable-geometry slender bodies, and high-volume lifting bodies. However, having less confidence in wingless designs, the Air Force committed several hundred million dollars...

  14. CHAPTER 8 LIFTING-BODY RACEHORSES
    (pp. 155-178)

    By 1969-1970, the lifting-body program had become a major activity at NASA Flight Research Center, Ames, and Langley. The Air Force Flight Test Center was vigorously supporting the flight-test part of the program for the M2-F3, HL-10, and X-24A. However, I was becoming concerned that a disproportionate amount our effort was going into supporting only one type of lifting body.

    The M2-F3, HL-10, and X-24A were configurations with high volumetric efficiencies, best suited for shuttle-type missions in deploying satellites and in carrying cargo and people to and from earth orbit. All three had hypersonic lift-to-drag ratios between 1.0 and 1.4,...

  15. CHAPTER 9 WINGLESS FLIGHT LIVES ON
    (pp. 179-192)

    When Tom McMurtry landed the X-24B for the last time in November 1975, NASA’s lifting-body program officially ended. Yet the legacy of wingless flight has lived on, continuing to have a significant impact on the design and technology of current and developing vehicles. In the 1980s and 1990s, the lifting-body legacy went international as Russia, Japan, and France began to design and test lifting bodies. During the early 1990s, the USA began to develop lifting-body designs for use as space-station transports, as spacecraft, and as a future replacement of the current Space Shuttle.

    Today, meanwhile, the original lifting-body vehicles flight-tested...

  16. APPENDIX
    (pp. 193-200)
  17. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 201-210)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 211-214)
  19. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 215-216)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 217-226)