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August 30, 1995
J. D. Hunley Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-3447) RELEASE: 95-149 NASA ACHIEVES FIRST PROPULSION-CONTROLLED LANDING OF A TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT Using only engine power for control, NASA research pilot and former astronaut Gordon Fullerton landed a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 transport aircraft yesterday at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. 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 are disabled. Following several incidents in which hydraulic failures resulted in loss of part or all of their flight controls, notably the crash of a United Airlines DC-10 at Sioux City, IA, 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 landed a NASA F-15 research aircraft using a similar PCA system in April 1993. The landing today was the first one ever performed in an actual transport aircraft--the wide body 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 and Honeywell designing the software used in the aircraft's flight control computer. -more-
-2Following an earlier flight at Yuma, AZ, in which the MD-11 did not land, a combined crew including Gordon Fullerton and Douglas Aircraft's flight test team headed by pilot John Miller, made three practice approaches at Dryden 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 auto pilot 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 auto pilot 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 concentration to do this task manually. Using computer-controlled thrust greatly improves flight precision and reduces pilot workload. -endEDITOR'S NOTE: Media representatives wishing to obtain images accompanying this release may call the Dryden Flight Research Center at 805/205-3461 or the NASA Headquarters Newsroom Photo Office at 202/358-1900. NASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe press-release" (no quotes). The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second automatic message will include additional information on the service. Questions should be directed to (202) 358-4043.