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  Space Cover 96: Famous NASA test pilot Fred Drinkwater?

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Author Topic:   Space Cover 96: Famous NASA test pilot Fred Drinkwater?

Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 02-13-2011 07:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Cover of the Week, Week 96 (February 13, 2011)

NASA test pilot Fred Drinkwater flew a specially equipped Convair CV-990 aircraft from Moffett Field, California, to Edwards Air Force Base, California, November 1, 1972, to refine steep and final aircraft approaches to possibly be used for a space shuttle vehicle to land on a hard surface runway. The Convair aircraft had pilot flight instruments that would be similar to those in the space shuttle Enterprise being manufactured by Rockwell International, the company that had won the competitive U.S. Government bid to build the space shuttle in Palmdale, California.

With precise and refined testing of his landing technique, test pilot Fred Drinkwater's two-segment approach for landing consisted of a steep segment starting at 25,000 feet altitude and pointed at a target spot a mile short of the runway. This was followed by a three-degree path to the touchdown point on the runway. This steep, unusual profile for landing became widely known in the test pilot community as the "Drinkwater approach" and later would be used by space shuttle crews to land orbiter vehicles, known as today's space shuttle.

Space Cover #96, Famous NASA Test Pilot, Fred Drinkwater?

After President Richard Nixon's press conference January 5, 1972 at San Clemente, California, NASA Administrator James Fletcher, present at the conference and speaking to the press, confirmed that in-depth studies by NASA and aerospace industry commercial industry had reached the point of departure to proceed with actual development of the space shuttle vehicle, SSV in NASA parlance. He noted that the decision to proceed and which the President had now approved, aligned with budgeting presented to and approved by the U.S. Congress in NASA's current fiscal year 1972 budget. Fletcher commented, "The decision by the President is a historic step in the nation's space program - it will change the nature of what man can do in space."

After the press conference, Administrator Fletcher described what the space shuttle would look like. He continued, "The Space Shuttle will consist of an aircraft-like orbiter, about the size of a DC-9. It will be capable of carrying into orbit and back again to Earth useful payloads up to 15 ft. in diameter by 60 ft. long, and weighing up to 65,000 lb. Fuel for the orbiter's liquid-hydrogen / liquid-oxygen engines will be carried in an external tank that will be jettisoned in orbit." He stated that the space shuttle would be launched by an unmanned rocket booster and would be able to operate in space for about a week. The astronauts on the shuttle would be able to launch, service, and recover unmanned spacecraft. They would also be able to perform experiments and other useful operations in Earth orbit. In the future, they would be able to resupply crews and equipment modules which they themselves would have brought to space via the space shuttle. And, upon mission completion, the space shuttle crew would return to Earth and land the space shuttle on a designated runway much like a commercial aircraft would land.

And one test pilot also in 1972 and 1973, now obscure, by the name of Fred Drinkwater had the wherewithal, ingenuity, and determination to try to figure out how to land a 96 ton space shuttle in a difficult cross-landing situation on a hard surfaced runway at 225 miles per hour.

Steve Durst, SU 4379


Posts: 138
From: Charleston, SC USA
Registered: Jun 2005

posted 02-14-2011 08:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for NAAmodel#240   Click Here to Email NAAmodel#240     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wonderful write up and great covers. Thanks Steve.


Posts: 2103
From: Stuart, Florida, USA
Registered: Jun 2000

posted 02-14-2011 08:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Excellent Steve, Thanks! Fred also did some VTOL work as well. I've not been able to get anything signed by him as sadly he is elderly and ill now.

Those are 2 serious gems you have!


Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 02-15-2011 05:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dave and Al, many thanks for your comments. I also have a thank you to Dennis Dillman who alerted me to the fact that Fred was an early test pilot who worked on space shuttle landing techniques. On NASA's NIX site, found a photo of Fred in the left seat at the controls of the NASA Convair CV 990. He certainly has my utmost respect for his achievement on the space shuttle technique, the "Drinkwater Approach." Here's the photo:

Fred the Fourth
New Member


posted 11-11-2011 01:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fred the Fourth   Click Here to Email Fred the Fourth     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Fascinating. I've never seen that photo of my father.

But the explanation of the test program does not match my recollection. (Of course, I was only a kid at the time, and I don't have my copy of the Ames history on me, so grains of salt may be called for here.)

There were two programs: one was all about Extreme Low L/D Flight. This was related to the lifting-body work done at Edwards. Fred III flew a lot of this work in a F-104, which natively has low L/D when subsonic. The CV-990 (NASA 711) was then used for the actual shuttle landing technique development. There were two key insights. 1) conceiving the approach as an exercise in total energy management (and developing appropriate instrumentation), 2) realizing that the extreme descent rates minimized many of the atmospheric / wind issues that were of initial concern.

The second program came from the problem of landing noise under the approach path. Jets of that era had very noisy engines, and protocol often required the approaches to be made in a dirty configuration with the engines at high power (this was necessary for safe go-around procedures). The solution was the two-segment approach, with an initial 3-degree glide slope, intersecting the 1.5 degree glide slope a couple miles from the threshold.

I'm actually not sure which of these was named the Drinkwater Approach. In my family, "Drinkwater Landing" was the term used to refer to any really hard landing.


Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 11-15-2011 08:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Fred, sorry for the slow response back, I've been on travel and a friend told me you had commented on my Space Cover of the Week article concerning the "Drinkwater Approach" (Landing) and that you were Fred's son.

Many thanks for your informative comments added to the thread. Will have to go back and check my NASA reference for this posting for the wording NASA used for the landing and am glad that you were able to see a historical photo of your dad in the pilot's seat that you had never seen before for one of his many NASA test pilot flights in the Convair CV 990 experimental aircraft.

I pulled the photo down from the NASA NIX site accessible here. Use Fred Drinkwater as your search criteria and it will show up.

Respond back to me via collectSPACE and we can fine tune our discussion further and tie up any loose ends. Many thanks for your comments!

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