The aircraft, which was formerly used by NASA as a medium-altitude research platform and Space Shuttle Landing Systems Research Aircraft, now sits on display at the south gate of the Mojave Airport.
During the PCS event, the sun was shining and visitors swapped stories about their associations with the airport or their military service.
A retired Air Force veteran, Kurt Ullman, shared his story, which involved flying C-47’s with the 101st airborne division during World War II.
“When I graduated from flying school I was assigned to troop carrier command and it was a new thing. We’d never heard of it before,” recalled Ullman. He continued, “It was the second day of the invasion and the sky was red with fire and we got up there and made our drop. It sounded like hail on that one engine that was throwing flame and the other was overheated and quit so I made it out to the channel and landed.”
Ullman was unaware at the time that his landing gear was down. “I just tried to make the most beautiful landing I could,” said Ullman, “It maybe was [scary] for the others, but not for me. When you’re the pilot you’re too busy thinking about what you’re going to do.”
Another visitor, David Stoddard, recalled his work a civilian contractor at Mojave Airport. It was the early 1950s and a missile being tested in Mojave. “We were supplying a target drone for a Sidewinder missile for China Lake and we’d launch them out of here and fly them up to China Lake. We’d make two or three passes through the canyon here and they’d try to shoot us down with the Sidewinder,” said Stoddard.
Stoddard also spent time training Navy crewmen to flight test missiles. Stoddard retired from NASA as the foreman of the fluid systems shop after having worked on the F-15, the LLRV and many other lifting bodies.
The featured speaker at the event was Mission Director of the Space Technology Mission Directorate at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, John Carter. He presented a slideshow in which he gave a detailed review of how the Convair CV-990 was used to test the Space Shuttle’s landing gear and braking systems.
“This is quite a historic airplane you have here at your south gate,” said Carter. He went on to tell the history of the aircraft which was built in 1961 in Fort Worth, Texas. He described it as a “stretched version of the the Convair 880” that had a “Mach .91 cruise speed.”
Since the 990 was built in the “slide rule” era, it was designed with a large margin for modifications. It was also considered the most advanced aircraft of its time and gained a significant amount of international interest.
The Airport’s 990 originally flew with American Airlines, and then was purchased by Modern Air Transport in 1968 and later acquired by a program at NASA Ames in 1975 and registered with new tail numbers and used for research until 1983. It spent some time in the boneyard and in 1989 NASA got the aircraft again.
In 1985, during Discovery’s landing at the conclusion of Flight STS-23/51D, the inside tire on the right main landing gear failed. The analysis showed that if one tire blew so would the other and the vehicle would be lost, but fortunately, it was not. “They were very lucky,” said Carter, “it really scared them.” As a result, the shuttle’s crosswind limits were reduced, complicating subsequent missions.
The NASA team built a large, very heavy test box between the 990’s main landing gears, in which a shuttle wheel and brake assembly could be mounted, so that various loads and cross-wind tire skidding could be safely duplicated. Tests were initially conducted at Edwards AFB, and then progressed to the runway at Kennedy Space Center.
Though the testing was very expensive, Carter noted that it was still cheaper than having Goodrich design a new tire, and NASA ended up with more accurate shuttle tire force modules for the lakebed and Runway 22 at Edwards, and the KSC runway. The results of the testing allowed NASA to raise the shuttle’s crosswind limits, and the cost savings of this move paid for the CV-990 program many times over.
The CV-990 made its last flight from Edwards to Mojave Airport on Oct. 24, 1996.
Plane Crazy Saturday is sponsored by the Mojave Transportation Museum. For more information about the museum or PCS, visit www.mojavemuseum.org.