1/40-scale Boeing 747 and Space Shuttle Orbiter

Donated to the National Model Aviation Museum by long time modeler
and AMA Member John Kiker

During the development of the Space Shuttle program, NASA decided to transport the shuttles on a Boeing 747—but it was unclear if the 747 could also successfully make an airborne launch of the shuttles. As John Kiker, an engineer at the NASA Johnson Space Center Spacecraft Design Division noted, “ I believe Radio Control scale models are a good means of providing an initial indication of Orbiter control characteristics and separation dynamics before you start flying the real thing with live pilots.” With this in mind, in 1975, Kiker and Owen Morris, another NASA engineer, decided to use models to investigate the possibility of releasing a shuttle in-flight from another aircraft.

A 1/40-scale Orbiter model, originally designed for floatation tests by NASA, was modified so it could be flown by radio control and was ballasted to simulate the weight and center of gravity of the full-scale Orbiter. The completed model weighed nearly 4 pounds.

After several successful in-flight releases from a Sterling Gazariator, NASA asked if the Gazariator could be replaced with a scale model of a Boeing 747. A scale 747 would provide more accurate aerodynamic information and be more attractive for press releases. Kiker and Morris agreed, and work began on creating the model. NASA workshops created another model Orbiter (based again on the floatation model), while Kiker and Morris built the 747 from drawings provided by Boeing.

The 747 fuselage consisted of a balsa box to which foam was added, carved to shape, and then fiberglassed. The wings were made with two pieces of foam, sheeted with balsa and covered with MonoKote. To make the model easier to fly, the wing chord was increased an inch and the airfoil was changed to one that would provide better low-speed lift. Retractable landing gear by Carl Goldberg and two K&B .40s with fuel pumps completed the model.

The successful test launches of the models in 1976 helped prove that the full-scale Orbiter could be air-launched from a 747. On a related note, the Orbiter model was also used to flight-test various tail-cone configurations.

Here is a video of “Hoot” Gibson talking about John Kiker’s contributions to the Shuttle program using models.

Check out Discovery’s last flight in the news.

Final Flight of Shuttle Discovery: Photos
Discovery News: Final Space Shuttle Prep (6/26)




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