August 5, 1975: John Manke Testing Shuttle Landings

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  • NASA

A National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) test pilot John Manke flew the X-24B from 60,000 ft to an unpowered landing on the main runway for the first time, following an unpowered descent from 57,050 ft. This demonstrated that a space shuttle-like vehicle could safely be landed on a designated runway following a mission in space.

John A. Manke served as a research pilot, Chief of Flight Operations, and as site manager NASA's Flight Research Center, later the Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, at Edwards, CA, during a 22-year career with NASA.  Manke came to NASA in May 1962, as a flight research engineer. He was later assigned to the pilots' office and flew various support aircraft including the F-104, F5D, F-111 and C-47 before beginning research flights in the wingless lifting bodies in 1968. Manke flew 42 flights in the lifting bodies, including the X-24B, X-24A, HL-10, and the M2-F3, more than any other pilot.

The wingless lifting bodies demonstrated the ability to maneuver and safely land a vehicle with a shape that was designed for space flight. The research provided data and flight techniques used for the design of space shuttles. He made the first supersonic flight in a lifting body and the first landing of a lifting body on a hard-surface runway. That precision landing of the X-24B on August. 5, 1975 proved that a low lift-to-drag aircraft could be flown to a precise landing, leading space shuttle designers to eliminate plans to incorporate auxiliary jet engines on the shuttles to aid landing approaches.

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