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NASA Program Achieves First Propulsion-Controlled Landing of a Transport Aircraft

August 30, 1995

Release: 95-19

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Using only engine power for control, NASA research pilot and former astronaut Gordon Fullerton landed a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 transport aircraft yesterday (Aug. 29) at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

The milestone flight was part of a NASA project to develop a computer-assisted engine control system that enables a pilot to land a plane safely when its normal control surfaces such as elevators, rudders, and ailerons are disabled.

Following several incidents in which hydraulic failures resulted in loss of part or all of their flights controls, notably the crash of a United Airlines DC-10 at Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, NASA started developing a propulsion controlled aircraft (PCA) system in which engine thrust provides the control needed to land an aircraft safely.

Gordon Fullerton had previously piloted a NASA F-15 research aircraft using a similar PCA system in April 1993. The landing yesterday was the first one ever performed in an actual transport aircraft - the widebody MD-11 that replaced the earlier DC-10.

The success of the program was the result of a partnership between NASA and McDonnell-Douglas Aerospace, St. Louis, Mo., with Pratt & Whitney together with Honeywell designing the software used in the aircraft's flight control computer.

Following an earlier flight at Yuma, Ariz., in which the MD-11 did not land, a combined team including Gordon Fullerton and Douglas Aircraft's flight test team, headed by pilot John Miller, made three practice approaches at the Dryden Flight Research Center before making the initial landing at 11:38 a.m. PDT, August 29. They then took off again and made a second landing at 12:18 p.m., proving that the PCA concept was feasible for a commercial transport.

The PCA system uses standard autopilot controls already present in the cockpit, together with the new programming in the aircraft's flight control computers. The PCA concept is simple - for pitch control, the program increases thrust to climb and reduces thrust to descend. To turn right, the autopilot increases the left engine thrust while decreasing the right engine thrust. Since thrust response is slow, and the control forces are relatively small, a pilot would require extensive practice and intense conception to do this task manually. Using computer-controlled thrust greatly improves flight precision and reduces pilot workload.

Still photography and video are available to support this release. Photos are also available on the Internet, under "NASA Dryden Research Aircraft PHOTO ARCHIVE, Dryden News and Feature Photos, URL: /centers/dfrc/Gallery/Photo/index.html

Photos is support of this release are EC95 43247-1,2,3 and 4.


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