[FPSPACE] Genesis air-catch technology
zirconic1 at earthlink.net
Mon Nov 8 22:22:50 EST 2004
A month or so ago, shortly before Genesis made a thump into Utah dirt rather than a spectacular swoosh into an hook hanging from a helicopter, I discussed some of the predecessors to this aerial catch attempt. The press made much out of the fact that this was a "James Bond catch" being performed by Hollywood stunt pilots. But as I pointed out, this had been done by US Air Force pilots hundreds of times during the Cold War and that was much harder.
There is a letter to the editor of Aviation Week this week from G. Robert Veazey, who was the chief engineer at All American Engineering Corp. for these programs from the 1960s to the 1990s and served as a consultant to the Genesis air catch project. He worked on the JC-130B used to catch CORONA capsules in the early 1960s and on later programs, including the Mid Air Recovery System or MARS which is what the Genesis system is adapted from. Veazey discusses some of the details of Genesis and also some of the previous work.
He says that in the 1980s they performed tests using a CH-60 Blackhawk helicopter and essentially the same system that was used for the Genesis mission. Veazey says that the Genesis system actually uses a lot of advanced lightweight materials instead of the aluminum used for the original systems. The single hook system is more reliable than other previous systems and less complicated. He says that a traditional C-130 retrieval would have subjected the capsule to 4 gees of acceleration, whereas the MARS system would subject it to 2 gees, and the system designed for Genesis to around 1 gravity.
I think in my earlier post I mentioned that I suspected that helicopters had previously been used for mid-air recovery of military drone aircraft, but I was not able to find into on that. It turns out that there is a fair amount of information in the book Lightning Bugs and Other Reconnaissance Drones, which was published in 1981. (There is apparently a bit of a story behind this book. Someone said that this was actually the official, and classified, history of the program. Somebody walked out of the Air Force with it back in 1980 or so and Armed Forces Press published the entire thing as a book. The Air Force was not happy.)
The MARS system was used extensively during the Vietnam War and was capable of retrieving Air Force drones weighing up to 2000 pounds. It was originally developed for an Army application (the book does not say what that was, but the Army was uninterested). The value of it for the drones was that the drones often got damaged when descending by parachute to the ground. Air catch prevented this.
In addition, I recently found a reference in a USAF Space and Missile Systems Organization chronology to a mid-1970s test of aerial catch for a sounding rocket vehicle. There was no indication if this was an airplane or a helicopter.
I also have documents (somewhere) indicating that the Australians developed an air catch system for missiles during the 1950s. These were US documents and contained few details other than that the Australians were using this system. So the story of air catch is more detailed and extensive than just about anybody expected.
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