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Science Briefing

The Research Aviation Facility's two-year effort to prepare the WB-57F aircraft for high-altitude research has been put on hold following a series of recent setbacks. The facility has had to deal with structural cracking, difficulties with avionics and engine gauges, uncertain supplies of spare parts, and problems with flight controls and brakes. RAF manager Paul Herzegh explains that "the recent history of problems we've faced alerted Jim Ragni [RAF pilot], Dave Carlson [ATD director], and me that we were trying to move too quickly to make the aircraft operational. Despite extraordinary scientific demand for the aircraft, we need to step back and reassess our status and plans."

In August Dave and Paul grounded the former Air Force reconnaissance aircraft indefinitely. They have launched a six-month evaluation which will exhaustively reexamine the feasibility and cost of operating the aircraft.

On 26 August, RAF faced an in-flight failure of the trim adjustment for the horizontal stabilizer (the small horizontal wing on the tail of an aircraft). Pilot Jim Ragni and scientist Cindy Twohy were flying at around 16 kilometers when Jim found that the trim adjustment was not working. Without it, Jim was in for a strenuous time, relying wholly on manual strength (as much as 50 to 70 pounds of force) to operate the elevators on the aircraft to bring the nose down. When the aircraft reached warmer temperatures at 5 to 6 km, Jim could again adjust the stabilizer and was able to land the aircraft without incident at Denver International Airport, where the WB-57 is now being housed. During their descent, Jim and Cindy coped with an unrelated surprise: sudden loss of radio and intercom communications from Jim's position in the aircraft. The team communicated with each other by passing notes while Cindy handled radio communication with air traffic control.

As a result of the reevaluation now under way, ATD is making no plans for scientific use of the WB-57 during fiscal year 1997. "Although we've solved each of the specific problems faced to date," says Dave, "we need to better anticipate those problems that future operations will bring, and we need to understand how we'll cope with them."


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Prepared by Jacque Marshall, jacque@ucar.edu, 303-497-8616