Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Fred A. Brown
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Susan J. Davis
Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, Seattle, Wash.
Two NASA research pilots became the first Americans to fly Russia's version of a supersonic transport during several evaluation flights of a modified Tu-144 jetliner last month.
The three evaluation flights took place over a two-week period in mid- to late-September from the Zhukovsky Air Development Center outside Moscow, Russia. The flights are part of a jointly funded activity by NASA's High Speed Research (HSR) program and the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group to obtain operational experience and experimental flight data on the Tu-144.
The two pilots are Robert Rivers of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va, and Gordon Fullerton of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. Fullerton was a NASA astronaut for 17 years before joining the Dryden staff as a research pilot in 1986. Rivers has been a research pilot at Langley since 1990.
Before coming to Langley, Rivers worked at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston training astronaut pilots to land the Space Shuttle. Both men have extensive experience in a variety of aircraft.
In a previous NASA/Boeing program, the Tu-144 was modified by the Tupolev Aircraft Design Bureau in 1995-96 into the Tu-144LL Flying Laboratory to perform flight experiments as part of NASA's HSR Program. Knowledge gained from the flights will benefit NASA's efforts to develop the technology that will enable design of an efficient, environmentally friendly second-generation supersonic transport in this country.
Rivers and Fullerton were primarily concerned with the Tu-144LL's handling qualities at a variety of airspeeds and flight altitudes during their evaluations. Although the Tu-144 reflects the operational and design technology of the 1960's, Fullerton said during a post-flight plane-side interview that it does what it was designed to do very well.
"This was my first look at the supersonic handling qualities, and the airplane is really in its element. Once getting through the speed of sound, it settles down, just sort of hums along. While the pitch is very sensitive because you're going so fast, the bank and roll is perfect -- very stable. It's clearly an airplane built to go fast."
After an initial subsonic evaluation flight, Rivers and Fullerton had the opportunity to individually evaluate the Tu-144LL's flying and handling qualities on the two remaining flights, which included acceleration runs to Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound), maneuvering and several approaches to the Zhukovsky runways.
Fullerton stressed that, despite procedural differences in how flight research is conducted in the two countries, teamwork exhibited by the Russians and their American counterparts led to a successful outcome of the evaluation flights.
"As a test pilot I relish the opportunity to fly a unique aircraft and the Tu-144LL certainly falls into that category. Actual flight experience in this large supersonic aircraft will help us do a better job evaluating proposed designs of a future High Speed Civil Transport," Fullerton said. "It was a red-letter day on my calendar."
Rivers echoed Fullerton's assessment. "The handling qualities experiment in which Gordon Fullerton and I participated will have a positive impact on the ongoing High Speed Research Program he said. "It was a good opportunity for U.S. pilots to come here, subjectively evaluate the airplane, compare those evaluations to the objective data we've retrieved already from the aircraft, and determine if they match. In fact, the data that we have obtained closely matches how the aircraft flies," Rivers added.
The previous Tu-144LL flight program involved eight experiments -- six aboard the aircraft and two ground test engine experiments. Between November 1996 and February 1998 the Tu-144LL flew 19 research flights. The follow-on Tu-144LL program encompasses about eight flights, focusing on extensions of five experiments from the first project and two new experiments to measure fuel system temperatures and to define in-flight wing deflections.
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