Drucella Andersen Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

May 21, 1992 (Phone: 202/453-8316) RELEASE: 92-70 MADE IN DETROIT -- FLOWN BY NASA When NASA's sleek SR-71 research aircraft gets ready to fly, a deafening roar booms across the concrete runway apron -- not from the jets themselves, but from the two 454-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8 engines that crank up the plane's powerplants. The SR-71 starter cart is just one example of the innovative ways that NASA has put off-the-shelf automotive technology to work in its aeronautics and space research programs. During the last 30 years, the high-tech agency has used a variety of auto products from shock absorbers and brake light switches to entire cars and truck trailers. To test the flying qualities of the M2-F1 lifting body -ancestor of today's Space Shuttle -- NASA enlisted an automobile to get the craft airborne. NASA's Flight Research Center (now Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility), Edwards, Calif., bought a stripped-down Pontiac Catalina convertible to use as a tow vehicle for the M2-F1. The engine was tuned for high performance, rollbars were added and other modifications were made. The Pontiac first towed the M2-F1 aloft on April 5, 1963, roaring across the dry lakebed at 114 miles per hour, about the same speed as an early Cessna 150. During the next 4 months, the car hauled the tubby craft into the air on more than 100 other test hops for a total flight time of about 4 hours. The Catalina's gas mileage was not good -- less than 4 miles per

gallon. NASA's first "hot rod" ended its career in 1968 doing spins on wet and dry pavement at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. The tests were part of a highway safety study on skid resistance that NASA did for the Virginia Highway Research Council. - more -2NASA also has used a 1961 Ford Fairlane, a 1967 Plymouth Fury wagon and a 1969 Ford XL sedan in research to predict aircraft braking ability and to study tire friction. NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., modified the cars by installing brake line cutoff valves that let one diagonal pair of wheels brake while the opposite pair rolled free. The Fairlane studied tire hydroplaning in the mid-1960s. The Plymouth and Ford XL performed locked-wheel skids at high speeds in runway friction tests. Engineers correlated the readings from special onboard recorders with data from specially instrumented aircraft. The 427-cubic-inch Ford XL has been a real workhorse. Though it has only 46,000 miles on its odometer, the car has made thousands of test runs, usually braking from about 60 miles per hour to a complete stop. In an early task, the Ford, proudly emblazoned with a NASA logo like the agency's research airplanes, tested 50 runways in the United States, England, Germany, Italy and Spain under various weather conditions. The 1968 program involved NASA, the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. More recently, the Ford paved the way for Shuttle landings with runway friction checks at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility and on the gypsum surface at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. The car also has helped find the cause of several runway accidents in support of inquiries by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Navy and the Air Force. The Ford still serves NASA at Langley. Future tasks for the

car include studies of how anti-snow and ice chemicals and aircraft deicing fluids affect runway friction, tests to help define the effect of natural rainfall on tire friction and possible use in aircraft accident investigations where traction may be a factor. From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, the engine, front-wheel-drive and frame of an Oldsmobile Toronado has helped NASA study the problem of wake vortices in Langley's Vortex Research Facility. Wake vortices are funnels of air streaming from an aircraft's wings that can affect the control of planes flying behind. The Toronado hardware powers a carriage that pulls detailed airplane models through a 300-foot test section while laser beams illuminate and measure the airflow. The engine itself, beefed up with improved carburation and racing parts, churns out about 500 horsepower.

- more -3Ames-Dryden has four of the carts that ground crews use to start the engines of NASA's SR-71 "Blackbirds." Each cart has two Chevrolet V-8s, upgraded with hotter plugs and coils, that drive through two 350 turbo automatic transmissions. About 10 years ago, the Chevy motors and transmissions replaced the original Buick engines and Dynaflow transmissions while the carts were still in Air Force service. NASA's use of auto components sometimes has been a matter of necessity. In 1978, two Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology (HiMAT) remotely-controlled research aircraft arrived at Dryden without their landing gear because funds had run out. The resourceful Dryden engineers simply bought a set of over-the-counter shock absorbers from the nearest Sears, Roebuck & Co. and mounted them as part of a jerry-rigged gear setup. To make sure that the real plane would be cushioned on landing, the engineers first fitted the gear to a specially-build sled matching the weight of a HiMAT. The sled was hauled at high speed across the dry lake on the back of a

flatbed truck and pushed off, bouncing to a stop undamaged. The calculations obviously were correct since the unpiloted planes went on to prove several advanced aircraft systems in a very successful research program from 1979 to 1984. When NASA needed a carrier for its Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF), a school-bus-size satellite that exposed 57 experiments to space for nearly 6 years, it talked to several firms about building a custom unit. Fruehauf Trailer Corporation, Southfield, Mich., had a cost-effective solution -- just splice two of its truck trailers to form a single transporter. The trailers were sent to Langley Research Center, where Fruehauf employees modified the units and welded them together. LDEF was assembled directly on the trailer, which later transported the satellite on the ground before its 1984 launch into space and after its 1990 retrieval from Earth orbit. What's next for the agency and its innovative cadre of pilots and engineers? Stay tuned. Or to borrow again from the auto world: "NASA, Start your engines!" -endNOTE TO EDITORS: A short 3/4" video illustrating some of these programs is available to media by calling 202/453-8594. Still photos also are available by calling 202/453-8375. B&W Color Olds Toronado carriage 92-H-291 92-HC-255 LDEF trailer 92-H-292 92-HC-256 Pontiac Catalina 92-H-293 Plymouth Fury 92-H-294 Ford XL 92-H-295