Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Aircrew: Space Shuttle Pilot

In the September issue of Aeroplane magazine, just out now, artist Ian Bott and I profile the unique role of the Space Shuttle orbiter module pilot in this Aircrew.

This was originally suggested by Ian (and also, not incidentally by a couple of others some time ago, including Phil Vabre who also features in this issue with The War Plans of BOAC).  Like many of the Aircrew features, proved to be a fascinating research project, and gave me a new appreciation of their task.

Here's a few extras that I came across that add to the feature.

Astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr., commander, left, and C. Gordon Fullerton in the cockpit of the Space shuttle Orbiter 101 "Enterprise" prior to the fifth and final free flight in the Approach and Landing Test (ALT) series, from Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC). [NASA Image]

As an aircraft, the Space Shuttle orbiter module had a unique start to its flight (which you'll find in the article) and flew in the atmosphere as a completely powerless glider. The initial tests were 'glide to land' tests of the unpowered Shuttle 'Enterprise', and known as 'Approach & Landing Tests' (ALT).

The Gulfstream II Shuttle Training Aircraft positioned in a downward trajectory like the Space Shuttle. Note the lowered landing gear, which adds Shuttle style drag. [NASA Image]

 To train for the atmospheric flight, NASA used a modified Grumman Gulfstream Simulator Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA). The cockpit of this intriguing aircraft is seen below:

The photo shows the Shuttle commander's side of the cockpit, with a heads-up display (HUD), a rotational hand controller (RHC) for flying the vehicle, and multi-function displays, as in the Shuttle. The instructor pilot sits on the right-hand side of the STA cockpit, and has conventional aircraft controls and instruments. [NASA Image] 

Details of flying the STA here.

Like many of my generation, I remember being sat in the school hall to watch a Space Shuttle launch.  We were, I think, lucky that it was one of the many successful ones, but reading the details of the tragic losses of the two orbiters emphasises that while it was highly successful as a 'routine' space delivery system, it came at a human cost and showed that it was, still, at the limit of human capability. Here's a news report of the loss of Challenger.

Here's a few great references for further reading on flying the Space Shuttle.  First 'What's it like to fly the Space Shuttle?' on the simulator. The definitive guide of the Shuttle Orbiter's re-entry phase from NASA, is here. What did the well-dressed Shuttle crewmember wear?  here's a 1999, photograph by Annie Leibovitz of Eileen Collins at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, during training. (Collins was the first female pilot (Discovery in 1995) and first female commander (Columbia, 1999) of a space shuttle mission.) Lastly, reflections on the last Shuttle orbiter powerdown.

 On a lighter note, here's a photo that could only come from the 1970s!

Original caption: "The Shuttle Enterprise rolls out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities with Star Trek television cast members. From left to right they are: Dr. James C. Fletcher (NASA Administrator), DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (the indefatigable Mr. Spock), Gene Roddenberry (The Great Bird of the Galaxy), an unnamed official (probably from the NASA), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov)." [NASA Image]

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