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Adam Danyal
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adamdanyal

Adam Danyal
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For all enquiries use [email protected]
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Watch This Boeing 747 Aircraft Carrying a Space Shuttle on its Back in the 90s

Piggyback rides aren’t just for kids! Sometimes space shuttles need a lift too! During the era of the Space Shuttle Program, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 would carry space shuttle orbiters on its “back” from landing sites back to the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center, among other locations too far for ground transportation delivery.

Dubbed, “The World’s Greatest Piggyback Ride,” the SCA was considered “a symbol of American invention and ingenuity.” While it primarily served as a taxi service for the shuttle, it also helped in the development of the shuttle itself. Before transforming into the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, the Boeing 747 was originally manufactured for commercial use. In 1969, the “747 four-engine intercontinental-range, swept-wing ‘jumbo jets’” entered commercial service. It was 232 feet long, 63 feet tall to the top of the tail, and had a 196-foot wingspan that sat low. While that’s normal for its type of aircraft, its modifications were not.

To make the SCA lighter, the passenger area was stripped of any comforts, including the galleys, carpeting, as well as a portion of the inside temperature ductwork. Yet this aircraft still weighed over 250,000 pounds. Plus, the drag created by the shape and weight of the orbiter was 176,000 pounds or more. So, twice the power was needed and a lot more fuel to maintain flight. For example, during a normal flight, the SCA might have used 20,000 pounds of fuel an hour, however, when giving an orbiter a “piggyback ride,” that number doubled!

Besides the weight of the shuttle and aircraft, the weather was another obstacle to contend with. The orbiter couldn’t be exposed to moisture, turbulence, or temperatures below -9 Degrees Centigrade. Therefore, these limitations determined the flight path and altitude. In order to meet those conditions during the wintertime, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft had to fly as low as 10,000 feet!

On February 8, 2012, the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft retired after its final mission to the Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale, California. The helpful jumbo jet was used as a source of parts for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft, another modified Boeing 747.

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