In researching my new book, Space Shuttle Stories, I spoke in February 2020 with Fred Haise about his experiences in 1977 flying prototype orbiter Enterprise for its approach and landing tests at Edwards Air Force Base/Dryden Flight Research Center. In Part 3, Fred speaks about how he and pilot C. Gordon Fullerton flew the gliding orbiter to its dry lakebed landing, proving that the shuttle could be handled precisely enough after its hypersonic reentry to safely reach the runway. Fred speaks in greater detail about these experiences in his memoir, Never Panic Early, from Smithsonian Books.
Let’s talk about your flying.
We did three captive flights, mostly testing out some of the systems., and developing the profile that Fitz would fly with the 747, particularly to get to the right airspeed to assure that the very first motionafter release would be upward. There were load cells on each of the attach points, in each axis X, Y, and Z. Those would be evaluated, and so we set up the right condition for release for the free flights.
Were you wearing pressure suits, or flight suits?
We were in normal, T-38 flight suits, and a helmet, and sat in ejection seats. The physical risk during this program were not for Gordo and me, nor for Joe and Dick. The real risk-takers for flight and release were Fitz Fulton, Tom McMurtry, and Dick Horton and Skip Guidry; they were the four people in the 747, and they did not have ejection seats.
What was the most rewarding part of these flights for you?
Overall, I’d call it the success of the program, where we flew the first flight within two weeks of the program plan that had been released publicly two years before. We were two weeks late on that first drop flight. That to me was important from the program standpoint. From a flying standpoint, the most satisfying thing was how well it flew when we separated, with a crisp set of controls. Enterprise flew so precisely when controlling bank angle or pitch, better than the Gulfstream II. I felt happy that we’d hit it right.
Were you flying in manual when you separated?
Before you separated, in the software mode we were in, the flight control surfaces could not move more than 2 degrees. They were worried about structural limits–that we might move the big elevons too much. So we really did not get free controls until we released, and that mode changed. Dick Truly had pioneered a backup switch to the software mode with full control authority by just hitting the “PRO” button on the keypad. Once we got separated, we had full controls. I had previously set with the stick a 2-degrees-per second pitch-up rate on the meter just before before release. So I knew I at least I had a pitch-up that was also going to move us away quickly. And the way we were cocked up on the stanchions, we were generating lift. Somebody once told me that in reality when we pushed the button to separate, we “dropped” the 747.
Who did most of the flying on any given free flight?
We only flew one flight with it in AUTO, I think Flight 3. And we allowed it to stay in AUTO down to what you’d call the pull-up point, the preflare at 2500 feet. On the first release flight we came off the 747 on the downwind leg. There I did a simulated pull-up to zero sink rate. On the ground Chuck Deiterich, Flight Dynamics Officer,was using a clock timer, using the speed bleed-off to determine our L over D [glide] ratio. After that I turned it over to Gordo and he made the turn to base leg. He got a little stick time to maneuver, and make a turn, and get set up on the base leg. Then I took overfor the turn to final, except on Free Flight 3 when Gordo started the turn to final. That’s when he coupled it, and selected AUTO with the MSBLS [microwave scanning beam landing system] locked in. I took over manually when it was time to do the pull up.
What did you hear and feel on these short approaches to landing?
It actually was pretty smooth, but you have to remember that until the last two flights, we flew it with the tail cone on. With the helmets we were wearing, I didn’t recall much noise. It was such a short time for the tail-cone-off flight – the time from release to the ground was not much more than a minute. [2:34, in fact] There wasn’t a lot of time, and I don’t recall vibration at all.
Were you heads down or were you using outside cues for reaching the runway?
I did it all out the window. You had a spot on the ground in mind, from training with the Gulfstream. You had a spot you would aim to, toward the pull-up point. Gordo was cross-referencing with what the instruments were saying. Landing on the lakebed like that, you don’t have any fear of missing the landing spot! It’s hard to miss. That’s kind of the way the X-15 was done; it had no guidance. You just aimed at a key spot, well short of the runway from the intended landing point, to start the pull up. That worked in the X-15 program; they didn’t miss the spot by very much.
Part 4 of this talk with Fred Haise will be found here: