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Volume 46 | Issue 6 | July 2004

Research Roundup

photo: mega wrench
X-43A technician Art Cope uses a mega wrench, which is the right tool for the right job. The number three X-43A research vehicle is resting on pins Cope is turning with the wrench. The larger fixture that secures the X-43A is called a 'clamshell.' The wrench is also used on projects in the Dryden Loads Lab.
NASA Photo / Tony Landis

Right Tool for the Right Job

By Gray Creech
Dryden Public Affairs

Here's a wrench that won't be found in any hardware store and that would be the envy of Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor of the 1990s TV sitcom "Home Improvement."

This colossus weighs 25 pounds and is 36 inches long, nearly a quarter the length of the X-43A research aircraft that Dryden technicians use the wrench to work on. In fact, the tool is so big that it doesn't even fit in a workbench - that's because it's as big as a workbench. It's simply stored on a tabletop when not in use.

NASA's strong-arm technicians use the wrench for turning three-inch-diameter coupling nuts on what is called the "clamshell," a fixture that holds the X-43A vehicle. The steel clamshell has an upper and a lower piece, and is used for everything from transporting the X-43 to everyday vehicle maintenance. This size wrench also is used in Dryden's Loads Lab, a special facility used to test aerospace vehicle structures.

It's simply "the right tool for the right job," said Mike Bondy, NASA's hypersonic X-43A scramjet crew chief.

Since their success flying the world's fastest free-flying, airbreathing aircraft to a record speed of over Mach 7, or seven times the speed of sound, on March 27, X-43A team members have had little time to bask in the mission's achievements. Just ask X-43A engineering technician Art Cope, who's been using the wrench lately to reconfigure the clamshell for various maintenance tasks in preparation for the next flight, currently set for this fall. The flight is slated to propel the final X-43A vehicle to even faster speeds than achieved in the previous one, to a speed of Mach 10.

Though speed targets in the project are important, the greatest success garnered by the team lies in the fact that the March flight proved what 40 years of research and theory had predicted: that scramjets, or supersonic combustion ramjets, work in the real world.

The guys on the team are turning one big wrench on one fast project. It's a combination Tim the Tool Man would appreciate.