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Ames M2-F1 Lifting Body
 
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M2-F1 pilot M.O.Thompson
 
The original idea of lifting bodies was conceived about 1957 by Dr. Alfred J. Eggers Jr., then the assistant director for Research and Development Analysis and Planning at the Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, now the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, CA.
 
NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, had earlier been investigating the problems associated with re-entry of missile nose cones. H. Julian Allen, another Ames engineer, determined that a blunt nose cone was a desirable shape to survive the aerodynamic heating associated with re-entry from space. Eggers found that by slightly modifying a symmetrical nose cone shape, aerodynamic lift could be produced. This lift would enable the modified shape to fly back from space rather than plunge to earth in a ballistic trajectory.
 
These studies by Eggers, Allen, and their associates led to the design known as the M-2, a modified half-cone, rounded on the bottom and flat on top, with a blunt, rounded nose and twin tail-fins. This configuration and those of the later lifting bodies allowed them to be maneuvered both in a lateral and a longitudinal direction so they could be landed on a runway rather than simply parachuting into the ocean as did the contemporary ballistic capsules used in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.
In 1962, FRC Director Paul Bikle approved a program to build a lightweight, unpowered lifting body as a prototype to flight test the wingless concept. It was designated the M2-F1. Built by sailplane designer Gus Briegleb, it featured a plywood shell placed over a tubular steel frame crafted at the FRC. Construction was completed in 1963.
 
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The first flight tests saw the M2-F1 towed aloft by a hopped-up Pontiac convertible driven at speeds up to 120 mph across Rogers Dry Lake. These initial tests produced enough flight data about the M2-F1 to proceed with flights behind a NASA R4D tow plane at greater altitudes. The R4D (the Navy designation of the C-47 or civil DC-3) towed the craft to an altitude of 12,000 ft where it was released to fly freely back to Rogers Dry Lake. NASA research pilot Milt Thompson flew the M2-F1 during the first series of tests.
 
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The M2-F1 Lifting Body being towed behind a C-47
 
More than 400 ground tows and 77 aircraft tow flights were carried out with the M2-F1 before it was retired. A historical artefact now owned by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, the M2-F1 is on long-term loan to NASA Dryden and has been restored to flight-like condition.
 
Typical glide flights with the M2-F1 lasted several minutes at speeds of 110 to 120 mph.
 
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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 Northrop Corporation. The "M" refers to "manned" and "F" refers to "flight." "HL" comes from "horizontal landing" and "10" is for the 10th lifting body design that was investigated by Langley.
 
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