Today in History – May 10,1967 – Northrop M2-F2 Lifting Body crashes at Edwards AFB

10 May 1967 – “The Northrop M2-F2 was a heavyweight lifting body based on studies at NASA’s Ames and Langley research centers and built by the Northrop Corporation in 1966.

The success of Dryden’s M2-F1 program led to NASA’s development and construction of two heavyweight lifting bodies based on studies at NASA’s Ames and Langley research centers—the M2-F2 and the HL-10, both built by the Northrop Corporation. The “M” refers to “manned” and “F” refers to the “flight” version. “HL” comes from “horizontal landing” and 10 is for the tenth lifting body model to be investigated by Langley.

Bruce Peterson, 3rd from left, with fellow pilots Milt Thompson, Don Mallick and Chuck Yeager (in the cockpit of the M2-F1)

The M2-F2 made its first captive flight (attached to the B-52 carrier aircraft throughout the flight) on March 23, 1966.”

The pilot, Bruce Peterson, graduated in 1962 from the USAF Test Pilot School (Class 62C), and then transferred to the Flight Research Center. As a NASA research pilot, he flew a wide variety of airplanes, including the F5D-1, F-100, F-104, F-111A, B-52, NT-33. The M1-F2/M2-F2 was a Variable Stability Trainer, the wingless lifting bodies and numerous general aviation aircraft as well as several types of helicopters and sailplanes. His first flight was in the  M2-F1 Lifting Body, dubbed the “flying bathtub, an unpowered aircraft designed to test the wingless body concept. He flew the M2-F1 in guide flight forty-two times.

“On May 10, 1967, the sixteenth and last glide flight of the Ms-F2 ended in disaster as the vehicle slammed into the lake bed on landing. With Bruce Peterson at the controls, the M2-F2 suffered a pilot-induced oscillation (PIO) as it neared the lake bed. At the core of this problem was the fact that the wings of the M2-F2 (essentially the body of the aircraft) produced considerably less roll authority than most aircraft. This resulted in less force available to the pilot to control the aircraft in roll. The vehicle rolled from side to side in flight as he tried to bring it under control. Peterson recovered, but then observed a rescue helicopter that seemed to pose a collision threat. Distracted, Peterson drifted in a crosswind to an unmarked area of the lake bed where it was very difficult to judge the height over the ground because of a lack of guidance (the markers provided on the lake bed runway).

Peterson fired the landing rockets to provide additional lift, but he hit the lake bed before the landing gear was fully down and locked. The M2-F2 rolled over six times, coming to rest upside down. Pulled from the vehicle by Jay King and Joseph Huxman, Peterson was rushed to the base hospital, transferred to the March Air Force Base Hospital and then the UCLA Hospital. He recovered but lost vision in his right eye due to a staphylococcal infection.

Portions of M2-F2 footage including Peterson’s spectacular crash landing were used for the 1973 television series The Six Million Dollar Man though some shots during the opening credits of the series showed the later HL-10 model, during release from its carrier plane, a modified B-52.

M2-F2 accident

M1F2 pilots included: Milt Thompson – 45 flights; Bruce Peterson – 17 flights; Chuck Yeager – 5 flights; Donald M. Sorlie – 5 flights; Donald L. Mallick – 2 flights; Jerauld R. Gentry – 2 flights; Bill Dana – 1 flight; James W. Wood – 1 ground tow; Fred Haise – 1 ground tow and Joe Engle – 1 ground tow

Four pilots flew the M2-F2 on its 16 glide flights. They were Milton O. Thompson (five flights), Bruce Peterson (three flights), Don Sorlie (three flights) and Jerry Gentry (five flights).

NASA pilots and researchers realized the M2-F2 had lateral control problems, even though it had a stability augmentation control system. When the M2-F2 was rebuilt at Dryden and redesignated the M2-F3, it was modified with an additional third vertical fin—centered between the tip fins to improve control characteristics.

The M2-F2/F3 was the first of the heavyweight, entry-configuration lifting bodies. Its successful development as a research test vehicle answered many of the generic questions about these vehicles.

Film from the crash of the Lifting Body aircraft was used in an episode of the 1970’s series “The Six Million Dollar Man”.

For a video of the M2-F1 click here

For a video of Bruce Peterson, “The Real Six Million Dollar Man” click here.

Source: Wikipedia

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