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The handiwork of Bill Strope and Micky Thompson, this car was far from stock. The passenger seat was turned around 180 degrees to be able to watch the Lifting Body, and the “engineer” seat was turned sideways to keep track of other operations. Cables and wiring dressed out this sophisticated, for the time, hightech tow vehicle.

Overview

M2-F1 in tow up to 86 mph, the 1,000foot tow-line giving the pilot plenty of maneuvering room. Slowly, Thompson brought the nose of the little lifting body up until the M2-F1 got light on its wheels. Then, something totally unexpected happened. The M2-F1 began bouncing back and forth from right to left. Thompson stopped the bounce by lowering the nose, putting weight back on the wheels. Several times he again brought the nose up until the M2F1 was light on its wheels, and each time the vehicle reacted the same way, Thompson ending the bounce by lowering the nose as he had the first time. As noted, there were significant control issues with the Lifting Body, as it rolled uncontrollably, until a number of modifications, which took some time, were completed. During this down time, Whiteside had gone to innovator and drag racer Mickey Thompson’s hot rod shop in Long Beach to replace the Pontiac’s rear tires with drag slicks, a change that increased the car’s towing speed to 110 mph. Normally, drag racers use slicks to aid in traction and reduce tire spin. At about 90 mph, minus the slicks, the tires on the Pontiac would start smoking. Looking at movies of the tests, engineers decided the bouncing was probably caused by unwanted rudder movements. Flight control system number two was replaced in favor of number one, and it never bounced again. Speeds on tow inched up to 110 mph, which allowed pilot Thompson to climb to about 20 feet, then glide for about 20 seconds after releasing the

line. That was the most that could be expected during an auto tow. In the spring of 1963, the M2-F1 was shipped to Ames Research Center, where it was mounted on 20-foot poles inside the 40-foot by 80-foot wind tunnel. For two weeks, Thompson and engineers Dale Reed and Ed Brown took turns “flying” it as air blasted by at a 135 mph. They learned more about its flying qualities, and accumulated important data for the upcoming aero tows.

Pontiac’s Aero Successor A NASA C-47 was used for all of the aero tows. The first was on Aug. 16, 1963. The M2-F1 had recently been equipped with an ejection seat and small rockets in the tail to extend the landing flare for about 5 seconds (if needed), and Thompson prepared for the flight with a few more tows behind the Pontiac. Forward visibility in the M2-F1 was very limited on tow, requiring Thompson to fly about 20 feet higher than the C-47 so he could see the plane through the nose window. Towing speed was about 100 mph. Tow release was at 12,000 feet. The lifting body descended at an average rate of about 3,600 feet per minute. At 1,000 feet above the ground, the nose was lowered to increase speed to about 150 mph; flare was at 200 feet from a 20 degree dive. The landing was smooth, and the lifting body program was on its way. The M2-F1 proved the lifting body concept and led the way for subsequent, metal “heavyweight” designs. Chuck Yeager, Bruce Peterson and Don Mallick also flew the M2-F1.

More than 400 ground tows and 100-plus aircraft tow flights were carried out with the M2-F1. The success of Dryden’s M2-F1 program led to NASA’s development and construction of two heavyweight lifting bodies — the M2-F2 and the HL-10, both built by the Northrop Corporation — based on studies at NASA’s Ames and Langley research centers and the X-24 program. The Lifting Body program also heavily influenced the Space Shuttle program. The Pontiac towed the M2-F1 for the first time on March 1, 1963, and before April was over, it had towed it a total of 48 times. While the Pontiac was prominently a part of the M2-F1 adventure, it was no secret the car didn’t exactly resemble the usual flight-line vehicle. According to Whiteside, whenever someone from NASA Headquarters was visiting the Flight Research Center, Bikle would slip away momentarily to phone him, telling him to hide the car. Whiteside would pull the Pontiac behind a shed and throw a cover over it, the Pontiac “grounded” until the visitor left. What happened to the NASA muscle car once the M2-F1 program ended? Near the end of 1963, the Pontiac was shipped to NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia and used in tests at Wallops Island. There was some regret expressed at the NASA Flight Research Center when the Pontiac left, fairly much captured in a comment printed at the time in the X-Press, the NASA newspaper at Edwards Air Force Base: “No longer can we drive along the lakebed and pass the airplanes in flight.” The good news is that the car has been located in Georgia and plans are to restore this amazing piece of history to be placed in the Air Force Flight Test Museum expected to open in the next few years at Edwards Air Force Base. Our plans are to cover that restoration — and when we do, you will come along for the ride. 

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Power & Performance News Spring 2016  

Built upon a Resto Mod theme, this issue of Power & Performance News is packed full of DIY performance projects, car features and hardcore t...

Power & Performance News Spring 2016  

Built upon a Resto Mod theme, this issue of Power & Performance News is packed full of DIY performance projects, car features and hardcore t...

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