Here is part 4 of my conversation with astronaut Fred Haise, conducted during my research for my new book, Space Shuttle Stories. Fred was kind enough to share his impressions of his shuttle Approach and Landing Test experiences commanding orbiter Enterprise during late 1977. Read more about Fred’s ALT experiences in his memoir, Never Panic Early.
Did you have high speed coming down final on your last ALT approach, Free Flight 5?
It was not a speed control problem. Where we got the Go for Fitz to cut us loose, we were pretty close [to the runway], closer than I would have liked to have been. I had to control the excess speed using the speed brakes, to make the angle and alignment to that spot on the ground I was aiming for, short of the runway. When I started the pull-out I could see that I had excess speed, more than I wanted at that point. So I left the speed brakes out. One of the goals of the flightwas to do a precision touchdown at a point on the runway. In my emphasis on that, I was making too many pitch control inputs–small ones, but nevertheless a number of inputs. That actually saturated the hydraulic system in pitch control. So when we touched down about 900 feet long, Enterprise bounced back in the air, asymmetrically a little bit, with the vehicle rolling right. When I put the [left] stick input in, nothing happened. So I put a second stick input in, a little more; nothing happened, and of course I put more in with a third input. At that time, the system became unsaturated and I got a big, big roll input, now overcontrolling the wrong way [to the left]. That set me up for a pilot induced oscillation—a PIO. [I tried to correct that for] about three cycles until Gordo said, “Let go of the controls—quit inputting.” Then of course it damped out and I got the orbiter back on the ground. It was a bit of a hard landing compared to any of the others. We had about 3 to 5 feet per second [sink rate] whereas all the other landings had been very smooth, just 1 to 2 feet per second. The landing gear people were happy with the landing, because the hard touchdown was the first time they got some data on the structural aspects of the landing gear. I wasn’t too happy with it, though.
They did modify the software with a priority system, so if you did approach saturation, the software prioritized what controls would be locked out among the body flap, speed brakes, and elevons. The elevons were first in that priority, and you would never get roll and pitch locked out at the same time. You might have less control than you wanted, but you’d have control. The software changes would preclude that from happening.
The way the orbital entries went, I doubt our final landing issue would have ever happened on any orbital flight, given the way [our particular setup] got us to that [situation]. And the [later] heads-up display (HUD) helped a lot, because the way you sat in the orbiter relative to the CG, you could not determine the pitch effects. So the HUD was a big help in making good landings, and was one of the outcomes of [the ALT] that we argued for earlier and did get implemented.
Any moments from the ALT that you enjoy recalling?
My feeling about it programmatically was that it was a success, pretty much flown on schedule at the time we set. It was big because of the political circumstances. As you know, the program was started by President Nixon, and you always have to worry about a changein presidents in the midst of a program, and we not having flown yet. PresidentCarter, in the first two months of his term, cancelled the B-1 bomber program. Jimmy Carter canceled that—obviously the B-1 was a defense department program—but his outlook toward aerospace in general worried me. In all the debates leading up to that election, space was never really a part of the discussion, and we had no idea about how Carter felt about the space program. So, there was that backgroundconcern that if we had crashed Enterprise or damaged it without a backup vehicle, would that stop the shuttle program?
Having been involved [with shuttle development] through the program office, it was a big thing to me that we’d been successful, so we could continue the funding and get Columbia airborne and get her to orbit.
What essential elements of ALT should we remember a century from now?
The essential theme of the shuttle was that the orbiter was a totally reusable concept. Elon Musk gets a lot of credit for landing his boosters—it’s a great thing—but in Phase A we had a fly-back booster concept. We had a concept that included a winged booster. It would have been crewed, as computers and software were not good enough compared to what we can do today. Our computer on Enterprise, an IBM 101, was a hand-me-down with about 1 Mb [of memory]. I’m sure if you did a fly-back booster today it would be automated.
Our booster would have been a manned, fly-back, all-liquid system—no solids. When we deleted the fly-back booster, that pushed us into a stage-and-a-half design in Phase B, and that brought the solids into the design.
Did you ever get back inside Enterprise after ALT?
No, I never did. The next time I saw Enterprise was on the Intrepid, where it sits now in New York. The cockpit was stripped. One of the big problems for the shuttle program was spares. It scared me a lot through the early part of the shuttle program that we kept cannibalizing vehicles to get the next one ready to go. I’d set up a technical services company with Grumman, and one of the first awards was to Lockheed and Thiokol, for the shuttle processing contract. Our team did that for 12 years while turning around space shuttles at Kennedy.
I had a lot of experiences away from the flight line that many astronauts didn’t get to do. Then I had four years on the early space station program. That was a fun part of my work—the development side—not just the flying.
Thanks to Fred for this conversation, and for his incomparable aviation and space career.