From mid-1979 to January 1983, two remotely piloted, experimental Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology) aircraft were flown at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center ñ now the Armstrong Flight Research Center – at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to develop high-performance fighter technologies that would be applied to later aircraft.
The sub-scale HiMAT aircraft were about half the size of an F-16 and had nearly twice the fighter’s turning capability.
Now, one of the two HiMAT vehicles occupies a place of honor in a newly landscaped courtyard in front of the center’s Integrated Support Facility, the structure that houses the center’s visitor center and gift shop, cafeteria, auditorium and security offices. Mounted on its skid-type landing gear on three concrete supports, the freshly refurbished research aircraft appears ready to jump back into flight ñ if only someone would start its long-gone engine.
HiMAT experiments provided information on integrated, computerized controls; design features such as aeroelastic tailoring, close-coupled canards and winglets; the application of new composite materials; a digital integrated propulsion control system and the interaction of these then-new technologies with one another.
The HiMAT plane’s rear-mounted swept wings, digital flight control system, and forward controllable canard made the plane’s turn radius twice as tight as that of conventional fighter planes. At near the speed of sound and at an altitude of 25,000 feet, the HiMAT vehicle could sustain an 8-G turn, producing acceleration equal to eight times that of gravity. By comparison, at the same altitude, an F-16′s maximum sustained turning capability at the same altitude and airspeed is about 4.5 Gs.
HiMAT research at NASA Dryden was conducted jointly by NASA and the Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Because the planes were controlled from a ground station, experimental technologies and high-risk maneuverability tests could be employed without endangering pilots. The aircraft were flown 26 times during the program’s 3Ω-year history.
NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and NASA Dryden partnered with the contractor, Rockwell International’s North American Aircraft division, in the design of the HiMAT aircraft.
The HiMAT aircraft were 23.5 feet long and had a wingspan of just less than 16 feet. They were powered by a General Electric J-85-21 turbojet, which produced 5,000 pounds of static thrust at sea level. At launch from the center’s now-retired NB-52B mothership, the HiMAT planes weighed 4,030 pounds including 660 pounds of fuel. They had a top speed of Mach 1.4 — 1.4 times the speed of sound. About 30 percent of the materials used to construct the aircraft were experimental composites, mainly fiberglass and graphite-epoxy.
The other HiMAT aircraft is on display in the “Beyond the Limits” gallery at the National Air and Space Museum on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C.