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The Mission click on the links below for more of the story...
1 Birth of a Spaceplane - 2 The Test Pilots - 3 Joint Test Program - 4 Theory to Reality - 5 World Record - 6 Surprise, Surprise - 7 Strike Two! - 8 Enduring World Record - 9 A Big Surprise - 10 Going for Broke - 11 Unwanted Record for Chuck Yeager - 12 Spin, Crash & Rescue - 13 Accident Board (Strike Three for Me!) - 14 Three Up & Three Down - 15 The End...Finis...QED - 16 Yeager's View in Review - 17 What's in the Future? - 18 Farewell, but Didn't Fare Well!-

14  Three Up & Three Down

Four experienced experimental test pilots made maximum zoom flights in the AST but Bob Rushworth was the only one to come down with his nose pointed down every time (once), then he had a lot of experience and benefit of simulators on X-15. We other three could not make that claim.  It is of interest to look at the circumstances to gain some insight into the causes, in the order they occurred.

Jack Woodman’s Loss of Control

Jack lost control on his only max zoom, but he got to 118,400 feet, which proved he was on profile during the entire powered ascent, the period where proper control of pitch angle under aerodynamic conditions was key to altitude. Therefore it was what happened in the space region that caused his mishap.  He obviously lost control then and two possibilities existed.  Either, the RCS improper wiring that caused me to have a terrible time controlling flight may not have been corrected, or Jack was unable to fly the airplane because of unfamiliarity with the dynamics and stability in space. 

The wiring problem was recorded and known by Jack and many in the company and it is inconceivable it would have been ignored, and Jack would not have allowed that. That airplane, in which we had only zoom tests remaining, made 11 zooms in its final month of contractor testing, and only three other flights, an engine functional test and two others logged as Directional stability testing.  That was consistent with the test plan where the other airplane #756 was used for all verifications of performance within normal F-104 capabilities and the zoom airplane #760 never flew zoom missions until delivered to the Air Force.

Jack flew 756 that same afternoon that I wrote it up, described in Lockheed logs as a stability test, however one can safely infer this was an RCS repair checkout, after maintenance to fix the wiring write up.  That makes sense, especially since the stability tests described in the log were all well inside the envelope which we had already completed on the other test airplane. 

The next morning Jack zoomed to 118,400 feet, which resulted in his falling 85,000 feet out of control from its apogee. Jack had later mentioned to me that he fell out like that, but didn’t mention the altitude.  He also told me about the cause of my problem, the wiring discovery in that same conversation, but didn't attribute it to RCS mis-wiring.

As I look back it provides an enigma, because he followed that last zoom with another stability test in the airplane, his last ever flight in the AST, and again that last flight was logged as another stability test, again duplicating test conditions he had flown previously on AST #756, the stability aircraft.

I know that I could never have successfully controlled on my record flight with misconnected controls had I not been educated in aeronautical engineering and especially in space dynamics.  I doubt that I would have been successful even had the controls been wired properly, without the training.

Jack told me, the next time I saw him about losing control and never mentioned RCS as a problem. I zoomed that same airplane later, with no difficulty.  That pretty well eliminates the mechanical problem or it seems he would have said he encountered the same control problem.

Jack was a proven test pilot, well experienced.  That leaves the only other probability, that Jack did not understand the theory of flight outside the atmosphere and suffered control loss , the singular difference being that Jack flew the aerodynamic profile perfectly, stayed on the climb schedule properly and attained maximum peak.

That is a probable scenario, from an engineering standpoint, as well as a logical conclusion, because a lot of control motion when above the dense atmosphere did not add enough to the very low drag to reduce the altitude significantly, as my flight with the controls mis-wired had demonstrated. 

Changing flight path at lower altitude, as Chuck Yeager did, however, would entail great energy waste.  If nothing else that gave Jack a different reentry attitude than Yeager, and obviously it was almost 20,000 feet higher than Chuck’s.  There is little doubt he would have applied nose-down RCS in that region where it would have been effective for an extended period but Chuck Yeager never made it high enough for effective RCS, which may account for Jack’s being able to recover and land.

In order to get more confident with that assessment, I recently contacted astronaut Vance Brand, who sat at the desk next to Jack and was a Lockheed test pilot, during that time. Vance is a veteran astronautt having flown as pilot on the Skylab mission in the Russian Soyuz and later he commanded 3 Space Shuttle missions. 

As V.P. and General Manager of the Shuttle Tank Program for Martin Marietta, I had monitored Shuttle launches, up to the Challenger accident, from the Launch Control Center.  I had sent Vance a fantastically beautiful color picture of his E.T. falling away at separation from him and pilot Bob Overmyer, with astronaut scientists Joe Allen and Bill Lenoir, as they went into orbit above a spectacular earth view, on the 4th Shuttle flight.  I called him to reminisce about Jack and learned that Jack was not deep into the engineering aspects of test, but rather felt it his job to be extremely attentive to the instructions of the engineers and dedicated to satisfying their test plans to the letter of the test card and the best of his ability.  This was typical, with few exceptions, of the period of the 50’s, when he started test flying in Canada.  That information, and Jack’s experience and education, reinforce my conclusion that Jack probably did not understand RCS control usage in flight, just as Chuck Yeager didn’t.  I suspect that the Lockheed engineers, like me, assumed he knew it and I would never have been so presumptuous as to instruct Jack, who had frequent contact with Lockheed experts.

If Jack were trying to fly the max zoom based solely on his own prior flight experience, and not even briefed on space dynamics and control, then he was not qualified, which I never considered until I recently read his biography and learned the final sequence of events.  I’m sure he found himself in the same situation as Chuck Yeager, but had controlled his climb angle well, which most probably made the difference in the outcome, by falling in the No Spin zone of space. 

As comparison, the X-15 pilots had an operational simulator to learn on and practiced their profile before every mission but we had none. They were also dealing on a project with specialists in the engineering of such flights and could study the actual and detailed flight data from every flight, and their simulator was updated from the flight data.

Outside the Envelope

I described my effort to expand the envelope of the AST without due diligence of a gradual and progressive increase of the climb angle.   I had no time left to logically expand it before Chuck Yeager would begin his attempt at a record and I would get to fly no more tests.  That was my reason, but not a valid excuse! It was not bad judgment but abject stupidity, as I look back. The outcome was in no way a blemish on the AST, which was probably my major reason to not advertise it, because I have never been bashful of my goofs.

No one at Edwards was aware of that flight except a couple of tracking operators to whom it meant nothing and were used to giving me my plots to review after I zoomed, and I only told friends about it over the years.  I’m not proud of such a dumb decision, but if I didn’t mention this and others like it I wouldn’t have enough to write this segment much less my complete autobiography based on flying successes only!  What the heck, show me a pilot who hasn’t made a really dumb decision and I’ll show you either a dead one or a liar. 

Other than my own foolhardiness, that particular case of loss of control proved nothing adverse to the AST.  It demonstrated the envelope of the AST was not unlimited and the instrumentation could not relate all things to the pilot, trivial conclusions for any craft.  Unfortunately, it added nothing to finding AST limits, but that soon became moot.  The only excuse and a weak one, I offer for such a foolish move was the precipitous decisions made by those far more experienced than I, who stopped the test program in mid-stream:  A ladder that climbed the Air Force hierarchy all the way, which forced my hand and I drew for a full-house instead of a pair of Aces.

The two flights Jack and I made to confirm the envelope as defined by Lockheed were not trivial nor were they a complete test undertaking.  Lockheed had only one objective and that was to demonstrate a successful max zoom flight, requiring only one successful flight for the design mission, which my flight provided them.  Jack nearly repeated it a day later, and although his completion with abnormal recovery would not have satisfied the requirements his was a notable accomplishment.  All the preceding flights demonstrated the AST had the in-atmosphere capabilities of an F-104, and those more mundane tests were the majority of their testing plus some low altitude zooms for a safe build up. 

Lockheed had 3 months and 38 flights to do that testing.

On the other hand, my job for the Air Force test program, as instructed, by Col. Pete, was to find the safe limits and confirm or expand the optimum mission profile.  And ultimately we both anticipated that I would get to break the existing Russian altitude record. After all it was tradition that the primary test pilot on a program always got such opportunity. The encouragement that America would be breaking a long-standing USSR record made me want to test the AST to its ultimate, to secure an “untouchable” record.  There were no limitations on my tests and no definitive test plan, which without resources for data reduction and analysis precise bounds were impossible to estimate.  When I got comfortable with the zooms, I expected to gradually raise the climb angle until the AST itself let me know I was nearing the limit.  I believed that would be safe and provide some warnings with incremental increases in the pitch angle and then pull-up g. With three airplanes, it would not have taken long to get the crew up to speed, in fact they were outstanding in our brief efforts, and there was probably less than 10 degrees, to incrementally increase pitch, the primary controlled variable, beyond reasonable limit. 

I had anticipated trying 3-degree jumps in pitch, and, how I wish that I had stuck with that.  The way the airplane responded on my other zooms, I am sure it would have worked, safely. I would have been advised by the AST itself as I increased the angle in small increments, either by no increase in altitude or having to use constant pitch demand at the apogee to stay on 16 degrees alpha, an absolute display of maximum apogee.  The decision for Chuck to fly the record disturbed my common sense and my careful planning. 

As a result of the sudden change in plans, the entire Air Force test program and complete envelope expansion lasted only 39 days from 28 October to 12 December in which I flew only 15 flights, two of which were not maximum zooms but post-maintenance checks.  Contrast that with Lockheed’s 78 days and 38 flights with only two max zooms.  Our crew’s members had to get up the learning curve, while Lockheed’s grew up with the AST, but in my long career I found there were no better and more skillful workers than flight line crews, anywhere. 

Conducting so few tests as I did in the significantly unfamiliar flight regimes on a new and unique airplane of such demanding performance was unique, if not unreasonable, for any airplane.  Especially a trainer, even one for experienced test pilots as student pilots. The problems were exacerbated, because test results were degraded by unavailability of funds for data to plan test flights and extrapolate results to their limits, which made quality test planning impossible.

Enough of the excuses, I screwed up and will never live it down in my life, like another more serious shortcoming in my flying career, that one at age 22.

Bob Rushworth’s AST Flight

Bob Rushworth, the lead X-15 test pilot at that time and ultimately the one with the most flights, flew one flight in the AST, a maximum zoom to 112,000 feet altitude, shortly before Yeager flew it.  Bob was a college graduate in engineering and had been trained in the X-15 simulator and flown many X-15 flights before his uneventful AST zoom.  His only flight, like 13 of mine in which I intentionally stayed within the envelope, made a strong case for the suitability and safety of AST for max zoom with an experienced test pilot, trained also to be aware of space stability and control, within the design mission  This was a very strong argument against Yeager's contention of some unexplainable airplane problem causing his accident.  Chuck's attitude in the circumstances can be understood, but the board chairman, Guy Townsend, ignoring such facts was inexcusable.

Chuck Yeager’s Accident

Chuck Yeager found himself in a spin, which went flat because of the high altitude spin entry with low engine rpm, and could not recover, forcing his bail out. He was there by his own doing, an effort to revitalize his image, which had been diminished considerably by time, a natural event for all heroes.  Surprisingly, he was able to turn the accident into great press, which proved as effective or more than a successful record, because of the risk factor.

Chuck Yeager had proven that he was the master of airplanes, many times.  In my close dealing with him in attempting his zoom flights he proved another thing.  In briefing him repeatedly, I began to fear that he could not or would not accept that he needed to learn new techniques to fly a craft into a space-like environment. But as his attempts progressed I noticed that he was unable to perform the vital and necessary job of  accurately flying a very steep climb, totally on instruments.  He failed miserably on that and it caused his accident and loss of the airplane, and ultimately the loss of that project.  I was terribly concerned that he was not equipped for the space portion of the flight, but we never had the chance to find that out.

I have compared the technical realities and my AST experiences to many of Chucks claims in his 1985 autobiography “Yeager”, below.  By his own account he displays a lack of understanding, not only of space flight technology, but aircraft stability and control.  In so doing, he confirms the stand of an officer from his past who had refused to graduate him from test pilot school for lack of understanding of the technical aspects of stability and control, the bread and butter of a test pilot.  Such a statement is certainly argumentative with Chuck's accomplishments, but one difference may be in the fact that the AST zoom climb was totally on instruments in the most critical phase from the beginning of the pull-up until diving in recovery.  Absolutely no view of earth was available for orientation which is not an ordinary situation for experimental testing.

AST Performance In Conclusion

There was compelling evidence, as a result of all the maximum zoom flights attempted with the AST, that it was capable of performing the design mission well within the expected safety margins so long as two criteria were followed.  First, all flyers were to be experienced test pilots who had mandatory training and academics to fully understand aerodynamics and space control and dynamics.  Second, an Air Force test program that would bound and confirm the safe limits of the AST in a gradual envelope expansion.  Those rules had been implicit, in the AST program from its inception at the ARPS.  The school would train all the pilots for the AST and their program already met criteria one.  The AFFTC demanded that it fly the testing, selected a pilot who met the first criteria and would have completed a proper envelope expansion, where it not truncated by decisions made at the highest level of the Air Force.  Every successful event of the actual testing corroborated those rules. Likewise, every one of the failures and near failures, however they are categorized, did too!

The Yeager accident, exacerbated by the actions of Colonel Townsend, masked the positive accomplishments of AST, in a haze of deceit and lies.

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