NASA STS Recordation
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Jennifer Ross-Nazzal
Houston, Texas – 26 August 2011
Today is August 26th, 2011. This interview with Henry Taylor is being
conducted for the NASA STS Recordation Oral History Project. The interviewer
is Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, assisted by Rebecca Wright. Thank you again
for taking time out of your day. We certainly appreciate it.
you for having me, and I hope I can provide some good information.
I think so. Steve [Steven R.] Nagel recommended you to us.
wondered where it came from.
I asked him for the people he thought were the best candidates. I
thought we’d start out by asking you to just give us an overview
of your career with the Air Force and then at NASA.
started my Air Force career in 1971 working on fighter airplanes,
F-4s and 111s, and then became a flight engineer on C-141s. Did that
for three years or so and then came to NASA in 1979. At NASA I flew
on the C-130 Earth resources airplane, the old Super Guppy, the Shuttle
Training Aircraft, and then got on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft [SCA]
How’d you find out about the opportunity to work on the SCA?
I was already here. The guys that were in charge of our operation,
as openings came up, they selected people that were qualified and
available to fly, because of background experience. It was like just
waiting your turn until somebody retired.
Was that one of the nice posts out of Ellington [Field, Houston, Texas],
one of the coveted positions, I guess you might say?
it is, because it’s an interesting program. Back when I first
started flying on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, more landings were
at Edwards [Air Force Base, California]. So we got to do it more often.
Later on in the program they tried to land at KSC [Kennedy Space Center,
Florida] much more than they did in the earlier days.
Tell us about the training that you had to take to become a flight
engineer for the SCA.
NASA, when I was selected for the airplane, they sent me to two weeks
of systems training, and then I went to the simulator for four, five
sessions of practicing procedures, especially emergency procedures
in the simulator. Every system on the airplane—it’s a
very complicated airplane because it’s so involved—they
would create malfunctions in the flight simulator of every system,
and you’d have to learn how to perform procedures. So after
that then I just started flying and took a couple training flights
and then became qualified.
In that two-week training period were you out at Dryden [Flight Research
Actually the ground school was done up in Dallas at a company called
Dalfort which was part of Braniff Airlines back in the days. They
had a simulator, and they had instructors that did ground school.
In the simulator I had a United Airlines instructor who came and worked
at the simulator. There was like five four-hour sessions in the simulator.
Tell us about being a flight engineer for the SCA. What do you do?
What are your job responsibilities?
flight engineer is responsible for preflighting and managing all the
systems of the airplane. Also I do all performance calculations to
say, “Okay, can we take off on this runway; how much fuel are
we going to need to go from point A to point B?’ Because of
temperature and altitude effects on the performance of the airplane
as you get higher elevation airports like Edwards or El Paso [Texas]
or Amarillo [Texas] or anyplace that’s higher elevations and
temperature gets higher, the performance becomes more limited. You
can’t take off with as much weight. So that’s the calculations
we do ahead of time to plan. Okay, we want to go from point A to point
B. How much fuel can we get off with, and can we make it from that
point because of it? When can we take off? Sometimes we can only take
off early in the morning. We can go somewhere, but we can’t
get out of there and leave to go to the next point until it’s
early in the morning. That’s why we fly early in the morning,
typically. Also to avoid buildups of weather.
I think originally you had mentioned something about the flaps of
the airplane as well—the flap retraction speeds.
the performance we calculate the takeoff speeds. We calculate what
speed the pilot needs to rotate at. What it’s going to climb
out at. Based on the weight then you calculate when do we start retracting
the flaps after takeoff because you use flaps to create extra lift
on takeoff so you have to build up speed before you have less flaps
because you got less lift. So as the speed increases on climbout,
you retract the flaps in different stages.
So you’re busy a few days or a few weeks before these missions?
a normal Shuttle mission, about a month before, we do what’s
called a ferry planning readiness review. That’s where it’s
run by the Shuttle Program Office, and one of the things that needs
to be done is create a plan based on the weight of the Orbiter at
that particular time and time of year and the availability of airports.
How are you going to get it from Edwards to the Cape [Canaveral, Florida];
what days are you going to leave; what days are you going to fly on
based on the normal end-of-mission landing time; what time is sunrise,
because we can only take off during daylight, but we can take off
up to 20 minutes before sunrise. We have to land no later than 20
minutes after sunset. So we calculate when we’re going to leave
from Edwards; what fuel stops we’re going to make; where we
might need to spend the night based on the temperature. The heavier
the Orbiter, the more stops we have to make from Edwards to KSC. So
that’s done at that meeting. Also they review the status of
what the Orbiter is going to be.
So that plan is kept until they land at Edwards. After the Orbiter
lands at Edwards, then we go out to Edwards a couple days before the
actual time we start the mission. We review the plan, get new weather
forecast, and then update it as we go. Frequently the plan you’ve
put together a month before launch is no good when it comes time to
actually leave because the weather is going to keep you from going
to a certain airport. So you have to do it on the fly and replan it
real-time like a day before you leave from Edwards. You frequently,
as you stop, have to change the plan because you may have gone from
point A to point B but you can’t get to C so you go from B to
D and on from there. You have to change your route based on weather.
You mentioned something that I thought was interesting. You could
basically only fly during daylight hours. Why is that?
because of seeing and avoiding weather. We can’t fly through
thunderstorms. We can’t fly through clouds. We can’t fly
within any more than light turbulence. Because the Pathfinder airplane,
which is out in front of us by about 100 miles, is scoping out the
route, they can tell us that we need to change our route or deviate
or climb or descend. We’re limited on altitude with the Orbiter
to eight psi [pounds per square inch] and minus nine degrees centigrade,
which is 15 degrees Fahrenheit. So sometimes we have to deviate on
our route. Seeing clouds at night is much more difficult when you’re
flying. So unless it’s absolutely clear—we have got a
couple waivers a couple times to complete a flight at night when we
knew it was absolutely perfectly clear and there was no chance of
any problems, but normally we only fly during the daytime.
Is that because of the thermal protection system [TPS]?
TPS system, the tiles on the Orbiter, any rain just erodes them like
all get-out and causes significant damage, or can cause significant
damage. So we don’t fly through rain, and we can’t be
near thunderstorms. So it’s just much easier just to see and
avoid during the day than at night.
When you’re working at these plans a month in advance, you have
an idea what the Orbiter weighs. Does that weight ever change? Do
you weigh the vehicle once it comes back in case they brought something
They don’t weigh it at Edwards. What they do is the Orbiter
mass properties folks keep track of what the Orbiter is weighing based
on propellant uses during a mission and cargo offloaded. Before the
mission they have a pretty good idea, approximately, what it’s
going to weigh if they land at Edwards. Once it lands at Edwards they
give us an updated weight that we can use for the final planning.
This is just a best estimate of what it’s going to be when we
do the meeting a month ahead of time.
Tell me where you sit during the ferry flight itself.
the cockpit of the 747 you have the pilot’s seat, the copilot’s
seat, and the flight engineer’s panel. The flight engineer’s
panel is on the right side of the cockpit. The seat that the flight
engineer sits in swivels and slides such that I can turn sideways
and face the panel, which is right behind the copilot’s seat,
or slide it right up in between the two pilots’ seats because
when we get ready to take off the pilot just calls for me to set the
engine power settings. So I’m pushing the throttles up. He’s
got his hand on the yoke, and he rests his hand on the throttle so
if we have to abort beforehand then he pulls it back. But otherwise
he just tells me what power setting to set during the takeoff roll
and then on initial climb out and during climb. So typically I sit
between the pilots and turn so that I can still see my panel, but
it depends on the phase of flight.
Now once we get up in cruise I usually slide my seat back and face
mostly my panel. My panel is the size of that board [about 4 ½
feet wide x 3 feet high]. It’s full of gauges and switches,
which I have to constantly monitor. As we burn fuel I have to burn
fuel out of certain tanks at certain times. So I’m maneuvering
switches and valves to burn the fuel out of different tanks.
How many tanks are there on the SCA?
are four main, one center wing, and two reserve tanks. We normally
only use fuel out of the mains and reserves. We don’t use fuel
out of center wing mainly because the Orbiter just takes up too much
weight. The airplane can only weigh 710,000 pounds at takeoff. So
with a 200-and-something-thousand-pound Orbiter we can’t put
a full load of fuel on. So we never get fuel in the center because
you make it too heavy.
Tell me why you would burn fuel out of different tanks. How does that
just to manage the load on the wings, to keep the wing loaded right,
a certain weight. Certain types are bigger than others. So you start
out burning out of all the main tanks. Then you get down to a certain
amount, and then you switch over, burn out of the inboards. When you
get towards the end of the flight you get lower on fuel so you have
to use the reserve fuel and dump it into the tanks to use.
Sounds like a lot of juggling.
is a little bit, but it’s not too bad.
What are some of the challenges that you might face when you’re
flight engineer working on the SCA?
thing is a lot of performance calculations: the balancing of flap
setting for takeoff versus climb limit, because with more flaps for
takeoff you’re limited by takeoff climb weight more than with
the less flaps setting. But with less flaps you need more runway to
get off. So it’s a balance between what can you climb with versus
what can you get off the runway with. That’s the biggest pretakeoff
challenge. In flight the main thing is just monitoring the systems,
keeping track of what’s going on. During Orbiter ferry mission
the SCA provides power to the Orbiter, and we have to keep track of
that. Every 15 minutes we record the voltage and the amperage of the
transformer rectifier [T/R] output to the Orbiter to make sure that
the Orbiter doesn’t lose power. If part of the Orbiter loses
power, then some of the circulation systems and coolant loops become
affected. Depending on what the temperature is and where we are, if
we lose too much power to the Orbiter, they will say, “Go land,”
because we don’t want to damage the systems on the Orbiter.
That would damage avionics in the vehicle?
believe so, yes. We have two gauges. You can either select volts or
amps. We have four T/Rs. So keep track of the volts and amps that
they’re putting out. That tells us the Orbiter’s power
being used. You can see over flight time. You can see the load on
those going up as the Orbiter cold-soaks in altitude. Their systems
have to work harder, their coolant loops and pumps work more. So you
can see an increase in load.
How many people end up flying a ferrying flight? Is it just the two
pilots and the one flight engineer?
during an active ferry mission, it’s two pilots and two flight
Do you switch off at some point during the flight?
we do. It depends how many legs we’re going to do. If there
are enough legs so everybody’s going to get a chance at the
seat then one flight engineer will take a leg from point A to point
B. Then the other guy will take it from B to C. The pilots will do
the same thing. They’ll switch legs. It depends on how many
they’re going to get. If there’s a very limited number
of legs, then sometimes people will switch in flight so that one guy
will get the takeoff and one guy will get the landing.
I’ve been in the SCA, I think, once. If memory serves, there’s
a lounge where there might typically have been seats in a 747.
the SCA we retain the seats in the first-class area, downstairs, but
nobody rides down there during the active ferry missions. When we
go from the Cape back to Edwards without an Orbiter, the mechanics
who had been riding on the Pathfinder sit down there. Now upstairs
behind the flight deck in commercial 747s there was a lounge area.
We have four seats up there, but we don’t really use them for
day in, day out operations. Everybody’s in the cockpit. Also
it’s very noisy in the airplane aft of the first-class section
and in the lounge area where the structure has been modified for the
forward support upstairs and then for the other supports in the back
of the airplane.
Because all the insulation and all the galleys and all the lavatories,
everything’s been taken out to reduce the weight, it also gets
very cold in the back. So there’s a curtain that’s put
up to try to keep the air temperature not so cold.
Now usually what happens is after takeoff the other FE [flight engineer]
goes back and walks through the cabin and looks out at the wings and
the engines. When you get to the back of the airplane you can look
out the windows and see the wing of the Orbiter on either side. So
look and see if it’s still there. I’m just kidding. We
just look over it, make sure that there’s not something leaking
or something going on. We call it a scan. We just go out and walk
around, walk through the cabin. Look and make sure everything’s
okay, because normally you just stay in the cockpit.
That’s a cool job, I would think. Have you ever taken anybody
on an active ferry flight who wasn’t part of the crew? Say the
[NASA] Administrator or other visitors.
used to take Orbiters from KSC to Palmdale [California] for their
OMDP which is Orbiter Maintenance Down Period. We had four vehicles.
Because of space at the Cape, they wanted to get work done in California.
We’d take them out there, and they’d be out there for
like nine months to a year. Sometimes on those missions because those
Orbiters were inert, they did not have any toxics on board, they would
allow a couple people to go along who were involved in the management
of the program. But we just didn’t take tourists or anybody
who wasn’t officially involved in the thing. In other words
maybe the ferry manager or the KSC ground operations manager or somebody
like that would ride in the airplane. But we don’t carry extra
people on active ferry missions.
You mentioned the fact that there were toxic substances on board.
Are you trained in hazardous materials and things like that?
are. In the SCA they used to give us what was called these Scott Air-Paks.
It’s like a scuba tank that you put on your back. It had a face
mask, I don’t know if that’s the right term, but a mask
where you could breathe air from the tank. They gave us this thing
called a Draeger checker. It was a sniff checking device that had
tubes, and you’d break off the tip and stick it in this pump,
and it was for ammonia or hydrazine or whatever.
Normally the Pathfinder lands ahead of us. We land, pull into a remote
area, and with binoculars they look to see if anything’s leaking,
and also they go around and sniff, just like after landing. If you’ve
seen at the Cape, they go around and sniff and make sure there’s
nothing leaking out. Then they give us the okay to turn the air conditioning
on and taxi into the parking spot. If we land without the Pathfinder
somewhere, divert the Pathfinder, something happens or whatever, then
the other FE has to be capable of putting on that Air-Pak and going
out and doing a sniff. I have done that one time before. I know another
guy has had to do that because we’ve landed somewhere without
Nowadays they use a small ten-minute breathing supply which is just
a hood and a little small tank. It’s not as big as it used to
be. It’s called ELSA [escape pack]. It’s just a little
breathing pack, but they put enough on for everybody so that you can
get off the airplane in case there’s a problem, if there’s
Have you ever encountered that other than that one time?
one time I had to go out and do it. I know other guys that had to
do it once or twice. But there were never any toxics leaking. We had
to do it because we landed. So we take off without the air conditioning,
turn it on, and we turn the air conditioning off just before landing
so that if there’s any leaks—when you’re flying
they’re all getting blown away, but when you land and you slow
down, to make sure that there’s no chance of any toxics leaking
before we get to safety check, we just keep the air conditioning off.
It doesn’t take very long after we land for them to check the
I didn’t know that. Learn something new every day. You told
us about the training that you undertook before you became a flight
engineer. Tell me about the training that you participate in on a
regular basis to keep yourself up on equipment.
six months we all go to the simulator and spend three or four days
getting refresher training on systems and also practicing emergency
procedures. They’ll give us a scenario where they’ll give
us problems starting engines, systems fails, engine failures on takeoff,
aborted takeoffs where you get up to where it’s time for takeoff,
they fail an engine, then you have to stop and evacuate the airplane.
Electrical problems, flap problems, gear problems. All the different
problems that can occur on the airplane, we practice every six months.
Where’s the simulator located?
have been using the simulator at Denver [Colorado]. In the years that
I’ve been on the airplane we went to Seattle [Washington], to
Boeing, to the simulator. Went to Pan Am in Miami [Florida] to the
simulator. We’ve been going to the United [Airlines] simulator
in Denver. We’ve used the Evergreen simulator in Denver. Before
I got on the airplane they’d use American Airlines simulator.
So we’ve used different simulators. We now have a couple of
guys who do all of our ground instruction and sim [simulator] instruction.
They used to be United pilots and flight engineer instructors, and
now they work for CSC, which is our contractor. They just lease the
simulator for us to use.
For some reason I thought maybe there was a simulator on site or over
at Ellington. You also fly the plane on a regular basis too, do you
we fly the airplane about once a month, three weeks to a month. We
go out and do a training flight so that everybody can get their landings
and proficiency. We have to fly every 60 days to be current.
How do you simulate a Shuttle being on top of the SCA?
software, the simulator folks created the drag. You can adjust the
weight in the simulator. You can change the weight and cg [center
of gravity]. So we tell them what weight we want to be at, 710,000
or 600,000 or whatever weight we want to be. Through the software
they can change the way the simulator responds because it simulates
that we’re heavier or lighter. The Orbiter drag is a math model
that was created back in the ’70s and passed from simulator
to simulator. It’s a program that we own to create the drag
When you’re not flying an active ferry flight where do you normally
take the SCA just to practice?
we take off from Edwards and sometimes we go up to altitude north
of Edwards and just check the pressurization. It all depends on what’s
been done to the airplane in the last month. A lot of times we just
go over to Palmdale and just shoot touch-and-gos and full stops so
that each pilot gets an instrument approach, a couple touch-and-gos,
a full stop landing and a takeoff. Then they swap seats and we go
do it some more. It depends. Sometimes we have just a couple pilots
on the airplane, sometimes four or five. Because of people’s
schedules everybody tries to fly whenever they get a chance.
It must be a dream job for a pilot or a flight engineer.
after doing it for a long time, it gets windy and bumpy out there
in California. So we try to fly early in the morning before it gets
too hot and bumpy. As you can imagine, it’s the desert. In the
summertime, it’s bumpy.
It’s hot out there all the time.
lower altitude, because we’re just a couple thousand feet over
the ground as we’re in our patterns.
Now that the program has ended, what’s happening with the SCA?
Do you continue to practice and do simulations?
continue to fly the airplane, and we will keep flying the airplane
about once a month. Next spring in April is when Discovery is scheduled
to go to the Air and Space Museum. Once it gets delivered to Dulles
[National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Virginia],
to the Air and Space Museum, we’ll pick up Enterprise and take
it to New York. Now the equipment that they’re going to use
at Dulles after it gets loaded has to be torn down and shipped to
New York. So it’ll probably be four to six weeks with Enterprise
sitting on the 747 in New York before that equipment gets there to
take it off. After Enterprise gets taken off in New York, then the
airplane will go back to Edwards. Then in the summer Endeavour will
go. We’ll take the airplane back to Florida, pick up Endeavour,
and then fly it out to LA to deliver it to California Science [Center].
That’s it. Then after the Shuttle Program is done delivering
all the Orbiters to museums, the airplanes are scheduled to be transferred
to the SOFIA [Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy] Program.
What is the SOFIA Program?
Program is an airborne telescope in a 747 that is a different model.
It’s called an SP; it’s a shorter model. It has a telescope
in it. It’s an infrared telescope. I’ve flown on it some
too. It’s operated by Dryden out at Palmdale Airport, which
is just around the corner from Edwards. They take off in the evening
and fly for ten hours all night and go up and look at whatever scientific
investigations they want to do. It’s a large infrared telescope.
You can Google SOFIA, and you’ll see lots of pictures about
it. It was bought from United Airlines years ago and took many years
to modify. It’s starting to do its science flights now. They’re
doing more and more flying with it.
Will the SCA have to be modified again?
they’re not going to modify the airplane. They want the engines
as spares for their program. Use the same engines as we do and any
parts they may need. So the airplanes probably won’t fly anymore,
but they may find use for one. Now they may use one for currency,
because they can’t go fly currency flights in that airplane
because of the very, very expensive telescope and the cost to operate
that airplane. They don’t want to take any chances just doing
touch-and-go landings with it. They only want to do mission flights.
There are people who call from time to time that are interested in
possibly using the 747s to carry something or to do something. They
call us up, or they write us an e-mail. I tell them, “Okay,
it’s going to cost you this much to operate the airplane,”
and they say, “Oh, okay, thanks.”
we get calls from time to time, people wanting to do projects. As
far as I know, unless something changes, after the Shuttle Program
is done delivering, everybody says, “Yea verily we’re
all done,” and [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, DC] put out
a memo a couple three years ago says the airplanes will be transferred
to SOFIA to reduce their cost so they won’t have to go buy more
engines or anything like that.
How many people used to work on the SCA as pilots and engineers? And
how many have you retained now that you’re done?
now we have two pilots at JSC [Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas].
We used to have six pilots and four flight engineers throughout many
years, four pilots at Houston and two pilots at Dryden. All four flight
engineers were in Houston. Now with retirements and this and that
and the other there are two pilots at JSC that are civil servants,
and there are two qualified flight engineers at JSC. There’s
one ferry-qualified civil servant pilot at Dryden and one civil servant
pilot who can fly the airplane but is not certified yet for ferry
operations. We have one contract flight engineer who used to be a
civil servant, and one guy in training. Within the last few months,
they hired as a part-time contract pilot one of the former civil servant
pilots from JSC, who’s now retired. He’s also going to
be flying SOFIA part-time. Then we hired another guy part-time to
be an SCA pilot.
The one guy who used to work at JSC and retired, he was on the airplane
for a number of years, probably 20 years before he retired. We had
two people retire within the last year and a half or two years from
JSC that cut into the pilot pool significantly.
You all work on other planes and other projects.
flies something else and has multiple things that they do. So it’s
not just the only thing to do.
You’re the chief flight engineer for the SCA. Can you tell us
I provide the standardization for all the flight engineers. I administer
the evaluations to determine when somebody’s qualified. I just
manage the flight engineer part of the operation. I do just about
all the performance planning for these ferry mission readiness reviews.
Just a point of contact for all the FEs.
You had talked earlier about the ferry readiness reviews and how long
in advance you had started working on those. Can you tell me who else
is involved in those ferry readiness reviews besides the pilots and
there’s a guy who works in the Shuttle Program Office named
Don [Donald L.] McCormack, which I think you’ve talked to or
answered some questions. He has been the ferry manager for the last
number of years. He runs the ferry planning readiness review. He has
folks from all different parts of the Shuttle Program Office that
answer to him about the Orbiter configuration. He has DoD [Department
of Defense] folks that respond to him for the status of our approved
airports to go to. He talks to the KSC processing folks to say they’re
ready to support. Basically it’s just a review of what the status
of the Orbiter is. Is everybody ready to do a ferry if we have to?
What is the configuration of the vehicle? He’s the manager of
Now once we get out to Edwards to start a ferry mission, then he’s
coordinating with the weather folks. He’s coordinating with
all the processing folks to say when we’re going to be ready
to go. Then we as the SCA crew provide him with plans on how to get
there and how we recommend going. Also the weather folks who are saying,
“Yes you can go from point A to point B but then you’re
not going to get any further than that until three days from now when
this weather system gets out of the way.” So he’s taking
a lot of inputs to manage the ferry mission.
You mentioned that things change, things are moving along on the fly,
if you encounter weather for instance. Have there ever been times
when you’ve just really had to go way out of the way, very far
up north, out of the way from KSC because of weather?
recently—I say recently—within the last probably two,
three, four years, on a ferry mission we went from Edwards to Amarillo
to Nebraska to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to get to KSC, because there
was a big blob of weather. It was just constantly staying and evolving
over the Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi area. So we had to
make this big circuit. Plus the Orbiter was quite heavy so we could
only just make short hops. So we’ve had to go all that way to
get around to get to KSC.
One time from KSC back to Edwards we flew from KSC to Missouri and
then from Missouri to California to get around weather. You can imagine
the Gulf Coast, which is the shortest way to get from Edwards, typically
in the summertime or sometimes in the spring you can have a lot of
weather issues with thunderstorms. We try not to go anywhere where
it’s going to be any bad weather while we’re there. In
other words if we can fly from point A to point B today, but it’s
going to be bad after that we don’t go because we don’t
want to go somewhere and get stuck without being able to get out of
What’s the typical flight path that you might take from California
to Florida? Or is there one?
on the weight of the Orbiter and how many stops, typically it’d
be from Edwards over the Southwest part of the country over the El
Paso area and land somewhere in Texas, either San Antonio, Fort Worth.
We used to go to Abilene to Dyess Air Force Base or to Oklahoma, and
then go in.
Now that’s for the Orbiter that’s like less than 200,000
pounds. We can usually do that and make two legs: one from Edwards
to someplace in Texas and then on to Florida. But with a heavier Orbiter
you’re going to make at least three stops, three legs, and sometimes
even four. We try to stay further south, if we can, just to cut off
distance and cut down stops. We try to do it as safely, as efficiently,
and as quickly as possible to minimize the time that the Orbiter is
In other words it’s not in the building at KSC or it’s
not at Edwards. It’s not protected by a building at Edwards,
because it’s in the mate/demate facility out there. Generally
the weather is pretty decent out there. It’s dry. It’s
not going to get rained on very much. They really don’t like
to get rain on the Orbiter. That’s what we’re trying to
avoid. The goal is to do it as quickly as you can, as safely as you
can and as efficiently as you can.
You primarily land at DoD sites?
bases, just about all the time.
Why is that the case?
support capability. There’s a lot of people on the Pathfinder.
There’s probably a team of 30 people or something on the Pathfinder,
or more. So if we spend the night, everybody’s got to get vehicles,
hotels. The military provides security, because the Orbiter has to
be roped off. It has an entry control point where they have armed
guards, and nobody can get within 200 feet of the 747, unless they’re
on the access list. The only people on the access list are the 747
crew and some of the ferry team members that have to do stuff with
the airplane or the Orbiter.
Who is on the Pathfinder? Tell me a little bit about that.
have weather officers. You’ll have a ferry manager. You’ll
have all the KSC support personnel. You’ll have the 747 mechanics.
You’ll have the Pathfinder flight crew and maintenance crew.
You’ll have safety folks. You’ll have security folks.
It’s a big crowd. It’s typically 30, 35 people on an active
ferry mission on the Pathfinder.
As you’re coming into a landing, who needs to be there? What
are your duties as you’re landing the vehicle?
Pathfinder is there ahead of time, so they have things set up. The
airport or the base knows where they’re going to put us, because
it’s all been coordinated. When we land of course we have safety
vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances standing by. We land, and
we go to the spot where they’re going to check and make sure
we’re safe with the sniff checks and then we go to our parking
The mechanics are there. They’re ready to marshal us into the
parking spot and put chocks around the gears so that we know it’s
secure and won’t roll once we park and shut down the engines.
So we really don’t have anything to deal with, other than just
getting to the spot.
Once you’ve landed are you greeted by press? Do the media want
to do interviews?
media wants to do interviews. Of course any base we go to, the commander
of the base always seems to have an entourage he wants to bring out.
Once we’ve declared that the vehicle is safe, and it’s
okay with the ferry manager, then they’ll let select people
come inside the 200-foot rope for tours. So we sometimes have to hang
around to give tours of the airplane, just short ones. If we’re
on a turnaround mission, there’s not a lot of time. If we land
somewhere, going to just refuel and leave, we’re only on the
ground a couple hours. So we’re busy from the time we land to
the time we’re ready to leave. There’s not a whole lot
of time for show-and-tells. If we spend the night somewhere, depends
on how long our day has been too, and when we have to leave the next
day, how long we can stay out there and provide tours and show-and-tell
for people to come see. It’s just an empty airplane but people
like to walk up the stairs to the doors and that way they can get
a closer look at the Orbiter. Of course everybody wants to take pictures.
It’s a cool thing. When you’re not around it every day,
I think that that’s pretty cool.
an iconic symbol. It’s an American icon, the Orbiter on top
of the 747. When we land at bases, there are so many people around,
on the highways nearby, to watch us come in, it’s just amazing,
especially if it’s been well publicized in advance that we’re
coming in there. It’s released to the news media, and they start
putting out the information. Here comes the herd of people. Of course
a lot of them can’t get on the base, but they get as close as
they can to see. Some bases it’s much more receptive to people
being able to get close by and see. Others are out in the middle of
nowhere, and there’s not that many people anywhere. Go to Abilene,
there’s not many people that get close to the base, because
it’s out, it’s way away. Versus you go to Fort Worth,
to what used to be Carswell Air Force Base, and there are just people
everywhere around there. Thousands of people parked on the sides of
the roads. Depends on which way we’re landing.
Has the SCA ever flown into Ellington?
We have never brought an Orbiter that landed from a Shuttle mission,
because of the weight and the toxics, but we have brought inert Orbiters
through. Challenger came through on its first flight in 1982. After
STS-4 [Columbia] landed, it landed in California, [President Ronald]
Reagan was there to greet the crew. He gave a big speech at Dryden.
Challenger already was loaded up on the 747 and took off from the
lake bed over the crowd at Dryden and then came to Houston and stopped
and then left and went to KSC on its initial delivery flight to KSC.
We brought Endeavour on its maiden trip when it came from California.
We brought it through Ellington. Atlantis came through Ellington also
when it was new.
We’ve had other vehicles. We brought Columbia through. I’m
pretty sure Discovery has been through. I’d have to look at
my records to see which ones have come. Enterprise came through when
it was being flown around to go to KSC for testing. Of course it never
went to space. But Enterprise has come through back in ’78 or
something like that, ’79.
That’s exciting for people who work on spacecraft here.
couple years ago on the way from Fort Worth we did a flyover of the
JSC area in December.
I remember that.
we couldn’t land because of the weight. We did a couple circuits
around the JSC area and a couple flybys at Ellington. We did a flyby
at Intercontinental Airport on the way to Louisiana. It just worked
out to where we could route it that way. Any time we’re flying
a ferry mission, we get lots of calls to try and do flybys. That has
to be approved by the Shuttle Program, because they control the Orbiter.
We don’t decide where to do flybys, the SCA crew. We get told
we’d like to do a flyby here or there, because they manage that
risk. We just fly it when they tell us to. Now with the JSC flight,
we worked out a little route. They just say, “Do a flyby at
That was neat. I do remember that, going out, getting that e-mail.
How many missions have you flown from Edwards to KSC? Do you know
don’t know. I’d have to look, but I would think probably
40 or more just guessing. That includes some KSC to Palmdale flights
too so probably 40 plus missions total since ’89.
What was your final ferry flight that you did?
one, let’s see. I don’t have my records here to know the
last one I did. When was the last time we landed at Edwards?
I was trying to think about that this morning.
Probably, yes, it’s been a while, because they try to land at
did that Endeavour flyover in 2008, December ’08 I think it
was. Then it was the following year. So it’s been a couple years.
What are some of the more memorable ferrying flights that stand out
in your memory?
first one that I did, when I walked out to do the preflight on the
airplane at Kelly Air Force Base [Texas], I walked around and said,
“Wow!” So to get to do the first one that you did. Then
the one where we flew Endeavour flyover was special because of getting
to show people. One time we went to Salt Lake City [Utah] on the way
to Palmdale, and there were just thousands and thousands of people
lining the roads. We got there a little late because of some Pathfinder
issues. Military airplane had problems. It was late in the afternoon,
and people were using their flashes as we flew over at 1,500 feet,
trying to take a picture of this airplane flying over. We circled
the area quite a bit. There was just thousands of people.
Then the next day we delayed taking off for a while. They had a bunch
of schoolkids come out, gave tours, TV and stuff. They’re all
special. The first one, and then each one is unique, and each one
has some special stuff to it. It can be very tiring because you’re
getting up very early in the morning. You typically have a long duty
day, because we show up for briefing two hours before takeoff, and
that’s 20 minutes before sunrise. So when you leave Dryden,
it’s 45 minutes from town to Edwards. So you’re looking
at a pretty early getup.
That’s like 2:00 in the morning? If you’re on Houston
time, that’s four. How long would your day typically be after
duty day is 14 hours. So from the time we show up to the time we leave
the airplane can’t be more than 14 hours.
How many hours does it take to fly from Edwards to the Cape?
it depends on how many stops we’ll make. If you just make one
stop, it’s about—I’m going to round it up—it’s
about seven hours. It’s about three and a half hours from Edwards
to Kelly, and then about three and a half more from Kelly to the Cape,
depending on the tailwinds. So you got two, three hours on the ground
at Kelly. You got a couple hours on the ground at Edwards. Then when
you land you’ve got to stop on the runway. They got to do the
safety check. Then they got to tow us in the mate/demate facility.
We get off right before they tow us into the facility. So it can be
two plus seven plus three plus an hour. So easily 12 hours, if the
weather is good. Now that’s if we just land and refuel and go.
If we have to spend the night, then you add a couple more hours onto
that each way.
How many gallons of fuel does the SCA use typically on a flight?
on the weight of the Orbiter. The airplane, the lighter it is, the
less fuel it uses. On a typical end-of-mission ferry weight it averages
about 38,500 pounds per hour. Now divide that by 6.7. I’m not
going to do that in my head with the recorder going. If you divide
38,500 by 6.7 that’ll give you the gallons per hour. It burns
about 130 pounds per nautical mile of flight. So it’s burning
20 gallons every mile, something like that. Is that right? If it’s
130—I’d have to do the math.
That’s a lot of fuel. That adds a lot of weight too.
not fuel-efficient. We’re flying low because the Orbiter has
altitude temperature restriction. So if we could fly higher with the
Orbiter we could use less fuel. Eastbound is 15,000 feet typically,
and we average about 38,500 over a three-and-a-half-hour flight. That’s
a good round number.
Tell me just in general how the 747 was modified.
airplanes were modified by Boeing. Inside the airplane, where the
aft attach point is, there are two bulkheads that go down into the
belly of the airplane that support the weight where the Orbiter is
mounted, both in the vertical mounts, and then there’s a horizontal
mount that goes forward of that. So there’s a bulkhead there.
There’s also one for the front mount. There’s also extra
layers of skin added in various stress points throughout the airplane.
Two and three layers on the outside of the airplane in places where
the engineering decided that’s where the stress is going to
That skin, is that extra aluminum?
Now NASA has had two SCAs over the years. I think in your notes you
had mentioned you went out to Wichita [Kansas] to oversee some of
those mods [modifications].
second airplane, the modification started in ’88. It was finished
in late 1990. I was also working in quality assurance. So I spent
some time at Wichita, as did other people, monitoring that contract,
and looking at the work that was being done. Its first time carrying
the Orbiter was when we carried Endeavour on its maiden flight out
of Palmdale. I was on that first takeoff. So that was interesting.
The first time we used that 747, and the first time that Orbiter had
flown, that was a memorable flight too, that first time with that
Does NASA still maintain both of those SCAs?
airplanes are currently maintained, although probably in the next
few months we’re going to have one just in final storage because
we just will need one to take Orbiters to museums.
Is the SCA used for anything else besides the SOFIA program and the
Orbiters? Is there anything else that NASA uses the SCA for?
not currently used for SOFIA, but it’s supposed to be transferred
to them for use. Now we a couple years ago, actually a year and a
half ago, we carried an unmanned vehicle called a Phantom Ray from
St. Louis [Missouri] to Edwards for Boeing. We did a flight test to
determine how that vehicle would respond. Because it was unmanned,
they were not allowed to fly it from St. Louis to California over
the populated US on its first flight. They didn’t have the flight
facilities in St. Louis where they could do it. They wanted to do
it in California. So over a many-month period they designed an adapter
to mate to our mounting points. Then they mated their vehicle to that
adapter, and we flew it nonstop from St. Louis to Edwards for them.
First of all we did an hour flight test with a photo-chase airplane
to see how it would handle, because there’s some unknowns. Then
we did some inspections to make sure it hadn’t caused any problems.
Then the next day it was like a 5.8-hour flight from St. Louis to
LA, because we did it low at altitude and reduced speed. You can Google
that. It looks like a little mosquito on top of the airplane. It was
like 30-something-foot wingspan. With the adapter it weighed like
30,000 pounds. But it’s an interesting picture.
I’ll have to go out and look at that.
made the national news on the day we did the flight test. Flying around
St. Louis. It’s interesting-looking, it’s like a little
Not quite as big or as heavy as the Shuttle.
had requests to do other things with the airplane. Mostly it’s
just been used for carrying Shuttles.
It’s been that workhorse for all these years.
its job. Don’t want to take any chances on anything happening
while doing something else. They agreed to use it for that Phantom
Ray project, because we still had two airplanes. There was a time
period where we could do that.
I guess I do have one other question that I hadn’t thought about.
Obviously the Shuttle, you didn’t always know where you were
going to land because of weather. So were you ever working on the
possibility of it landing at Edwards, and it didn’t end up landing
there, but you had to be prepared in case there was that contingency
Every mission we would put together a plan just in case. The Shuttle
Program would be looking at the weather ahead of time and trying to
decide whether to activate Edwards, to have it ready just in case,
because the forecast at the Cape was bad. So we would be actively
working on plans, especially sometimes during a Shuttle mission. To
say it’s looking more and more like they might go to Edwards
so we’ll sharpen our pencils.
How far in advance do you have to be out at California? Or do you
wait a couple days?
usually go out at least a couple days ahead of time. At least one
day before they’re scheduled to ferry we have the part B of
the ferry readiness review. That’s when the ferry manager gets
all the people from KSC and all the folks at Edwards that are—of
course KSC folks go out to Edwards to process the vehicle. He gets
everybody together and has a big long meeting about the status of
the Orbiter, when we’ll be ready to ferry. He gets a weather
briefing from the weather folks to talk about okay if we’re
ready tomorrow we’ll plan to take off at this time, and this
is where we’ll go. We, the SCA, are all involved in that decision
Frequently the weather briefing says ain’t going to happen.
Or the folks processing the Orbiter say, “Well we were supposed
to be ready tomorrow, but we’re not going to be ready tomorrow,”
or “We’re not going to be ready for an early morning takeoff,
but we’ll be ready in the afternoon.” Well, what does
that do? Do you decide well, we’re just not going to try to
leave late in the afternoon because it really doesn’t buy us
anything. We’ll wait till the next morning.
If you have to delay do you just come back to JSC?
once we go there we stay there till we leave. I have gone out and
spent anywhere from one or two days to a week waiting to leave. Once
you get out there there’s no reason to turn around and come
back. You just stay until you’re ready to leave.
Well, I tried to be pretty thorough. But is there something you think
I may have overlooked about ferrying operations or the SCA or any
anecdotes or stories that you would like to share?
is a personal one. It’s a very sad time for me, to see this
come to an end. To me, it’s such a wonderful program. I just
hate to see it come to an end. There has been a lot of discussion
about as we take them to museums should we do any touring around,
make several stops on the way to each museum. Yesterday there was
a meeting at Headquarters, and they decided not to do any extra flying
around for a variety of reasons although the White House may push
back on that. I’m not sure how much I should really say about
that, because the Headquarters, White House, there’s going to
be going back and forth about that.
What they call the Executive Council, which is the Administrator and
all the wheels and all the Center Directors, they have this NASA team.
They decided they didn’t want to expose the vehicles to any
more hazards than necessary as they take them to museums. Plus there’s
some cost issues which are not trivial. It’ll be great for people
to see them in museums, but I don’t think it’s time. My
personal opinion, not an official NASA opinion, my personal opinion
is we shouldn’t have retired them this early. That’s how
that goes. I sure wish they were still flying.
A lot of people we’ve interviewed for this project have talked
bittersweet. It’s a sad time. I spent my whole life. I came
to work a year and a half before the first Shuttle launch. I’ll
be here probably for a year and a half after the last landing—it
won’t be the same.
It’s changing the Center, that’s for sure.
it’s changing not just the Center but the agency.
Did you get a chance to see the launch of STS-1?
launch I went to was STS-3. First landing I watched was STS-4 at Edwards.
Then I’ve been to a lot of launches and landings since then.
One of the other airplanes I’ve flown is the Shuttle Training
Aircraft, which is a modified Gulfstream II which has half the cockpit
like the Orbiter, half like a regular airplane. We used it to train
Shuttle pilots to land the Shuttle. So I started flying with it in
So you trained Steve Nagel, I guess.
a lot of bananas but we got him trained.
I think he talked to us about that a little. Well, I thank you very
much for your time today. I certainly appreciate it.