Part of the Charles A. Lindbergh Lecture at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution by lifting-body pilot Bill Dana.
As the Space Shuttle concept came into being, some lifting body advocates felt that the Space Shuttle configuration should be a lifting body shape. One of the attractive features of the lifting body configuration is high volumetric efficiency, that is, a large interior volume per unit of exterior surface. One of the requirements of the Space Shuttle, however, was that it have a long, straight payload bay. This requirement made a wing-and-fuselage configuration for the shuttle attractive, and that, or course, was the configuration chosen. For quite some time after the selection of the Space Shuttle shape, it appeared that the lifting bodies were going to disappear as quickly as they had arrived. For about 15 years after the flight tests of the original lifting bodies, there was no talk of using a lifting body for a space mission. But about five years ago, the NASA Johnson Space center in Houston came up with a plan to use a version of the X-24A as a Space Station emergency return vehicle (slide and slide).
X-38 Emergency crew return vehicle
X-38 Emergency return vehicle
under B-52 wing
Also, when the configuration for the X-33, which is a prototype single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, was selected in 1995, a lifting body configuration was chosen. (Slide.) The X-33 is currently being built by Lockheed Martin, and is scheduled to fly in 1999. So, after twenty years of inactivity, the lifting body once again appears to be on its way to becoming an operational spacecraft.
X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator
HL-10 pilot Bill Dana
During the course of the original lifting body program, from the first flight of the plywood M2 in 1963 to the final flight of the X-24B in 1975, the lifting bodies flew about 230 times, reached an altitude of 90,000 feet, a Mach number of 1.86 and checked out a total of 14 pilots.
NASA is proud to have been a player in the lifting body's development, and is proud of the people from NASA, the Air Force, and the various aircraft companies who made lifting body flight a reality.