HL-10 on ramp
The HL-10 was built by the Northrop Corporation as a "heavy" lifting body. "HL" stands for horizontal landing, and "10" refers to the tenth design studied by engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
After delivery to NASA in January 1966, the HL-10 made its first flight on Dec. 22, 1966, with research pilot Bruce Peterson in the cockpit. The flight showed the HL-10 had major control problems. Correcting this problem required minor changes to the shape of the HL-10's fins. Although an XLR-11 rocket engine was installed in the vehicle, the first 11 drop flights from the B-52 launch aircraft were powerless glide flights to assess handling qualities, stability, and control. Despite the problems on the first glide flight, the HL-10 was judged to be the best handling of the three original heavy-weight lifting bodies (M2-F2/F3, HL-10, X-24A).
The HL-10 was flown 37 times during the lifting body research program and logged the highest altitude and fastest speed in the Lifting Body program. On Feb. 18, 1970, Air Force test pilot Peter Hoag piloted the HL-10 to Mach 1.86 (1,228 mph). Nine days later, NASA pilot Bill Dana flew the vehicle to 90,030 feet, which became the highest altitude reached in the program.