Discovery Departure (Part 3)

The BBC has picked up some of our photos of yesterday’s Discovery departure HERE. Our Flickr Photostream also garnered some attention on its own HERE. In this post, we’re using all NEW photos. And we’ve never Photoshopped anything we’ve posted at Lofty Ambitions.

Discovery mated to 747, April 16, 2012

While we were planning for our trip back to the Space Coast to see Discovery leave Kennedy Space Center (KSC)) on its final, one-way journey to the National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, we, of course, spent a fair amount of time pondering Discovery. After all, this orbiter was the only orbiter in the inventory that we hadn’t seen take flight in person. When Doug arrived in Florida on Saturday (see his recap of that day HERE), his focus remained on Discovery, as he watched NASA engineers and technicians bolt the orbiter into the Mate-Demate Device, a prelude to hoisting Discovery off the tarmac of the Shuttle Landing Facility and securing it to the back of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). Tomorrow—in just a few hours—we’ll head to Udvar-Hazy for Discovery’s unveiling as a museum artifact.

But having seen the Florida air rip over Discovery’s skin one last time yesterday morning (See Photo Essay HERE), we turn our attention to the other vehicle involved in yesterday’s shuttle transfer: the Boeing 747 that ferried the orbiter to Dulles Airport.

During the space shuttle program, there were actually two aircraft to be used as SCA, with tail numbers N905NA and N911NA. Both SCAs started life as 747-100s. N905NA, the plane that carried the orbiter yesterday, was added to NASA’s fleet in 1974, after flying commercially for American Airlines. It was, of course, prepared for use in the testing of the non-space-worthy orbiter Enterprise, which Discovery is replacing at Udvar-Hazy. N911NA joined NASA sixteen years later, in 1990, after flying for Japan Airline.

Forward Attachment

The 747s underwent heavy structural modifications to become SCAs. Each plane had a pair of enormous vertical stabilizers added to the existing horizontal stabilizers in order to augment the SCA’s directional stability in light of the additional aerodynamic forces at work with an orbiter attached to the top. Three attachment points—one in front and two aft, just behind the SCA’s wings—are now easily identified by the bracing struts. Significant internal structural supports that correspond to the external attachment points were also added.

Aft Attachments

Some NASA press materials cheekily refer to the oribiter–SCA combination as “the world’s largest bi-plane.” The extra drag created by mounting the shuttle on the SCA gives the combination jet-age bi-plane performance: top speed is limited to just over 450 mph (140 mph slower than a standard 747-100); maximum attitude is 15,000 feet (roughly 30,000 feet lower than for a standard 747-100); and its range is 1000 nautical miles (vastly shorter than the 5300 nautical mile range of a standard 747-100).

Yesterday’s flight from KSC to Dulles was well within its range. A mated SCA requires two pilots and two flight engineers for such a trip. Yesterday’s flight had six men aboard: pilot-in-command Jeff Moultrie, co-pilot Bill Rieke, flight engineer Henry Taylor, flight engineer Larry Larose, weather engineer Arthur “Ace” Beall, and FAA representative J. J. Johnston. We’ve not seen these men mentioned, and NASA didn’t trot them out to chat with the press, but they were as much a part of yesterday’s activities and successful Discovery departure as anyone else.

N911NA has been retired to the California desert. Lofty Ambitions guest blogger Omar Izquierdo toured that SCA, and you can see his photos HERE. Once N905NA ferries Endeavour to California, it will join its twin in providing spare parts for another NASA 747, the one that flies the SOFIA telescope. NASA goes on.

One thought on “Discovery Departure (Part 3)

  1. It has been wonderful to see this “up close and personal” because of you two. Looking forward to the next pictures. What a history lesson to be appreciated.

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