When the space shuttle reenters the earth’s atmosphere, it becomes nothing more than a huge glider—with a pretty awful glide ratio—and the shuttle commander gets just one chance to land. Senior Editor Bill Cox and I had the opportunity to experience this ultimate dead-stick landing in a motion-based simulator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where we were hosted by flight director Paul Dye and retired astronaut and shuttle commander Hoot Gibson.
Our approaches into both Kennedy Space Center and Edwards Air Force Base initiated from the top of the Heading Alignment Cone at 50,000 feet, where the shuttle descends at a whopping 10,000 fpm. At first, I overcontrolled the stick. Per Hoot’s coaching, however, I learned to make small pressure movements. In fact, the less I did, the better the shuttle flew. (Hmm!) The sight picture—base at 20,000 feet, final at 12,000 feet—looks high, very high, but our rock-like glide ratio of 4.5:1 quickly solved that problem. The 20-degree pitch-down attitude looks and feels like your nose is pointed straight down at the ground, but if you “simply” follow the guidance diamond and flare bars in the HUD, life is good.
And who hasn’t ever dreamed of being an astronaut? Our June visit to the Johnson Space Center marked Bill’s 70th birthday, and in this issue, Bill shares his granted wish of flying a spacecraft. In our guest column, Paul Dye, who has served as director on 37 missions, elaborates on the shuttle program. To watch video footage of our landings in the shuttle simulator, click on the video gallery on our website.
Also in this issue, LSA Editor James Lawrence flies the Sirius TL-3000, a carbon-fiber composite LSA from Czech company TL-Ultralight. He and SportairUSA President Bill Canino fly a series of slow-speed maneuvers, including Dutch rolls and steep turns at 40 knots. The high-wing airplane was designed for minimum engine vibration, and James concurs that it’s extremely quiet—only 58 dB of cockpit noise. A typical general aviation airplane has a cockpit noise level of 80-100 dB at cruise speed.
As pilots, we’re exposed to more harmful noise levels than most of the population. It’s not necessarily a question of if we’ll suffer hearing damage, but when. Contributor Marc Lee is a pilot and professional musician who understands the importance of hearing protection. In his analysis of the effects of long-term exposure to damaging sounds, Marc offers technical information to help you decide between active noise-reduction and passive noise-reduction headsets. He also explains the science behind ear cups, ear seals and microphones, and makes some “out of the box” suggestions. He likewise takes a look at some new high-tech products to hit the market.
Great technological advances also are burgeoning in the arena of electric aviation. In a follow-up to last month’s guest column by Erik Lindbergh on the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize initiative (accessible in the Guest Speaker section of our website), James Lawrence gives an update on new and future electric aircraft, from the Antares 20E motorglider to an electric helicopter from Sikorsky.
For most of us, November means cold weather is here. Along with this come the tasks of freezing preflights, ice removal and engine preheating. But P&P reader Jim Furlong gives winter flying a whole new meaning. In our “Flight I’ll Never Forget” column, the intrepid 74-year-old recounts the story of a flight in his open-cockpit biplane from Oregon to southern California in late December. It’s a frigid eight-hour adventure in a race against the sun. Share your most memorable flying stories with us by e-mailing a note and photos to [email protected]