Landing the flying brick

Roamy here.  Another type of plane in NASA’s hangar is a Gulfstream II, but this is not your ordinary corporate jet.  Actually, there are four Gulfstream II’s heavily modified to be the Shuttle Training Aircraft.  The Shuttle pilot has one chance to land after a mission because there are no engines that would allow it to go around for a second try.  These aircraft are used to train astronauts in how to land the “flying brick”.  (I have read that the Shuttle responds well in pitch and roll but not yaw.) The plane drops out of the sky at 330 mph at an angle of 18 to 21 degrees.

Cockrell (author’s note: the instructor pilot) flips a few switches and the STA’s engines go into reverse, the main gear lowers, and flaps on the wings open. A computer in the aircraft is setting the rules now, making the sleek jet fly like a 110-ton shuttle.

“It’s a fairly clean airplane and it likes to glide and it’s got good thrust,” Cockrell told us before the flight. “So we have to ruin all that to make it fly like a shuttle.”

Like the Shuttle, these will probably end up in museums, or possibly modified for some other mission.  One of the STAs had previously been used to test propfan designs.

The STAs have an excellent safety record, with only one mishap in 2003 where one of the thrust reversers fell off the plane.  They were still able to land safely.