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Center Innovation Fund: AFRC CIF

F-15 Aero Tow Vehicle Development

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

This research focuses on developing a capability to enable towing of spacecraft and aircraft using a fighter aircraft. The aero tow concept calls for a larger aircraft to tow an aircraft or glider into the air with a long, robust towline. At a predetermined altitude, the towed aircraft separates from the towplane and performs its mission. The concept dramatically reduces costs as well as risks to human personnel associated with launching rockets and sending satellites into space. The results of this project will pave the way for the start of ground testing and flight demonstrations using a representative tow train with a surrogate drag device.

Work to date: The Armstrong team evaluated available towline attach points on the F-15 aircraft as well as load path strength, tow performance, attachment hardware, towline design, and interaction with exhaust plumes. To date, the team has:

  • Produced the attachment hardware design and stress analysis
  • Demonstrated that the F-15 has excellent climb and loiter performance for medium and fast tow speeds
  • Simplified the towline design for use when F-15 afterburners are not used during takeoff rotation

Looking ahead: The team will continue its work to develop towing as a viable test technique for X-Aircraft and reserach aircraft. Work planned for 2015 includes the following:

  • Fabrication of attachment hardware
  • Modifications to F-15 aircraft
  • Creation of tow train assembly
  • Ground load tests
  • Flight tests using a parachute to replicate drag load with release of tow train in a drop zone

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate has expressed a specific need for this kind of capability for the Towed X-Plane project.

Benefits: This research project reestablishes NASA's capability to tow test aircraft to altitude for:

  • Captive flight tests
  • Release to independent-powered or gliding-flight tests
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Technology Maturity (TRL)

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