Northrop F2-M2 Lifting Body by Anigrand

1/72 scale
Cost: $35.00 including shipping
Kit No. AA-2015
Decals: One version – NASA markings
Comments: detailed resin kit with vacuform canopy

History

In 1957, NASA began investigating the problems associated with re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere with a missile nose cone. Engineers conceived the lifting body concept that by modifying a cone shape, aerodynamic lift could be produced allowing a craft to fly back from space rather than simply plunging to the Earth. This study led to the design known as the M2, a modified half cone, rounded on the bottom and flat on top, with twin tail fins. This configuration allowed the lifting body to land on a runway rather than parachuting into the ocean. In 1962, NASA built the first lifting body prototype, the unpowered M2-F1.

The success of the M2-F1 program at the Dryden Flight Research Cener led to NASA’s development and construction of two heavyweight lifting bodies based on studies at NASA’s Ames and Langley research centers — the M2-F2 and the HL-10, both built by the Northrop Corporation. The “M” refers to “manned” and “F” refers to “flight” version. “HL” comes from “horizontal landing” and 10 is for the tenth lifting body model to be investigated by Langley. NASA signed a contract with Northrop to build the M2-F2, a second-generation heavyweight lifting body. The Northrop Corporation completed the new craft in 1966, and soon afterward the first test glide flight was made.

The M2-F2 made its first captive flight (attached to a B-52 carrier aircraft throughout the flight) on March 23, 1966. Before powered flights were undertaken, a series of glide flights were conducted. The first glide flight of the M2-F2 – which looked much like the “M2-F1” – was on July 12, 1966. Milton O. Thompson was the pilot. By then, the same B-52 used to air-launch the X-15 rocket research aircraft was modified to also carry the lifting bodies. Thompson was dropped from the B-52’s wing pylon mount at an altitude of 45,000 feet (13,700 m) on that maiden glide flight. He reached a gliding speed of about 450 miles per hour (720 km/h). On May 10, 1967, the sixteenth and last glide flight ended in disaster as the vehicle slammed into the lake bed on landing. With test pilot Bruce Peterson at the controls, the M2-F2 suffered a pilot induced oscillation (PIO) as it neared the lake bed. The vehicle rolled from side to side in flight as he tried to bring it under control. Peterson recovered, but then observed a rescue helicopter that seemed to pose a collision threat. Distracted, Peterson drifted in a cross-wind to an unmarked area of the lake bed where it was very difficult to judge the height over the ground because of a lack of guidance the markers provided on the lake bed runway.

Peterson fired the landing rockets to provide additional lift, but he hit the lake bed before the landing gear was fully down and locked. The M2-F2 rolled over six times, coming to rest upside down. Pulled from the vehicle by Jay King and Joseph Huxman, Peterson was rushed to the base hospital, transferred to March Air Force Base and then UCLA Hospital. He recovered but lost vision in his right eye due to a staphyloccocal infection. Portions of M2-F2 footage including Peterson’s spectacular crash landing were used for the 1973 TV movie The Six Million Dollar Man (though some shots during the opening credits of the series showed the later HL-10 model, during release from its carrier plane, a modified B-52).

As a result of the May 1967 crash, Northrop re-designed the M2-F2’s control surfaces and developed the M2-F3, which introduced a third vertical fin at the rear center of the craft to improve its flight control characteristics . Flight testing resumed with the M2-F3’s first unpowered glide on June 2, 1970, and continued until advancing to the first powered flight on November 25th of that year. During 1970, the Air Force joined the Lifting Body program, making several powered test flights and the first supersonic flight on August 25, 1971. The M2-F3 completed a total of 27 test flights and was retired at the end of 1972.

Although equipped with an XLR-11 four-chamber rocket engine as its powerplant, the M2-F2 never made a powered flight. Its brief career as a test re-entry and landing vehicle coincided with NASA’s Gemini and the early days of the Apollo space program. The M2-F2 represented an important step in the testing and flight research of the lifting body concept, helping to refine the technology that led directly to the development of the Space Shuttle.

The Kit

Anigrand’s M2-F2 is cast in tan resin and consists of sixteen resin parts and a single vacuform canopy. Decals are provided for a single version of the M2-F2 which NASA flight tested from 1966-67. With the exception of the canopy, the parts come sealed in a single clear polyethylene bag with two compartments; the two-part tub-shaped fuselage is in one compartment, and the second compartment contains all other parts. The vacuform canopy is contained separately in a small zip lock bag. There is a simple exploded drawing on the instruction sheet. There are heavy engraved panel lines on the fuselage and a fairly detail seat as well as molded on detail for the cockpit instrument panels. The main landing gear doors are separately molded, but the nose wheel doors are molded as a single part with an engraved line down its center. This part will have to be scribed, carefully separated and then sanded to form two symmetrical doors. There is a fair amount of flash on about half the parts that will have to be cleaned up.

Conclusion

A very interesting kit of an important phase of the space program, detailed yet with relatively few parts for a quick and enjoyable build. Highly recommended.

References

  • Anigrand M2-F2 instructions
  • Wikipedia.org
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