Nasa / Space

Photos: A retrospective of NASA experimental planes

The Vigilante

These are just some of the experimental planes tested by the military from the early 40's to present day. Some of the model's were used as the precursor to todays spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle. Because these were experimental aircraft they also had the potential for danger. We should all feel proud that these exceptional pilots also possessed extraordinary bravery.

All of the images in this gallery came from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

The vigilante was used to simulate supersonic transport and sonic boom research.

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

29 comments
coolmark82
coolmark82

There is a spelling error on the last picture. It says Evvort instead of effort.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

Was surprised to see the A-5 Vigi here. This was the original design, back when it was intended to be a nuclear bomber. Didn't work out real well for that and so it was loaded up with cameras and reclassified as the RA-5C. I worked with the imagery from this beautiful bird back in the mid-70s and was privileged to fly in the back seat once. It was a great plane and many innovative features were used in the Tomcat, Hornet, and other later aircraft.

skranish
skranish

All three of these trace back to the same small R&D group - the MIT students who eventually formed Aurora Flight Sciences. The Man-Powered airplane is actually MLE (it says so on the fuselage..) NOT the Deadalus that followed it.

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

That was my favorite experimental plane. It's nice to see some of the oldies but goodies there though.

pieter_t
pieter_t

"The Theseus is a Remotely Powered Vehicle(RPM) from 1996 to present day." Shouldn?t that abbreviation read (RPV)?

amk32
amk32

How about the lifting bodies M2F1, M2F2 and HL-10, YF-12A, SR-71, F-104?

javed_naser
javed_naser

a difinitive collection of refernce standards. however the x-15 should not have been missed

dtrnelson
dtrnelson

"unmanned", "unpiloted" Left me wondering which aircraft are "habited."

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

It's possible, though unlikely, that NASA may have used some of the these airframes for conducting experiments, but none of them was developed by or for NASA. The testing of airframes' flight-worthiness has nothing to do with NASA, but has always been by military and civilian test pilots. Nearly every airframe in history has been customized by the manufacturer to meet some request by the customer. As example would be degrading the performance of a jet trainer with sluggish controls to simulate a shuttle's falling characteristics. Arguably, that "plane" was about as flight-worth as those spaceships in the 1940's Flash Gordon serials. Reuse and/or survivability were not design requirements or the original vehicle. The shuttle was designed for the US Air Force as a delivery/attack vehicle to take down manned Soviet military orbiters, should they become a threat. This is why every flight commander and most of the crew of the majority of flights have been active military personnel on rotation assignment to NASA. The USAF has maintained two off-the-books shuttles for their original purpose since before NASA launched its first public test mission. The boondoggle design's main purpose wasn't to put a few people in low earth orbit (not even in what is normally considered space) to establish a claim of superiority over the Soviet Union, but to inhibit the Soviet Union from doing it. The squad delivery vehicle was characterized as a shuttle so that the testing, which could not be concealed, could be done by a civilian agency with supposedly peaceful intentions. The continued use of the shuttle set back the US exploration of space, delaying it to the point where manned exploration is no longer considered to be affordable. Inherently dangerous, unstable and incapable of surviving minor damage, NASA described it as a "reusable shuttle" vehicle though there was nothing and nowhere to shuttle crews to, and it required extensive rebuilding or refitting after each mission met that objective. More than 10 times the originally estimated cost was spent to redesign and refit the Shuttle to meet NASA's original survivability and safety "design" criteria. Every flight of the space shuttle through its public retirement will continue to be a test flight of the "flying" brick with an unstated national security mission behind a smokescreen of "scientific experiments".

pgit
pgit

X-15 was the reason I went into a career in aviation. Those pilots were the first men in space, period. And in a fully operational aircraft, not "spam in a can." Plus the story of the professionalism of all involved in the program is one of honor and duty that has yet to be exceeded. I wanted to get my hands on that bird something fierce. Still do. The only other aircraft I regret never flying is the DC 7. The 7 is the closest thing to a rube goldberg airplane ever built.

edp
edp

More info with the images would have made this interesting. About 4 shots in I was starting to wonder if bogey 213455623 on the 4:15 from Aberdeen would feature.

pgit
pgit

It just means it's packaged for fedora, suse and Mandriva. =D

egmccann
egmccann

... aircraft weren't shown - but hey, you can head to the site yourself to find them. Nice shots of some of the X-planes grouped, the chase planes, the whole nine yards. Really, some of these shots were the more *pedestrian* aircraft!

jtollack
jtollack

The only thing I did not like, flying on Buffs, was that "we" never got to "keep" all the cool stuff we tested that were destined for other airframes:(

K_Green
K_Green

and therefore your statement should be "That pilot was the first man in space, period." Specifically, the Karman line is the internationally-recognized boundary for astronautics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A1rm%C3%A1n_line And the X-15 pilot with that distinction is Joe Walker. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-15. Other X-15 pilots have been recognized by NASA as "astronauts", which doesn't necessarily depend on crossing the Karman line. And I think each and every one of them, whether they met the strict criteria or not, are some of the bravest, dedicated people to have ever existed. In a better world, it is they, not sports and entertainment personalities, that would be constantly in the limelight and wealthy beyond compare. [edit for spelling]

donallsop
donallsop

Where's the XB-70 Valkyrie? One of the most photogenic aircraft ever.

efehling57
efehling57

How 'bout the SR-71 or the B-58 "Hustler"? Both a couple of sexy and fast aircraft.

pgit
pgit

That's cool. I'd much rather be where you are than in a data center! Plus you have skills and experience in something that itself can't be automated. Cisco, IIS, SQL, Exchange etc techs are becoming like a commodity. Not dime a dozen per se, more like 10 of them in India for a dime. You must have job security wrapped up with a bow. Plus that sounds like seriously rewarding work. Something productive is being done before your eyes. Sounds rewarding as heck to me. If I found myself listening to the hum of a data center hours on end, I could see my mind eventually wondering off to consider whether my job is aiding and abetting the next Bernie Madoff, or worse.. =P

K_Green
K_Green

Funny how those military folks are touchy about discussing nukes. :-) Something tells me their mission profile was: fire, run and pray you either die quickly or not at all. Being a pilot (astronaut really) is a life-long dream, but one I've never pursued seriously. I envy your career. I'm right there with you about the importance of family over work. Before I had mine, I would have been willing to go on a one-way mission to Mars. Now, not so much. Yes, I work in the IT department of an aerospace company that is a Tier 1 supplier to Boeing, Airbus, etc. In fact, I support the factory-floor systems. I'm rarely in the data center -- I'm more frequently out where rivets and material turn into aircraft parts.

pgit
pgit

That was the black hole of any discussion with the guy. I don't know if it was classified information, he wasn't comfortable with it, it was a sore spot or what. He just wouldn't talk about it. Wouldn't even acknowledge they'd done maneuvers with live ammo, meaning actually lit off a nuke. I suspected they did but he'd never confirm it. I love this kind of stuff, too. I was a corporate pilot for about 18 years, lotta fun but no regrets getting out of it. I do wish like heck I could have gotten my hands on an X-15, a B-58 and a DC7, in that order. In a different time I would have gone for it, and the way my life has gone I'd probably have made it. Understanding aerodynamics is like walking to me, it just makes abundant sense. I gravitated into the right job, for sure. I was chief pilot and director of operations for 11 of those years, the end of the golden age of corporate aviation. The commuters were getting a foothold then. You could tell the commuter pilots by the bags under their eyes, and blank, vacant stares on their faces that said 'this is Dayton so it must be Thursday.' I recommended the dissolution of my department when the financials said this was the way to go. (bosses loved me for it, lotta good will in this town to this day) I was offered a job, what most pilots would kill for, (6 figures for starters) but it entailed a handgun, huge wads of cash to pay bribes and being literally anywhere on the planet except home for 50 weeks out of the year. I decided my children's little league was more important. Now I have a small collection of small businesses and individuals I keep a t peace with their computers. Are you in the IT side of an aerospace company? That size of an operation fascinates me as much as the X-15 and B-58... Unfortunately the days of hiring the "right guy" and on the job training are gone, I'd have to amp up a lot on the credentials if I ever wanted to set foot where "hot row/cold row" means anything... Heck only 2 places I handle have a rack, and one of them is an exceptionally funny joke...

K_Green
K_Green

With quality, interesting information like that, you can take as much of my time as you like. I work in the aerospace industry, and love that kind of stuff. I wonder if they considered the radioactive blast the crew would receive, being inverted like that.

pgit
pgit

Doesn't diminish the accomplishments to leave "outer space" out of it. To be honest I'd not thought of the Russians, I was thinking "first American in space," a gross oversight to be sure. Even back in the early 60's I didn't buy the 'space race' claptrap. Gagarin was as much a hero of mine as Shepard and Cooper. I came from a scientific family living in a scientific town. We saw science (and math) as a great political equalizer. I consider America's greatest achievements to be unmanned space exploration, though we've yet to land on Venus like the Russians did. That feat impressed the heck out of me. PS It would take too much of your time to explain how they were to use the B-58 for delivering high-yield nuclear weapons, but one point I thought was quite clever. They would dive from near max altitude, releasing the bomb at max speed, and immediately start upward on a 'backflip' maneuver. The goal was to be inverted, heading back from whence they came at the top of the arc (slowest speed now) when the shock wave hit. The vector of the wave would be downward on the top of the wing, as close to a right angle as possible. The purpose was that there is high pressure under the wing (now facing skyward) and low pressure on top of the wing, that's how lift works. If the shock wave hit underneath the wing, the pressure wave would add to the loading already there, increasing lift in an instant and possibly damaging the aircraft and/or crew. With the pressure wave hitting the 'top' of the wing it added pressure to the low pressure side, decreasing overall lift and wing loading. The bonus was that decreasing lift when inverted, and with inertia trying to throw you "downward" which is higher into the sky at this point, the shock wave from the bomb would give the aircraft a small increase in altitude, at the same time creating a brief decrease in overall structural loading. I was a private pilot at the time this fellow showed me his flight profiles they'd developed, working on my commercial/instrument certifications. The fellow told me if you were not inverted and at slow speed when the shock hit, they had calculated a likelihood of induced "mach tuck" and the plane would disintegrate into a lot of little pieces. The Hustler was a "dynamically neutral" design. Today's fast birds are dynamically unstable, in order to be able to program fly by wire systems so they won't break the pilot's neck when he honks too hard on the stick. Positive dynamic and static stability always comes at a cost of max speed and maneuverability.

K_Green
K_Green

Agreed. Gagarin went into space before Walker. I was merely commenting on pgit's assertion about X-15 pilots and suggesting a modification to his (?) quote accordingly.

pgit
pgit

A plane without a cause! I knew one of the pilots that developed the methods for using that aircraft. Unfortunately it was totally superseded by missile technology almost immediately. Hustler never really had a chance at serious deployment. A bunch of guys to deliver one nuke, requiring a huge support cast, versus multiple warheads, no pilots, much faster delivery time and 1/100th the amount of personnel required? No brainer. But the stories this guy had... no doubt B-58 is # 2 on my list of 'wish I could have flown that!' When I was very young I had a red plastic model of a B-58. The way it was molded the engines were separate, and slid on to the pylons from the front. Of course this means to take them off they slid forward... I was telling my B-58-pilot friend about this and he busted out laughing. Seems on at least one occasion early on in the development of the plane, an engine actually did tear itself off the pylon during static full power engine runs. I was impressed, of course with, an aircraft that had the power to rip itself apart!