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The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) are two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASAmarker uses to transport Space Shuttle orbiters. One is a 747-100 model, while the other is a short range 747-100SR.

The SCAs are used to ferry space shuttles from landing sites back to the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Centermarker, or, more specifically, the NASA Shuttle Landing Facilitymarker, and to and from other locations too distant for the orbiters to be delivered by ground transport. The orbiters are placed on top of the SCAs by Mate-Demate Devices, large gantry-like structures which hoist the orbiters off the ground for post-flight servicing, and then mate them with the SCAs for ferry flights.

In approach and landing test flights conducted in 1977, a test shuttle was released from SCA during flight, and the shuttle glided to a landing under its own control.

Design and development

The first aircraft, a Boeing 747-100 registered N905NA, was originally manufactured for American Airlines and still carried visible American side stripes while testing Enterprise in the 1970s. It was acquired in 1974 and initially used for trailing wake vortex research as part of a broader study by NASA Drydenmarker, as well as Shuttle tests involving an F-104 flying in close formation and simulating a "release" from the 747.

The aircraft was extensively modified by Boeing in 1976. Its cabin was stripped, mounting struts added, and the fuselage strengthened; vertical stabilizers were added to the tail to aid stability when the Orbiter was being carried. The avionics and engines were also upgraded, and an escape tunnel system similar to that used on Boeing's first 747 test flights was added. The flight crew escape tunnel system was later removed following the completion of the Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) due to concerns over possible engine ingestion of an escaping crew member.

The C-5 Galaxy was considered for the shuttle-carrier role by NASA, but rejected in favor of the 747 — in part due to the 747's low-wing design in comparison to the C-5's high-wing design, and also due to the consideration that U.S. Air Force would have retained ownership of the C-5 aircraft, while NASA would have been able to own the 747s outright.

Atlantis being mated to SCA N911NA at Dryden Flight Research Center

Flying with the additional drag and weight of the Orbiter imposes fuel and altitude penalties. The range is reduced to 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 km), compared to an unladen range of 5500 nautical miles (10,100 km), requiring an SCA to stop several times to refuel on a transcontinental flight. The SCA has an altitude ceiling of 15,000 feet and a maximum cruise speed of Mach 0.6 with the orbiter attached. A crew of 170 takes a week to prepare the shuttle and SCA for flight.

Studies were conducted to equip the SCA with aerial refueling equipment, a modification already made to the U.S. Air Force E-4 (modified 747-200s) and 747 tanker transports for the IIAF. However, during formation flying with a tanker aircraft to test refueling approaches, minor cracks were spotted on the tailfin of N905NA. While these were not likely caused by the test flights, it was felt that there was no sense taking unnecessary risks. Since there was no urgent need to provide an aerial refueling capacity, the tests were suspended.

By 1983, SCA N905NA no longer bore the distinct American Airlines red, white, and blue cheatline. NASA replaced it with its own livery, consisting of a white fuselage and a single blue cheatline.

In 1988, in the wake of the Challenger accident, NASA procured a surplus 747-100SR [58645] from Japan Airlines. Registered N911NA it entered service with NASA in 1990 after similar modifications to N905NA. It was first used in 1991 to ferry the new shuttle Endeavour from the manufacturers in Palmdale, Californiamarker to Kennedy Space Center.

Humorous note on Orbiter Mount reminding technicians how to connect the orbiter to the transport.

The two aircraft are functionally identical, although N911NA has five upper-deck windows on each side, while N905NA has only two. On N905NA, the rear mounting point is labeled with a tongue-in-cheek instruction to "Attach Orbiter Here" — clarified by the precautionary note "Black Side Down".

One Shuttle Carrier is currently based at the Dryden Flight Research Centermarker at Edwards Air Force Basemarker, Californiamarker and the other at Pinal Airparkmarker in Arizonamarker (KMZJ).

Shuttle Carriers are capable of operating from alternate shuttle landing sites such as those in Spain and France. Due to the reduced range of the Shuttle Carrier while mated to an orbiter, additional preparations such as removal of equipment from the orbiter may be necessary to reduce its weight.



Image:NASA Shuttle Transport.jpg|Shuttle Carrier carries Discovery from Edwards AFB to Kennedy Space Center, FloridaImage:Edw-nasa-747-041103-01.jpg|One of the SCAs at its Dryden Flight Research Centermarker home, with a very wet Rogers Dry Lakemarker behind it.

Image:Shuttle_Carrier_Aircraft_interior_bulkhead.jpg|Aft end of the interior. Note the large stuffed spider mounted on the aft pressure bulkhead.Image:Shuttle_Carrier_Aircraft_passenger_section.jpg|The first class section in the nose of N905NA. This is the only area on the main deck that has not been stripped to the bare metalImage:Shuttle_Atlantis_heads_home_on_a_modified_747_(2007-07-01).jpg|Atlantis atop a Shuttle Carrier.Image:SCA approach.ogg|SCA approaching Endeavour suspended in the Mate-Demate Device (MDD), April, 1994Image:SCA mate.ogg|SCA mating with Endeavour in the Mate-Demate Device (MDD), April, 1994Image:SCA takeoff and landing.ogg|SCA ferry flights, 1992Image:Shuttle Enterprise 747 SCA takeoff.ogg|Takeoff of SCA N905NA carrying Enterprise. Note the American Airlines pinstriping.Image:Space Shuttle Enterprise 747 separation.ogg|Enterprise separating from N905NA.

See also


  1. Jenkins 2000, pp. 36-38.
  2. Comparison of photos taken in 1982 and 1983 at
  3. 2003 Edwards Air Force Base Air Show, see Shuttle Carrier images.


  • Jenkins, Dennis R. Boeing 747-100/200/300/SP (AirlinerTech Series, Vol. 6). Specialty Press, 2000. ISBN 1580070264.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System - The First 100 Missions, 3rd edition. Midland Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0963397451.

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