The NASA Cadillac

Gallery Article by Alvis 3.1

 

Research into the lifting body shapes that would one day lead to the Space Shuttle took a torturous path in the 1960s. Several varied shapes were tried, but the oddest one of all was the Cadillac Lifting Body. 

The whole project actually started as a joke played on some Northrop engineers. A couple of the NASA test pilots "found" an old '59 Caddy, and bolted some landing gear onto it, then towed it aloft in front of the horrified aerodynamicists. Amazingly, the car actually flew quite well. With the horror behind them, several of the pilots and Northrop engineers set about modifying the car to test flight status. 

 

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On June 18, 1971, the vehicle was ready to fly. Deemed too risky by higher echelons in NASA, clearance to use the NB-52 was denied. However, the pilots were able to "borrow" a C-130 from the USAF for the afternoon, and promptly pushed the car out the back of the Hercules at about 28,000 feet.  The car flew amazingly well, touching down 12 minutes later. Other than losing a windshield wiper and having the fuzzy dice fall off the mirror, the flight was judged a success. The Caddy went on to perform 12 more successful flights, exploring all corners of it's flight envelope. 

However, the project really had no useful purpose, and once the General Accounting Office found out about the shenanigans, all NASA support was forcibly withdrawn. Rather than scrap the car, it was donated to Fast Eddy's Caddy Ranch in Reno, Nevada, where it can still be seen as part of the massive 1.3 acre roof display.

Alvis 3.1

      

Photos and text by Alvis 3.1