Serial number 61-2775 was the very first of 284 C-141A Starlifters ever built and had its maiden flight on 17 December 1963, the 60th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight.
This C-141A Starlifter spent its entire career as a test aircraft in numerous programs. It is one of only two remaining “A” models and is the only known four engine jet used to tow a glider. The last program this A model carried out, known as Eclipse, was to test a new tension rope from NASA while towing a QF-106 in air.
Introduced to replace slower piston-engined cargo planes such as the C-124 Globemaster II, the C-141 was designed to requirements set in 1960 and first flew in 1963. Production deliveries of an eventual 285 planes began in 1965: 284 for the Air Force, and one for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use as an airborne observatory.
The C-141 Starlifter was the workhorse of the Air Mobility Command from the 1970s into the early 2000s. The Starlifter fulfilled the vast spectrum of airlift requirements through its ability to airlift combat forces over long distances, delivering those forces and their equipment either by air, land or airdrop, resupply forces and transport the sick and wounded from the hostile area to advanced medical facilities.
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center supported a Kelly Space and Technology, Inc. (KST)/U.S. Air Force project, known as Eclipse, which demonstrated a reusable tow launch vehicle concept.
The purpose of the project was to demonstrate a reusable tow launch vehicle concept conceived and patented by KST. Kelly Space obtained a contract with the USAF Research Laboratory for the tow launch demonstration project under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The USAF SBIR contract included the modifications to turn the QF-106 into the Experimental Demonstrator #1 (EXD-01), and C-141A aircraft to incorporate the tow provisions to link the two aircraft, as well as conducting flight tests. The demonstration consisted of ground and flight tests.
These included a Combined Systems Test of both airplanes joined by a tow rope, a towed taxi test, and six towed flights. The project’s primary goal of demonstrating the tow phase of the Eclipse concept using a scaled-down tow aircraft (C-141A) and a representative aerodynamically-shaped aircraft (QF-106A) as a launch vehicle was successfully accomplished.
On Feb. 6, 1998, the Eclipse project made its sixth and final towed flight, bringing the project to a successful completion. Preliminary flight results determined that the handling qualities of the QF-106 on tow were very stable; actual flight measured values of tow rope tension were well within predictions by the simulation, aerodynamic characteristics and elastic properties of the tow rope were a significant component of the towing system; and Dryden’s high-fidelity simulation provided a representative model of the performance of the QF-106 and C-141A airplanes in tow configuration. Total time on tow for the entire project was 5 hours, 34 minutes, and 29 seconds. All six flights were highly productive, and all project objectives were achieved.