Friday, June 11, 2021

"It's People" Who Can't Release This Knowledge And Technology Into The World...,

medium  |  Anyhow, I got a call from one of the Directors who said, “I happen to be out here for something — you’re not going home yet, you’re going to meet me at the Air Force station tomorrow for lunch over by the Aerospace Corporation on Sepulveda. Maybe you’ll make it home by Monday — we’ll see.”

So I show up for lunch over at the Air Force station, and Harold Ostroff was sitting down at this table with a big group of military & civilian guys in business suits, and as I walked up to the table, he turns to the other guys sitting there and says, “I’d like to introduce you all to the new head of McDonnell’s Advanced Aerospace Program.” Anyhow, I didn’t know anything about this beforehand, and when he said it I looked around a bit for the person he was talking about — and after a second I guess that it finally sunk in that he was talking about me.

So that was how I found out about it — I had a deputy program manager from Huntington Beach, and there was a group there from Aerojet — Don Kissinger, Mike Hamel, and Ron Samborski — that were there to talk about the air-turbo ramjet work that they’d patented back in 1946.

I went out to Aerojet the next couple of days for briefings on their engine designs, and when I came back home, we did a proposal for the Air Force TAV program, but the main thrust was a proposal that we put together with the people from Huntington Beach on a 2-stage to orbit vehicle. The first stage would fly with air-turbo ramjets to about Mach 6 or 7, and then it would stage with a scramjet vehicle a rocket that would deploy up into orbit.

We had several different concepts for this, depending on how soon we wanted we wanted the thing to fly. One of the people out at Huntington Beach named Joe Shergi had a concept for what he called a “toss-back booster”, that looked like an Apollo capsule with engines mounted in what looked like the heat-shield. After you separated the upper-stage, this thing would turn around and retrofire to toss back to the launch site, making everything recoverable.

We had 2 or 3 concepts that we were briefing as 2-stage to orbit vehicles. The first one that we could build quickly, based on all the hardware that was available, was a hypersonic FDL-7C glider on top of a toss-back booster. Then we went to an air-turbo ramjet first stage which went to about Mach 7 to 8, and later we went to a scramjet first stage that went to about Mach 12.

We hired a guy named Larry Fogel from the Titan Corporation, and he actually toured all of the SAC bases that had operational B-52 squadrons and asked them what they would do if they had one of these NASP vehicles — how they use it, maintain it, and stuff like that. We built an entire database on what the Strategic Air Command estimated these vehicles would cost to operate. We’d given them all the numbers that we had at the outset — how much thrust we had, how much propellant we needed, how many times the engines could be re-used, etc — and they gave us back operational cost estimates compared to a traditional B-52 squadron. It was quite interesting…

We took this information and used it for briefings in Washington DC, which is where I met Scotty Crossfield, who was working with Dan Glickman — and what we ended up with was the first stage vehicle, which was a large, Mach-6 vehicle. This led to the development of a prototype that we created as a demonstrator to validate the technology.

So the prototype was built to show how the NASP vehicle could fulfill 3 primary mission roles. The first was simply as a Mach-6 transport for passengers, the second was a Mach-8 strategic strike-aircraft for the Air Force, and the third involved combining the vehicle with an upper-stage rocket to go into Low-Earth Orbit.

It sounds like this technology really blurs the line between an aircraft and the Space-Shuttle or maybe even a true spacecraft…

Well the shuttle’s not an aircraft — it’s an abortion trying to figure out how to fly. You never want to build a vehicle that looks like that. The best vehicles ever designed came out of the Air Force Flight-Dynamics Lab, and Draper made one huge effort to try and get NASA to listen, and they absolutely refused to take his advice.

From the beginning, NASA had their own ideas about bluntness and all sorts of crazy design ideas that ended up in the Shuttle. The real hypersonic vehicles that were inherently stable — from Mach 22 all the way down to zero, and had thermal protection systems already worked out — were simply discarded.

These weren’t new ideas, even when the Shuttle was being designed. The Department of Defense was involved with this between ’58 and ’68, and they were discarded because the President at that time decided that no military systems would enter orbit. The administration was deathly afraid back then of militarizing space, which meant that everything going into space had to be civilian, so NASA took over everything.

The Air Force has something called the XLR-129 — it’s in a book that one of the Pratt & Whitney guys wrote that you can buy from the Society of Automotive Engineers library. The XLR-129 had about 580,000 pounds of thrust from a LOX-hydrogen engine and 3,500 psi chamber pressure.

It was fired 40 times without any overhaul, and it was brought up to full-power in about 3.5 months — whereas the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) took about 38 months to come up to full-power.

This very same XLR-129 engine was donated to NASA when the Air Force got out of the space-race. The plans, the engine, and everything related to it were destroyed, and the last sentence in that chapter in Pratt’s book says, “NASA destroyed all of this because they didn’t want to embarrass their present engine contractor.”

Given the issues that NASA’s having with the Shuttle Program at the moment, do you think that they may someday return to this type of hardware for a next-generation Shuttle design?

One of Reagan’s assistant secretaries of commerce — for innovation, technology, and productivity — was named D. Bruce Merrifield, and he was very Russian in his thinking. The Russians have prototype factories that take laboratory ideas, and translate them into something that can be used in a functional, operational piece of hardware.

Merrifield’s concept was that the deficiency in the United States is that it uses projects to prepare technologies for application, which doesn’t give the new technologies adequate time to properly mature. He always advocated that just like with baseball players, technology needs a “farm team” to develop it so that it can later be used functionally. The Japanese do this, the Russians used to do this, and they do it because it produces great results.

What we were doing when I was at McDonnell-Douglas — because “Old-Man Mac” was a hardware guy — was looking at how you could take these big ideas and build samples & prototypes out of them, to see if we could come out of this with an operational concept.

When we designed a Mach-6 aircraft, we didn’t follow NASA’s strategy of building a research and develop vehicle that could only be flown 3 times a year. What we developed were vehicles that were operationally functional as much as a B-52 is.

Our resupply vehicle in 1964 for the manned orbiting laboratory had 11 operational vehicles and 3 spares — and those 11 vehicles flew 100 times a year for 15 years. That’s 1964 industrial capability — no magic at all. I don’t need magic. Now compare that to the Shuttle.

 

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