Sep. 20, 2012 Space shuttle Endeavour and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft landed at Ellington Field in Houston this morning to complete the first day of its trek from Florida to Los Angeles where the shuttle will be placed on public display.
As the SCA approached Houston, it performed a low-level flyover carrying Endeavour over some of the city's landmarks. The flight made several flyovers during its trip across the American southeast.
The aircraft combination, weighing some 475,000 pounds, took off this morning from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida then flew over the Space Coast in a salute to the region that hosted the shuttles during 30 years of launches and landings. The SCA and Endeavour also soared low over Disney World in Orlando during its trip west.
Later, the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, were treated to a view of Endeavour atop the modified 747.
People took to Facebook and Twitter to share comments and photos of Endeavour as they saw the shuttle pass overhead.
› Flickr Gallery from Endeavour's Flyout
The flight will be the last ferry flight of the space shuttle era, capping nearly 35 years of shuttles riding atop modified 747s, counting the approach and landing tests conducted by Enterprise in 1977.
The SCA and Endeavour will depart at dawn on Thursday and make a fueling stop at Biggs Army Air Field in El Paso before proceeding to Dryden Flight Research Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, California. On Friday it will depart Dryden for a flyover of northern California and areas of the Los Angeles basin before landing at Los Angeles International Airport between 11 a.m. and noon PDT. In October, Endeavour will move to the California Science Center to begin a new mission inspiring future explorers. The pilots of the aircraft carrying space shuttle Endeavour across the country to California already know what it's like to lead an aerial parade.
"The Washington beltway was pretty packed with people," said Jeff Moultrie, chief pilot of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, or SCA, about the crowds the crew witnessed gathered around Washington, D.C., in April as they delivered Discovery to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. "In fact, I think it stopped. We could see people stopped in their cars and up on buildings and such."
That ferry flight and a similar one a few days later that flew over New York City with Enterprise were two of a very few times a shuttle has been flown over northeastern cities. Enterprise was flown to the nation's capital in 1985 before going on display at the Smithsonian.
"We weren't sure what to expect, since we had never done something like this before with the space shuttle on top of the 747, what would be the reaction?" said SCA pilot Bill Rieke. "When that happened and we saw the reaction, that was priceless."
The flight crew for the SCA, a modified 747 airliner, is expecting much the same interest this time.
"We're proud to show off our work that NASA's done," Rieke said.
Moultrie said much more effort goes into setting the courses for the flights delivering the retired space shuttles to their display locations than did the ferry flights that carried the spacecraft back to Florida after a California landing.
Large aerial corridors are assigned for the ferry flight so no other planes can use the airspace while the shuttle and SCA are flying through, for example. Also, the flyovers call for the aircraft to pass into restricted airspace around some notable sites.
"We had a massive coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration," Moultrie said. "The regular ferry flights required none of this. Other than some flyovers on arrival that we did as a bonus, we really didn't do flyovers."
Although they saw the crowds from inside the cockpit of the 747, Moultrie and Rieke said they made sure not to get distracted by them.
"We still have a mission to do and that is, we need to deliver it safely where it belongs and that is the part I'm focused on," Rieke said.
The flight also makes a few special demands of pilots as they line up the best way to approach a landmark so the flyby can be recorded in the best way.
"To do this type of flying, we need to consider the photography aspects, the sun angle, what the geometry with the chase ship needs to be, that type of thing," Moultrie said. "This is obviously the biggest thing I've done in aviation and probably the biggest thing I ever will do."
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