Saturday, July 28, 2012

747 Pilot carrying the Shuttle...

Subject: 747 Pilot carrying the Shuttle...
NASA 747 Pilot comments about carrying the Shuttle

This was circulated in email at work, from United Technologies corporate.

A quick "trip report" from the pilot of the 747 that flew the shuttle back to
Florida after the Hubble repair flight. A humorous and interesting inside
look at what it's like to fly two aircraft at once . . .

(I have decided to adopt one of "Triple Nickel's" phrases : "That was too
close for MY laundry!")

Walt and all,

Well, it's been 48 hours since I landed the 747 with the shuttle Atlantis on
top and I am still buzzing from the experience. I have to say that my whole
mind, body and soul went into the professional mode just before engine start
in Mississippi, and stayed there, where it all needed to be, until well after
the flight...in fact, I am not sure if it is all back to normal as I type this
email. The experience was surreal. Seeing that "thing" on top of an already
overly huge aircraft boggles my mind. The whole mission from takeoff to
engine shutdown was unlike anything I had ever done. It was like a
dream...someone else's dream.

We took off from Columbus AFB on their 12,000 foot runway, of which I used
11,999 1/2 feet to get the wheels off the ground. We were at 3,500 feet left
to go of the runway, throttles full power, nose wheels still hugging the
ground, copilot calling out decision speeds, the weight of Atlantis now
screaming through my fingers clinched tightly on the controls, tires heating
up to their near maximum temperature from the speed and the weight, and not
yet at rotation speed, the speed at which I would be pulling on the controls
to get the nose to rise. I just could not wait, and I mean I COULD NOT WAIT,
and started pulling early. If I had waited until rotation speed, we would not
have rotated enough to get airborne by the end of the runway. So I pulled on
the controls early and started our rotation to the takeoff attitude. The
wheels finally lifted off as we passed over the stripe marking the end of the
runway and my next hurdle (physically) was a line of trees 1,000 feet off the
departure end of Runway 16. All I knew was we were flying and so I directed
the gear to be retracted and the flaps to be moved from Flaps 20 to Flaps 10
as I pulled even harder on the controls. I must say, those trees were
beginning to look a lot like those brushes in the drive through car washes so
I pulled even harder yet! I think I saw a bird just fold its wings and fall
out of a tree as if to say "Oh just take me". Okay, we cleared the trees,
duh, but it was way too close for my laundry. As we started to actually
climb, at only 100 feet per minute, I smelled something that reminded me of
touring the Heineken Brewery in Europe ....I said "is that a skunk I smell?"
and the veterans of shuttle carrying looked at me and smiled and said "Tires"!
I said "TIRES??? OURS???" They smiled and shook their heads as if to call
their Captain an amateur...okay, at that point I was. The! e tire s were so
hot you could smell them in the cockpit. My mind could not get over, from
this point on, that this was something I had never experienced. Where's your
mom when you REALLY need her?

The flight down to Florida was an eternity. We cruised at 250 knots
indicated, giving us about 315 knots of ground speed at 15,000'. The miles
didn't click by like I am use to them clicking by in a fighter jet at MACH
.94. We were burning fuel at a rate of 40,000 pounds per hour or 130 pounds
per mile, or one gallon every length of the fuselage. The vibration in the
cockpit was mild, compared to down below and to the rear of the fuselage where
it reminded me of that football game I had as a child where you turned it on
and the players vibrated around the board. I felt like if I had plastic clips
on my boots I could have vibrated to any spot in the fuselage I wanted to go
without moving my legs...and the noise was deafening. The 747 flies with its
nose 5 degrees up in the air to stay level, and when you bank, it feels like
the shuttle is trying to say "hey, let's roll completely over on our back"
...not a good thing I kept telling myself. SO I limited my bank angle to 15
degrees and even though a 180 degree course change took a full zip code to
complete, it was the safe way to turn this monster.

Airliners and even a flight of two F-16s deviated from their flight plans to
catch a glimpse of us along the way. We dodged what was in reality very few
clouds and storms, despite what everyone thought, and arrived in Florida with
51,000 pounds of fuel too much to land with. We can't land heavier than
600,000 pounds total weight and so we had to do something with that fuel. I
had an idea...let's fly low and slow and show this beast off to all the
taxpayers in Florida lucky enough to be outside on that Tuesday afternoon. So
at Ormond Beach we let down to 1,000 feet above the ground/water and flew just
east of the beach out over the water Then, once we reached the NASA airspace
of the Kennedy Space Center, we cut over to the Banana/Indian Rivers and flew
down the middle of them to show the people of Titusville, Port St. Johns and
Melbourne just what a 747 with a shuttle on it looked like. We stayed at
1,000 feet and since we were dragging our flaps at "Flaps 5", our speed was
down to around 190 to 210 knots. We could see traffic stopping in the middle
of roads to take a look. We heard later that a Little League Baseball game
stop to look and everyone cheered as we became their 7th inning stretch. Oh
say can you see...

After reaching Vero Beach , we turned north to follow the coast line back up
to the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF). There was not one person laying on the
beach...they were all standing and waving! "What a sight" I thought...and
figured they were thinking the same thing. All this time I was bugging the
engineers, all three of them, to re-compute our fuel and tell me when it was
time to land. They kept saying "Not yet Triple, keep showing this thing off"
which was not a bad thing to be doing. However, all this time the thought
that the landing, the muscling of this 600,000 pound beast, was getting closer
and closer to my reality. I was pumped up! We got back to the SLF and were
still 10,000 pounds too heavy to land so I said I was going to do a low
approach over the SLF going the opposite direction of landing traffic that
day. So at 300 feet, we flew down the runway, rocking our wings like a whale
rolling on its side to say "hello" to the people looking on! One turn out of
traffic and back to the runway to land...still 3,000 pounds over gross weight
limit. But the engineers agreed that if the landing were smooth, there would
be no problem. "Oh thanks guys, a little extra pressure is just what I
needed!" So we landed at 603,000 pounds and very smoothly if I have to say so
myself. The landing was so totally controlled and on speed, that it was fun.
There were a few surprises that I dealt with, like the 747 falls like a rock
with the orbiter on it if you pull the throttles off at the "normal" point in
a landing and secondly, if you thought you could hold the nose off the ground
after the mains touch down, think again...IT IS COMING DOWN!!! So I "flew it
down" to the ground and saved what I have seen in videos of a nose slap after
landing. Bob's video supports this! :8-)

Then I turned on my phone after coming to a full stop only to find 50
bazillion emails and phone messages from all of you who were so super to be
watching and cheering us on! What a treat, I can't thank y'all enough. For
those who watched, you wondered why we sat there so long. Well, the shuttle
had very hazardous chemicals on board and we had to be "sniffed" to determine
if any had leaked or were leaking. They checked for Monomethylhydrazine (N2H4
for Charlie Hudson) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). Even though we were
"clean", it took way too long for them to tow us in to the mate-demate area.
Sorry for those who stuck it out and even waited until we exited the jet.

I am sure I will wake up in the middle of the night here soon, screaming and
standing straight up dripping wet with sweat from the realization of what had
happened. It was a thrill of a lifetime. Again I want to thank everyone for
your interest and support. It felt good to bring Atlantis home in one piece
after she had worked so hard getting to the Hubble Space Telescope and back.

Triple Nickel
NASA Pilot
Captain Henri D. (pianoman)

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