Eclipse Video Clips: Takeoff & flight Tow flight close-up and release
Special Thanks to Mr. Don Anctil of Kelly Space who sent Eclipse Project video tape to Rich Davis, which will result in more clips on this site.
Eclipse Project Pilot by Robert "Buzz" J. Sawyer
The pilot for this project was an ex-Marine test pilot named Mark Stucky, who was then (and still is, as far as I know) a NASA test pilot. He was my last F-106 student in August-September 1996. Seems the "six" was very similar in plan-form to the proposed space craft. The ultimate plan is to tow a spacecraft off the ground with a jumbo jet, such as a 747, tow it to altitude where it would be through most of the Earth's atmosphere, where they would "light up" the spacecraft's engine(s) as it was released from the tether. That way it would save fuel (and weight), and be more economical than using booster rockets. After attaining orbit, the payloads would be dispensed, and it the "Eclipse" spacecraft would fly back to Earth.
"Forger" (Mark Stucky's nickname/call sign) got a full check out in the six, then took two of our QF-106's to what used to be Norton AFB in San Bernardino, CA, for the mods. They had to get rid of the characteristic pitot boom, for fear it would get entangled with the kevlar tow rope. Then, the shackle (the drag chute jaws mechanism of a B-52) and release system had to be installed. From what I understand, Forger only got three (or four?) towed sorties.
He took off with a minimum amount of fuel (for reduced weight) with the speed brakes open and left the landing gear down (limit speed is 285 KCAS). This simulated the drag characteristics of "Eclipse" compared to the C-141 tow ship. The engine was left at idle to provide hydraulic power for the flight controls (and in case he needed to cut free and fly on his own) After being towed to somewhere around 20,000', they would cut him free, and he would return to Edwards for a normal landing. He said that on his last sortie he had them cut him free right over Edwards, where he flew a simulated flame-out landing (SFO)--having flown an entire sortie or about 50 minutes without ever moving the throttle out of idle!
Of course no one here at Holloman (or Tyndall) thought much of being towed like a glider in an F-106. The project acquired the nickname "Dope on a rope" when we first heard about it. Mark wasn't very fond of it during his training here, but when he returned after completion of the project, he said he preferred "dope on a rope" to what the NASA folks at Edwards were calling him--"The Drag Queen!"
Before taking his 2 jets to AMARC after project completion, Mark became the last official F-106 instructor pilot, giving the other test pilots instruction on flying the 106. Seems they all wanted to fly this "classic" before they went into terminal storage. Forger gave us a bunch of great pictures--copies which appear on your site.
Robert "Buzz" J. Sawyer, FSAT Site Manager, Lockheed Martin, Holloman AFB, NM, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org