Considering that I am writing this on the 40th anniversary the first tail cone off flight of the Shuttle orbiter ENTERPRISE it's only fitting that the subject should be that of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that took Orbiter 101 aloft on October 12th, 1977... NASA 905.
Recently I visited Houston and the Johnson Space Center. While there I took in the visitor center (
which has the Best ASTP, LRL and Skylab displays that you'll find anywhere BTW) to see the new SCA display.
I texted a good friend of mine and told him I was going to see NASA 905 and he replied that he has been wondering what the visitor's point of view first impression was like. I decided to send him a photo tour... and now you can see it too.
The SCA, "NASA 905" dominates the visitor center at JSC as you approach.
A Boeing 747-123 was purchased from American Airlines and converted to the SCA which was then monikered as NASA 905. The aircraft, originally registered as N9668, had been delivered to AA on October 29th, 1970. After nearly 3,000 cycles it was retired from service. NASA aquired the 747 on July 18th, 1974.
Aside from the outward modifications such as the outriggers on the horizontal
stabilizers and the orbiter support struts on the upper fuselage other less apparent changes were made to 905. Nearly all of the seats were removed with the exception of some first class seats in the nose. The aircraft's four JT9D-3A engines were upgraded to JT9D-7AHW engines giving the aircraft an additional total thrust of 13,800 pounds. (Later both SCAs in the NASA fleet would be up-rated to
JT9D-7J engines giving each aircraft an additional 12,200 pounds of thrust). A modification to the longitudinal trim gave an additional two degrees of nose down trim to counter act the downwash from the orbiter's wings. Semi-circular arches were added inside the fuselage to compensate for orbiter loads. Additionally ballast of pea gravel and lead weights were added in the forward area to compensate for the removal of the interior accommodations.
Aside for the red white and blue stripe on the aircraft all American Airlines markings were removed and she was re-registered with the FAA as N905NA. (In later years NASA would re-paint both SCAs in NASA's white and blue colors)
Coming out of the building the first thing that catches your eye is the enormous starboard engine and the shuttle mock-up sitting high above you.
Strolling down the walkway you head for the nose of 905.
Before climbing the gantry to go inside the bird, if you're a career aviator like me, you are compelled to do a little walk-around... err... walk under.
Everything looks to be in good shape, but there is one thing that I found strangely missing... there's no ramp noise! No deafening hums and whirs and no roar of other aircraft doing taxi, push or take off. That's when it strikes you that this is no ramp- it's a museum.
You can either climb the stairs of the gantry or take the elevator (to the left out of frame).
From the stairs every step gives you a more exciting view.
Close-up view of the
JT9D-7J intake... no FOD seen.
At access level the view aft is just really cool. Made me remember watching 905 fly on TV during the first free-flight of the ALT on August 12th, 1977.
Sitting on the ground beside the museum is this interesting object... well, at least the White Room and access arm didn't go to scrap.
No boarding pass is needed... just walk on in. The charge that you pay to get into the visitor's center covers everything... so you don't need to buy a special ticket to go aboard 905.... yet.
Victory stencils for every mission that 905 flew are on her starboard side.
Once inside the aircraft is packed with history... this is a FIRST CLASS experience folks- all the way.
Speaking of first class... here are some of the seats that were left aboard.
The first exhibit that really caught my eye was this one...
This is the radio controlled 747 that was used by John Kiker and his fellow R/C airplane nuts at DFRC to prove to NASA management that carrying the orbiter on the back of a 747 was
feasible. Look closely at the inboard engine and you'll see that it has a propeller and is in fact a two stroke model aircraft engine! The model has one on each side. To see it fly go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5LWFV5NJjY
and watch at the 3:30 mark.
The entire fuselage is lined with cool stuff like that.
There are plenty of hands-on displays for kids... some of whom are able to get a senior discount.
This one lets kids do a mate-demate of the orbiter and see what it does to an SCA hull section.
There is plenty of room inside 905
Another cool mate-demate hands-on lets kids taxi the SCA into the mate-demate and then lower an orbiter onto the SCA. Parents can help, but the kids seem to have more success on their own.
This one is REALLY fun... it's a wind tunnel and allows you to see how airflow around the Shuttle SCA combination and how the turbulence patterns flow.
A floor grid allows you to see down into 905's belly.
There is also a memorial to the two lost shuttle crews.
Guests can watch a short video of what the Shuttle program was all about.
At length we come to the aft pressure bulkhead and the rear exit.
And back outside...
It almost looks real... almost.
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Now comes the hard part. If you wanna go inside the orbiter mock-up you have to go all the way down and all the way back up. What the heck... my fitbit says I needed the steps.
Once back up at the top you get to go into the mock shuttle orbiter...
It is highly mock-ed up... all of the TPS tiles have the same number etc...
But what's inside is pretty dang cool...
My favorites among the flown items were the "fly swatters"...
... and the antenna loppers! I remember watching them use these. So it's really cool to see them in person.
And everyone wants to see the cockpit of the mock-up orbiter. I'd have rather seen the cockpit of 905, but it's off limits.
The view from up high is really amazing...
You wanna stay up there.
There was one thing that had me scratching my head... the names of the flight crews on 905 did not include Fitz Fulton, Tom McMurtry, Lou Guidry or Vic Horton- the crews that flew the Approach and Landing Tests. After all, those flights are depicted among the victory
stencils on the other side of the aircraft. In order to answer this question I turned to the only person that I knew could give me the correct answer off the top of his head; Robert Pearlman of collectSPACE.com . He informed me that these are the names of the crews who did the final museum flights for the actual orbiters.
Okay. I can see that.
Here's the ALT crew... just to make me happy.
Over all- this is a super display and it is clear that a great deal of care was taken to make sure that things are correct. Every space buff should make the trip to visit 905 as well as Skylab, ASTP and the LRL displays at JSC. I give it an A+ and it was well worth the trip.
And yes folks... what you are seeing is after the hurricane. The place looks super!