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SEP-008, Chapter 7.

Posted 03-15-2012 at 05:06 AM by Scav
Updated 03-15-2012 at 05:20 AM by Scav

Here we go:

SEP-008, Chapter 7.

"Passing four hundred thousand feet," Pilot Greg Williams called out.
The sun had just risen, casting its crimson-orange glow upon Constitution as she plunged down a predetermined track in space. Mission Commander Brian Adkinson allowed just a moment for Williams to capture it on camera; the action was stilted and nervously accomplished. They both knew that they were dropping altitude like it was going out of style, and they had mere minutes left before they were about to become the biggest show on the planet.

Now Constitution was in proper re-entry attitude for the maneuver: nose-high, opting to use her whole surface area as a large braking shield. Their trajectory was very well optimized; they would fly right over central Florida in less than a half hour.

"Re-entry ops on the left, please," Adkinson called, and Williams pressed the necessary buttons. He grunted his approval. They would endure peak heating at a threshold of approximately 2.3 g's; well within the safety margins. Their entry burn particulars called for an angle of 0.7 degrees. In Shuttle terms, that was run of the mill; in Constitution's sake, they found her to ride that angle very casually indeed.

He checked the mission elapsed time display. Eight days, one hour and five minutes had elapsed since they lifted off of the same runway they would be landing at.

"Passing three hundred thousand feet," Williams barked. "APU is coming online. Center of gravity shift is coming online."

* * *

"Two hundred miles to go," Pilot Greg Williams called out with more than a hint of tension in his voice. As Mission Commander Brian Adkinson grunted his reply, he took his eyes off the multifunction displays in front of him for an instant to glance at the cockpit window above him.

The sky was no longer a dull, ruddy, rusty orange color he had just gotten used to seeing; the inferno of ionized gases flowing freely over Constitution's hull had told their story. They were now minutes away from their destination.

Even though Adkinson couldn't fly visually yet, he knew what he would be looking for once it was time to put the nose down and actually fly his ship.

"Constitution, set HAC for runway three-three."

"Runway three-three, roger," Adkinson replied. "Greg, give me the TAEM display on the right, please," He whispered, and he nodded stiffly to himself as he studied the display. He flew Constitution through the re-entry corridor carefully, and it was a fight to keep her vector on the target line as she steadily bled off speed, but his efforts had panned out.

"A hundred and fifty thousand feet, Brian . . . Mach eight. We're about to reach camelback point."

Brian Adkinson paused to give himself a mental breather. On four previous SEP flights, at least two pilots had encountered difficulty transitioning from stalled-wing to actual flight, and he still wasn't sure why. He gritted his teeth as he watched the descent rate numbers creep steadily towards a null rate.

He knew that if he did nothing, Constitution would transition all by herself like a rock skipping across a pond. It would be an inconvenient error at best; at worse it would require radical maneuvering to correct.

"I must get this right," He whispered to himself.

"What was that?" Williams quipped.

"Nothing," Adkinson replied sharply. "We're reaching camelback point. I'm going to transition her now."

"Mach six, now, Brian. A hundred thirty four thousand feet."

As Adkinson disengaged the re-entry hold autopilot and applied pressure to the control column, he felt the sudden twang of positive G forces hit him in the stomach.

"Damnit!" He yelled.

* * *

Constitution, take air data," The voice called over the radio, and Greg Williams punched in the command.

"Roger, take air data," Adkinson replied. The fight to regain the proper profile didn't last long, he realized as the displays changed again for him. The display on the left showed his ground track, ending in a large circle just before the landing point; the display on the right showed his vertical track -- with his vector converging neatly back into line. Constitution was now finishing the terminal area energy management phase of the re-entry.

"Constitution, slightly high at the two-seventy."

Adkinson looked. They were now flying over the Kennedy Space Center; forty-six thousand feet in altitude. He moved the control column to make the adjustment, and noted with annoyance that the movements he was effecting were sluggish.

He didn't remember having this much difficulty controlling her the last time she was in the air; when she was being guided by the whips of her own engines as she made the ascent into space. It felt like he was trying to guide her through an invisible mass of syrup.

"Constitution, on at the one-eighty."

Adkinson allowed himself a small smile of triumph. He watched the Atlantic ocean give way to land in front of him, and he snuck a look at the launch complex below him as Constitution continued to yaw like a corkscrewing brick through the air.

"Constitution, slightly wide at the ninety. Report runway in sight."

"Okay, I have a tally-ho on the Cape," Adkinson transmitted. He could pick out the singularly large mass of the Vehicle Assembly Building south and east of the runway, and the runway itself, glimmering like a rod of silver against the green backdrop in front of him.

The VASI lights were red and green, he noted with a small sense of satisfaction.

"Alright," He said to himself. "Just aim her right at the Banana river."

"Ten thousand feet, Brian," Greg Williams announced.

"Constitution, winds three-one-eight at two."

"Five thousand at four-twenty," Williams rattled as Adkinson guided the ship in. He could hear the air blasting against the windows and the sound of the hydraulic pumps moving the control surfaces. It was a noisy environment, and he gave himself a second to reflect on exactly how noisy it was now becoming.

"Four thousand at three-ninety."

"Three thousand at three-sixty." Adkinson twitched his head, suddenly and fervently wishing he had the ability to wipe his forehead. A stubborn nodule of sweat was now forming at his eyebrow as he did his best to keep his eyes padlocked on the right spot on the horizon.

"Two thousand at three fifty-one," Williams said. "Begin pre-flare."
Adkinson took the verbal cue and guided Constitution's nose up slightly. He watched the vector cross-hair come up in response.

"One thousand at three thirty-one."

"Five hundred feet at three hundred; gear's coming down!"

Adkinson heard the hydraulic motors kick in for the landing gear, but that was now strictly an afterthought as he watched the ground moving impossibly fast underneath him.

At first the mental image he got, and the one he'd trained countless hours to fight against, was that the ground was going to literally come up and smite him in the face. He took a deep breath as he eschewed the sudden panic from his mind, and focused on the cold precision of what he was about to do.

Constitution still weighed just under a million pounds, even now. She outweighed even the heaviest airliner in service, and she was coming down with a 'devil may care' attitude. It was past the time to stay on task.

"Four hundred feet at two ninety . . . three hundred at two seventy . . . gear's down!" He heard Williams cry out. They were blasting over the river he spent so much of his mental energy aiming directly for now, and he allowed himself an instant's praise for his efforts.

"Two hundred at two fifty . . . one hundred at two thirty five . . . fifty at two ten . . . thirty at two zero five . . . ten at two hundred . . . touchdown!"

Adkinson blinked. He felt nothing change within the airframe . . . and then he felt the sudden shift as the oleo struts in the landing gear compressed completely. His eyes caught the sudden flickering of the "BRAKE" indicator on his HUD.

"Speedbrakes active!" He called out as Constitution sped noisily along the runway.

* * *
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  1. Old Comment
    PhantomCruiser's Avatar
    Nice job!
    After three years now, for me, there is still a tremendous amount of "pucker-factor" whenever I dead-stick a spacecraft down to the runway. It's even worse at Jarvis or Wideawake.
    Posted 03-15-2012 at 11:10 AM by PhantomCruiser PhantomCruiser is offline

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