Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Kennedy Space Center, Florida – 13 April 2012
Today is April 13, 2012. This interview with Thomas Friers is being
conducted for the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft Oral History Project at
Kennedy Space Center. The interviewer is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted
by Rebecca Wright.
Thanks again for taking some time out of your day. We really appreciate
very welcome. Pleased to do it.
Why don’t you give us a brief overview of your career before
coming out here.
Well, I did 29 years in the Air Force and retired in 2001, but while
I was in the Air Force, I just happened to be fortunate enough to
have a lot of involvement with the Shuttle Program. It started in
1980 as we were preparing for STS-1. I happened to be a rescue helicopter
pilot, which was a big part of the package, so I trained the folks
out at Edwards Air Force Base, [California] the Air Force contingent
who would support the landing if we had a problem, and flew some exercises.
I actually happened to be here to view STS-2’s liftoff. I was
the aide to the Commanding General of Air Force Air Rescue Forces.
So throughout my career I’ve been Air Force Rescue Specialty.
So in staff jobs at the Pentagon and at Air Combat Command, I was
funding and approving training for the guys doing the mission here,
so I always kept my hand in it somewhat.
I then arrived here at Patrick Air Force Base in 1995, and I commanded
what was called the First Rescue Group at Patrick, and we were very
involved in Shuttle support. I had that job for two years and then
I was offered a job which was called the Commander of DDMS, which
stood for the Department of Defense Manned Space Flight Support Office.
It was a joint task force that was responsible for all the military
support to the Shuttle Program. For example, on launch we had an armada
offshore, Navy ships, Coast Guard ships, Navy, Marine, and Air Force
aircraft. Over at the TAL [Transoceanic Abort Landing] sites in Europe,
we also had military folks supporting.
Then my guys also would train and certify the DoD bases, which were
the bases that we would always land at with the Shuttle carrier aircraft.
Unless there were some sort of an emergency or weather contingency,
you always wanted to go to military bases. You have fuel. You have
security. It’s just much better than going to a civilian airfield.
My involvement with the SCA [Shuttle Carrier Aircraft] was really
in supervising the people who were responsible for the Air Force portion
of it. As a matter of fact, Kathy [Katherine A.] Winters, who will
be forecasting for this mission, was an Air Force captain, I believe,
at the time, and she forecasted weather for the SCA flights back then.
I happened to go on one of the ferry flights. We were picking up,
I don’t even recall which orbiter, I think it might have been
Endeavour, but I’m not certain, at Palmdale, [California] and
flying it back to the Space Center. It would have been in the fall
of, my guess is, ’99, either ’99 or 2000. And as was usually
the case, you were always playing cat and mouse with the weather.
You had very short windows. I flew on the Pathfinder aircraft, and
I know we stopped in Texas, we then stopped at Fort Campbell, Kentucky,
and we actually got stuck in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, because there
was a hurricane threatening down here so we didn’t want to bring
the orbiter in. But it was an experience. That’s the only direct
involvement I had.
I continued in that job with the Air Force as the Commander of DDMS
until I retired effective the first of the year of 2001. As part of
that job, I was actually part of the mission management team, the
management team that sits in the firing room at launch. So, it was
10 to 15 or so launches, I was in the firing room as their military
rescue expert if something were to go wrong on launch. My folks were
deployed to all the TAL sites, and you had a large groups of folks
When I retired, I was asked, “Hey, would you like a job with
And at the time, I said, “You know, I think I’m going
to go sail in the Caribbean and play golf for a couple of years,”
so I did.
Then they asked me again a couple years later, and I said, “Yeah,
I think I could do that.”
So I’ve only been with NASA since, as a matter of fact, it’s
within a day or two, I think it might be tomorrow is eight years.
I think it was about 14 April of 2004. I came into NASA in the Shuttle
Launch and Landing Office, and I was one of the Ground Ops [Operations]
Managers. I ran one of the TAL sites. We had the three TAL sites:
Morón Air Base in southern Spain; Zaragoza Air Base in northern
Spain, which I generally ran; and then we stood up a new site, Istres,
France, to take the place of Morocco because the political situation
was such then. I did that for about five years.
You would be over there for the launch and then you would come back
here, and I was checked out as a landing convoy commander, so I would
be in charge of the convoy that met the orbiter when it landed, which
was a neat job. I loved it. But then I was asked, “Would you
be interested in taking over the Chief of Flight Operations?”
I said, “Can I fly?”
They said, “You must fly.”
I said, “Then, yeah, I’d be interested.” So I’ve
been in this job now for three years.
it is. I’m a pretty fortunate guy.
Well, nice place to be during a Shuttle launch.
on the launches in this job, I was always on Search 1, which would
escort the crew out to the pad. We had a sharpshooter team on board.
We were doing security. I would escort each crew out to the pad, and
then I’d be airborne in a security posture at liftoff, so it
was a nice vantage point.
So you get to ride in the Astrovan?
I was flying, flying overhead.
Oh, you were flying overhead.
Well, I did have some questions about those SCA flights that you were
helping with. How many Air Force bases were on the list for SCA potential
landings, do you recall?
don’t. I would be really shooting from the hip. I do know that
there are a couple in Texas. I do know that Whiteman Air Force Base,
Missouri, which we’ve used. I do know that Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
[There are 20 military bases trained and available to support ferry
flights.] They were obviously bases with a long runway and strategically
located between White Sands [Test Facility, New Mexico], Dryden [Flight
Research Center, California], and here, and they were all used from
time to time. I think Little Rock Air Force Base [Arkansas] was one.
I think Corpus Christi, Texas.
Then I would send a team out from my staff. I think we did those guys
every two years, and we would train the base and just give a briefing
on the orbiter and the characteristics of when you come in with the
Shuttle carrier airplane. We would often run a little sim, a simulated
emergency on landing when we trained the emergency landing bases,
which we had stacked up the East Coast of the U.S., and even around
the world we had a lot of emergency landing bases, and, of course,
a military base is preferred. It’s generally got a large runway,
it’s easy to control and the security of it. So we would run
a simulation at those once a year.
Would you tell us about those emergency scenarios? Who was involved
and what were the activities?
you would do is we would go in and my team would give a training session,
a sound and slide type of briefing, to the base’s contingency
management staff: disaster preparedness, fire, civil engineering,
medical, and generally the base commander or support group commander,
one of those types, would be in. You’d have a packed room. We
would walk through an informational briefing about the characteristics
of the orbiter, the characteristics of the Shuttle on landing, what
they should expect when this arrives, what sorts of requirements.
Here’s a look at the requirements list. The reason you have
to do that frequently is because in the military, generally, at least
a few years ago, every couple of years people are rotating out, so
you had to keep training the new people.
Then at the end, we would run a simulation, and often you use a school
bus or some large vehicle, and that is simulated as the landing orbiter,
and it would drive down the runway, and then you would call, “Oh,
there’s a hypergol leak,” because, remember, the primary
reason for ferrying was bringing the orbiter back from a landing on
the West Coast. So you would still often have some commodities onboard,
and every time we’d land, the technicians would get out and
take samples and check. Are we good? Is anything leaking? It was a
fairly significant post-flight operation every time you landed with
a vehicle that had just come back from space onboard.
We would discuss the scenario of this airplane just landed here, maybe
the SCA blew a tire and it went off the runway—boom—and
they have to walk through what kind of equipment do we need? What
do we do? We’ve got to set up cordons. We’ve got to get
the press involved. That might be one of the minor ones, to an actual
crash. Now you’ve got these hazardous commodities in the air.
What are the winds? Do you have to notify people via television and
radio downtown? Most of these bases are on the outskirts of a town.
So you would walk through those sorts of things that people would
be thinking about, talking about and doing it.
About how long would these emergency scenarios last?
probably spend a couple hours doing it. You would start with what
we refer to in NASA as a pretest briefing. In the military it’s
just the briefing before the exercise, and then you would go into
the exercise mode and then let people work some issues to resolution,
or at least let them tel l you where they’re going with it,
and make them squirm a little and maybe you throw increasing complications
at them while they’re doing the exercise, but by a couple of
hours of them jumping through hoops and trying to figure out, then
you’re probably about ready to call ENDEX, the end of the exercise.
Or obviously if weather or an operational issue or something came
into play, you would end it, but a couple of hours.
Then you would stand down for an hour or two and then have a large
hot-wash, debrief, post test, whatever you want to call it, and then
develop lessons learned. Then we would end up saying, “Okay,
this base is certified to continue on the list.”
What were NASA’s requirements for the military bases that they
would land at with the SCA?
can’t remember exactly. I know they wanted them strategically
located. Basically we’re talking from Dryden, White Sands, east,
and, of course, you had very limited legs. When you start looking
at it, most every military base in that section with a large runway—many
Army posts won’t have a large runway—but most Air Force
or Navy bases became players. These ferry flights, what limited exposure
I had in even tracking them from back in my office when my guys were
involved, they rarely go as you think they will in the beginning.
You’re being chased by weather or you’re chasing the back
of a cold front across the country, because when we had an operational
orbiter, you didn’t fly through turbulence. You didn’t
fly through visible moisture. You didn’t want to land somewhere
where it was going to be below freezing at night. There were all kinds
of concerns, and it was a challenge to bring these things back.
But I don’t remember the exact criteria. You obviously had to
have a runway long enough. I suspect it was a 10,000-foot runway,
but I’m merely—and of all the bases I know of they had
that. But probably around a 10,000-foot runway, because the SCA with
orbiter was much heavier than what we’re flying out on Tuesday,
because it had the engines in and often it still had some stowage
in the back, some cargo or payload or something. They were quite a
Would you tell us about the agreement between NASA and DoD? Was this
something that was just a gentlemen’s agreement, or did NASA
end up paying DoD for use of these facilities?
an interesting question. There was a determination made that the DoD
could provide assistance to NASA on a noninterference basis with its
wartime missions and in a manner that would not compete with commercial
enterprises that could do the same sort of thing. So the DoD has provided
assistance to NASA for over 50 years. The organization that I commanded,
DDMS, a few years ago here, two or three, we celebrated the 50th anniversary.
As a matter of fact, it was started out as Department of Defense Mercury
Support Office, so it started with the very first flights. There’s
been a very close relationship, a very good working relationship with
Some of the support was reimbursed. Some of it wasn’t. We were
often very good at finding, for example, on a launch, I would be very
fortunate and get a Navy destroyer that wanted some training time
off the coast here with its helo [helicopter] embarked and everything
else, so we would steam a Navy destroyer and full crew for a few days
around launch time. You can’t pay for that, the cost of it would
be prohibitive. The helicopters and aircraft from Patrick, a fairly
large armada that supported launch and landing, NASA did not reimburse
for that. However, for the TAL sites over in Europe, we flew C-130s
and rescue teams to each of the TAL sites, and NASA did reimburse
for the C-130 flying hours. So it just varied.
I do know that the arrangements with the bases for the Shuttle carrier
was that the Air Force would submit, or whatever military it was—it
was often an Air Force base, sometimes Navy—but the military
base would submit a bill for delta, the things they had to go out
and contract for or additional costs. They did not bill NASA for their
people. Now, conversely, if you had a batch of civilians or contractors
who were working overtime and you had to pay for that, they would
document all that, and the reimbursement was funneled through my office
at Patrick, the DDMS Office. NASA funded them, and they went out and
funded these individual units.
NASA did pay all of the per diem, the travel costs. There were probably
two to three hundred people, DoD folks, who moved on every Shuttle
launch at least, on the landing a little bit less, and for fewer on
Pathfinder. If we were using a military airplane for Pathfinder, which
we often did, C-141, the crew, the maintenance people, we would certainly
fund all the per diem. But I don’t believe—I’m almost
certain we did not pay the flying hours on the C-141.
Like I said, it varied, what we reimbursed for, what we didn’t.
If a base had the vehicle land there, we would reimburse for anything
they had to go get. There was a long list of cranes and Hi-Rangers
and rental cars. There was just a large list that they had to go out
and get real quick. So NASA reimbursed through that DoD office at
You mentioned the Pathfinder, that it was often a military vehicle,
which I find interesting. What was the arrangement there, and where
was the plane normally borrowed from?
it all depended. We would ask the Military Airlift Command or Transportation
Command, as it’s now called, for a C-141. We would what’s
called frag it. You’d go out asking for a 141, and it depends
on what base they tasked. They’re moving aircraft around the
world all the time, so you might have a reserve crew on the way back
from Europe. It could come from any base. but much of time, I believe
most of the time through the early years, it was an Air Force C-141.
The good thing about it is you can carry a lot of passengers and you
can carry a lot of the support equipment, the small support equipment
that the team needs to service the vehicle when the SCA and orbiter
land. The particular ferry flight I went on, we actually used the
NASA Vomit Comet, the C-135, as the ferry aircraft, but generally
it was military aircraft.
So then the military would have their pilots then flying the vehicle?
yes, sure. The Pathfinder, its purpose is two- or threefold. Number
one, you’re generally about 20 to 30 minutes out in front of
the carrier aircraft. You’re checking weather, and if you have
weather up ahead, you’re looking for the best route through
it, and you’re in communications with the carrier aircraft behind
you. So you’re out there about 20 to 30 minutes ahead checking
turbulence, weather, any of those sorts of things, such that you’re
on the ground and the ground support team is out standing by when
the Shuttle carrier lands, and then they can go out and meet it.
You would always pull off the runway at these bases, and then the
crew would have to go out and make sure we’re not leaking anything,
because you’d just been up to altitude again and you could have
triggered a leak in one of the thrusters or something. Once the vehicle
was deemed safe, we would then taxi it into a parking place. It seemed
like most bases you went, it became kind of an-open house-type deal.
It was a big deal to those bases.
I was curious about that. Were bases almost competing to have the
Shuttle come to their sites?
I’ll give you the honest answer. They were, but the downside
was as often as not it dropped in on you with only a couple hours’
notice. In other words, you’ve planned all this out and you’ve
given the heads-up and now the weather didn’t cooperate. “Okay,
Whiteman, we’re coming in two hours.” The fun meter was
in the low yellow range on those, and you’ve got to sympathize
with a base that’s told, “This thing’s dropping
in on you with 75 people and all this stuff in a couple hours.”
That happened more than you would like.
But, yes, when you went out to train them, they were eager, they were
excited, and if this group of folks, if it had been two or three years
since they’d had one, most likely this group of folks, except
for civilians, had not seen one, and they’re just itching to
get a Shuttle to land there.
When the Shuttle is about to be ferried, or when it was about to be
ferried, did you have to put everyone on alert, that, “Hey,
there’s a possibility that we might come to your location”?
we did was we took a look at the long-range weather forecast, which
was about like throwing darts, a good week or more out, and we started
progging what would be good bases. Now, down at our office at Patrick,
we continually tracked availability. As we were about a month out,
we would go to the bases and see, “Do any of you forecast any
reasons you would not be available during this window?” So we’d
give them a heads-up we were looking to ferry during this window.
You might have a base whose runway is down for repair. You might have
a base who’s undergoing an operational readiness evaluation
or who has deployed a bunch of folks to a war zone and they don’t
have the people to support. So they would come in with a preparedness
check. Then as we got closer, we’d start looking at the weather.
Frankly, my recollection was we really tried to spread this out and
spread the wealth as well as the hurt, because it is neat. It’s
always neat to see them leaving, but it’s a lot of work while
they’re on your ramp. We would try, “Where did we go last?
What’s the weather looking like?” We went into it with
notional stop points, but, like I said, man, that was a moving target.
So much was weather-dependent, and especially in the winter, trying
to bring an orbiter across the country, you’re having to wait
for passage of fronts, and then if you know another front’s
coming down on you, you can’t be on the ground if it goes to
freezing, so you may have to go somewhere else and stay ahead of this
front. It was just a challenge. It was really interesting.
Was there one base that was used more frequently than another?
may well have been, but I just can’t tell you. I could ask some
folks. I know Whiteman was very popular in Knob Noster, Missouri.
I was stationed there for four or five years. It has a long runway
and it’s middle of the country near St. Louis, actually closer
to Kansas City. Whiteman was fairly popular.
There were some bases, and I just can’t think of the name. Maybe
Dyess [Air Force Base, Abilene, Texas] in West Texas. West Texas was
a fairly common stop point because that’s kind of where you
got with fuel on your first stop was West Texas. But I’m sure
somebody’s got data somewhere telling you where they stopped
on every one.
You mentioned that it’s a lot of work to get ready for an SCA
to come. Can you tell us about some of the things that had to be completed
before you could accept an SCA?
my assessment of it is if I were the wing commander or the commander
of a base, and they gave me the heads-up that—there was what
we would call an OPLAN [operations plan] that our office put out,
so the base would have that, and we would have left them the most
current copy at our last training session. You would then gather your
team, your support people, and start going down the checklist of things
they needed. We need three Hi-Rangers of this height, we need nitrogen
carts, we need X amount of fuel, generally. So you just start going
down that checklist to make sure you either have it or know that it’s
commercially available. Sometimes you would even have to let a contract
to hold a piece of equipment, and there would be a small charge, but
otherwise they couldn’t guarantee they’d have it. So you’re
just walking down the list. Are your nav [navigation] aids good? Is
your runway clear?
You might even cancel leaves for a couple of key people. If I were
the commander of the base and I knew this was coming in, I would not
want my head of civil engineering gone or my support group commander
gone, who’s kind of the base mayor, does all the services and
things. So that’s my best answer for what I would think they’re
doing. You’re just going down the list to see whether you can
fulfill all the written requirements.
You would also start priming the local media, because you, the base
commander or the wing commander, whoever, you’re wanting to
use it to pay back some green chips that folks in the local community
have given to you. You might even host a reception or a cocktail party
for the folks, and you can pay back locals. It’s a big deal
for the local mayor or key business leaders to be able to come out
and see the orbiter on the back of the SCA.
I can imagine it is. What lessons learned did you apply after your
ferry flight? Was there anything that you thought, “We need
to go back and change part of this process”?
know, I don’t recall, other than one of my guys overslept and
I wasn’t real happy. I don’t recall anything from that
particular flight. I must admit I had never thought of the impact
of a tropical disturbance offshore here keeping us locked down up
in Kentucky, but, yeah, of course. You’ve got to look ahead
two to three days. Okay. You’ll land there. Then you’ve
got to pull into the mate-demate device. Then it’s a day and
a half or two to get it offloaded. So you’ve got to be, okay,
is KSC in the window of possibility for the storm? Yeah, it is. I
never would have thought of that until we went through it, that you
may be stuck somewhere. I think we sat there about three or four days.
The base finally decided to host an open house.
But, no, I don’t recall anything that was done wrong. I did
see a person—how do I put this? I saw a NASA person in a position
of authority really treating some of the contractors very poorly,
and so I thought it was my duty to tell his bosses. It’s not
the way I’d want one of my people working for me to be acting.
Yes, I saw something I didn’t like.
How did you spend your time during those few days that you were camped
out at the fort?
the end, I ended up leaving the day before they did fly, because they
weren’t sure. Like I said, we had a lot of people visiting and
we really stayed out on the ramp answering questions for, I think
it was two days of people coming through. Then my fun meter had about
pegged out. I needed to get home, so I flew back here, and they followed
me the very next day. But you’re living out of a hotel and going
out to the base doing the best you can. There was no real work that
had to be done. We stayed around and gave tours and answered questions.
Was DDMS involved in the Flight Readiness Review Process?
yes, sure. For the ferry flights?
For the ferry flights.
Would you tell us about that?
it was like any flight. You get all the key managers and players together
in a room, and a big part of it is weather. I think weather went probably
first, and then my folks, DDMS, the guy who was the lead for DoD would
then pitch the readiness of all the potential bases, all of the legal
stop points. We would talk about any shortfalls any of them had. A
base may be acceptable, but, by the way, there’s something going
on in the city nearby, rental cars will be at a premium, or they’re
limited to this amount of JP [Jet Propellant] fuel. There might be
some LIMFAC [limiting factor]. But they would brief that.
Then the crew was in there. We would start getting into the real nuts
and bolts of, “Okay, what routing are we going to take?”
We knew what routing we hoped to be able to take, but now you started
comparing it to the real winds aloft, the forecast for the next two
days. You’ve got to be looking a couple days ahead or you’re
going to get trapped somewhere, especially in the winter again. You’ve
got to be looking days ahead or you’ll get a vehicle frozen,
and that was a big no-no.
We come to an agreement on the routing. There is an overall ferry
manager. I believe Don [Donald L.] McCormack is doing it on this one.
I’ve known Don for years. As a matter of fact, I’m going
out to dinner with him Saturday night. So the decisions are made there,
and then you decide to press, and you check out of the hotels, you
go to the aircraft. The Pathfinder goes first and then the gaggle
Were any other members of your team on the Pathfinder for the flights?
Now, the one I went on, I was just a management looky-loo. I just
wanted to see what my guys were doing and how did it go, but they
were doing the work. So usually there would be one or two major lieutenant
colonel types from my office who were the DoD point of contact, the
liaison, and they would be the people dealing directly with the military
when you landed if there were issues, and they were the folks who
had planned it all out and communicated with the bases. There were
at least two folks from my office. Now, obviously, the airplane might
have been fairly full of military folks if it was a military aircraft,
but that would be their air crew and their ground personnel. But my
office would kind of manage the military aspect.
Rebecca, do you have any questions for Tom?
do, but they’re related to what you do but not to the SCA. I
was curious when you said you were providing security for when the
astronauts went out to the pad. What aircraft were you in?
fly the Huey II helicopter. For a launch we would have three helicopters
involved. There would be Search 1, Search 2, and Search 3. Search
1 would fly a security sweep of the Center just prior to launch at,
I think it was, about three and a half hours prior to T-zero, because
as I recall, the crew steps and goes to the vehicle at about 3:00,
3:15. I would fly a security sweep of the Center, then go over and
pick up the crew convoy with a sharpshooter team onboard, just going
ahead and checking the sides of the road and everything. You know,
let’s face it. Much of it is symbolic, and yet in this day and
age we are concerned about it.
So the night before, one of our aircraft had done a sweep where you
lock down the Center and you close the beach areas and other places.
We would have done a sweep of the Center to make sure nobody was out
in those areas. As you know, probably, the Center is about 220 square
miles, 144,000 acres, most of it inaccessible by water or by boat
or vehicle. That’s why it’s critical to have a helicopter
looking around. So in conjunction with ground teams, we would have
swept the area.
From 72 hours out prior to liftoff, once they went into S0007, the
countdown check list, I had a helicopter and crew on strip alert virtually
right next to the pad with machineguns ready to launch at any moment
and intercept if someone decided they wanted to do something. Obviously,
there were other components on launch day, high-flying aircraft, and
it was a regular kabuki dance out there.
I would fly Search 1. We’d escort the crew out, and then again,
just prior to launch, we would do another sweep both on Center and
looking just offshore. We had military aircraft farther offshore from
Patrick, guys I used to command. Then at launch, I’d be orbiting
somewhere around Center, basically toward the end we were checking,
watching the river for nothing to come zipping north on the river.
Search 2, the second aircraft, was configured for medevac [medical
evacuation], and he was on the ground on alert over at the OHF, the
Occupational Health Facility, for the medevac, not for the Shuttle
crew, for the medevac of a worker, a visitor, because we had DoD aircraft
that were better equipped that would most likely have taken the crew
if there were a problem. Yet if we had a contingency on the pad, we
would have come into the fray and worked.
Then Search 3 was that bird right near to the base of the pad on alert
until 15 minutes prior to T-zero, and then he took off and orbited
over here somewhere. Now, for the last three missions, after launch
we had to assist the county sheriff in getting vehicles out. It was
total gridlock. It was unbelievable. So were flying aircraft with
sheriff’s deputies onboard helping to move sheriff’s cars
and work roadblocks and wrecks and those sorts of things. It was kind
you do something similar when a landing took place?
landing was less intense, but, yes, we had two helicopters on landing.
We would do a security sweep of the approach routes both ways. Generally,
we would have picked our preferred runways several hours before, but
you can wait until they’ve burned and even after the burn, which
is about an hour from touchdown. But we would do the sweep and then
be on standby in case they landed off runway or ran off the runway,
in which case Search 1 would have become the command and control aircraft
for all the rescue of assets.
interesting contingencies. This one is totally off, but I was listening
to you talk about the work that you did at Patrick, and although you
were not there or here when [Space Shuttle] Columbia [STS-107] fell,
so many of the Patrick personnel were down in East Texas and Louisiana
and in Barksdale [Air Force Base, Louisiana].
you part of the training that helps prepare them to do those emergency
type of procedures?
Yes, we did that all the time. That was a big part of the job there,
was continuing to train other bases and our own folks, because they
would travel to the TAL sites.
I happened to be on the golf course at the time with some folks from
that old office. I think it was about a year after I had retired.
One of them, we were playing golf, and he got a call and he said,
“Something’s weird. The orbiter’s overdue.”
I said, “The orbiter doesn’t get overdue. It’s broken
up somewhere.” Yes, that was unbelievable.
was thinking about Barksdale played such a big part in that, that
it sure did. It sure did. Now, folks from my office at Patrick went
down there to become the liaison with the Barksdale folks.
was just curious about that. It’s like wrapping up another piece
of that. So, thank you.
Did you have any involvement with the ferries now that you’re
in this position?
than supporting it any way we can here on the airfield, the air traffic
controllers, the airfield, it all works for me, so it’s certainly
my job to give them all the support they need and to try and control
the mobs that want to get out here, because we still have an active
airfield. I won’t be at the Flight Readiness Review because
I’m flying support for the takeoff, I think I told you. I’m
going to be carrying NASA TV, and we will be flying next to them as
they take off and getting video of the takeoff, and then I’ve
got to dart over to the area of the VAB [Vehicle Assembly Building]
and we’ll get a shot of them flying by the VAB. Then they’ll
go south, do their loop around Patrick, and I’ll be over by
the visitor complex to get video of them coming by the visitor complex.
So, supporting any way I can.
that unusual or is that an added feature for this one?
is unusual, yes. It is part of the documenting, and I’m sure
we’ll do the same sort of thing or more for the final final
one, although we’ve got to be honest, it’s quite rare
to fly an orbiter out of here to begin with. I have never seen it
before. There have only been a few of those. But I have been around
when we’ve brought them back, and there was no special support
Was that requested by Smithsonian [Institution] or NASA?
flying NASA TV, so it was NASA PA [Public Affairs], and the same with
the last couple Shuttle launches. We had more. The Goodyear blimp
wanted to be in here, and I said, “That’s fine as long
as you’ve got a lens that’ll go 50 miles, because you’re
not going to be within 50 miles.” But there were far more requests
for video and those sorts of things.
So you’re the final voice of authority?
I don’t know. I am the person who approves any of the flights
of the NASA aircraft here. Now, if I said no and Bob [Robert D.] Cabana
said, “I want it done,” I would do it. But if I said no,
I wouldn’t just whimsically say no. So, yes, I am at least a
We have also enacted restricted air space starting at seven o’clock
tomorrow morning. As matter of fact, Ron [Ronald E. Feile] came in
and asked about that. That air space used to be restricted 24/7 after
9/11 [September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks] up until about three
or four weeks after the final orbiter landing, and that restricted
air space goes—I can show you on the chart up there after. The
part that’s permanently restricted goes about 500 yards east
of our runway, so we’re no longer in that. We used to be all
the way over to the river.
I worked with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to get that
air space restricted again for this Saturday, Sunday, Monday until
the orbiter’s gone, because I’m afraid we’re going
to have Snuffy Smith and Snuffy Jones in their little puddle-hoppers.
It’ll be hard to control out there, and we don’t need
aircraft coming that close when we’ve got hazardous operations
going on out here.
So then Ron said, “What about government aircraft?”
Well, I don’t see a need for them to fly by looky-looing either.
It’s noisy, it’s vibration, it’s disrupting, and,
worst case, it could be dangerous. So we’re going to keep them
out of here, and it does help us on the initial climb-out, at least
until we get down by the port. That air space is all restricted and
nobody can come in there without our approval. So it helps the Shuttle
carrier guys for a big part of their flight here to not have to worry
about little looky-loo airplanes.
that an intense process to get the FAA to restrict?
is probably strong, but it’s a process. We have a very good
relationship with them, and if I tried to do this for every little
abnormal function here, it wouldn’t work, but they were very,
very cooperative, because it does impact flights, and we have given
them back—technically, it goes from the surface to infinity.
We’ve given them back above 5,000 feet, because airliners coming
in from Europe, that’s their coast-in arrival. About five to
ten miles north of us here, they need to be letting down to come into
Orlando, [Florida] and if we didn’t allow that, it’s a
lot of fuel. It’s delays. So there could be some impact, but
we’re working with them on timing and giving them back some
of the higher altitudes.
That air space will reopen how soon after the SCA departs?
think right now I show ten o’clock on Tuesday morning after
the vehicle has departed, but we would extend if we delay. Really,
it’s come to a point where we have folks flying tourists now
down the runway, which is okay. It gives my tower controllers what
I call body count. They need so many operations for currency, and
we’re happy people are able to come in here at a safe distance
and fly down the runway. You hear people on the radio all the time,
“That’s the thrill of my lifetime to have seen this.”
But we have companies who are bringing tourists in now, so I have
developed an email list of all the local flight schools, fixed-base
operators in about a 50-mile radius, and I gave them a heads-up about
two weeks ago that, “Hey, just for your planning,” and
they said, “Hey, thank you very much,” because they would
have been booking folks. But it’s become a very popular thing
for the civilian pilots to be able to fly in, fly down the runway,
and that’s about as far east as they can go, down the runway
and then a right turn out. But it’s a thrill, and from a couple
hundred feet you see the pads, you see the VAB, and it’s a pretty
they have to clear it with your tower?
Anything else that we haven’t talked about, about the SCA and
DoD or your position here, that you think we might cover?
not that I could think of. I’ve been a lucky guy. In high school
I used to launch model rockets, and now I’ve been able to play,
really be involved in the Shuttle Program from beginning to end. And
to still be flying, my god, I’m a pretty lucky guy. It’s
been a real thrill, and, of course, you miss it, but life has to move
on. The Shuttle Program was an extremely expensive and manpower-intensive
operation. I saw it from several angles, and in today’s economy
we just can’t do it, as much as it hurts to pay the Russians
millions of dollars. But, anyway, it’s been a thrill.
Thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.