Father Of Lifting Body Program Dies
Robert Dale Reed, long
time NASA aeronautics researcher, passed away last Friday at age 75
due to complications from cancer. During his almost 52 year career
at NASA Dryden, Reed worked on many programs. He is best known
for his work on the Lifting Body and Remotely Piloted Research
Vehicle (RPRV) programs.
Reed started work at NASA Dryden in 1953 after graduating from
the University of Idaho with a degree in mechanical engineering. At
the time, the installation was known as the NACA High Speed Flight
Research Station. He was responsible for aerodynamics load
measurements on the early X-series aircraft, and aerodynamics
heating measurements on the X-15.
Reed confidently pursued research into lifting bodies to examine
how wingless, low lift-to-drag spacecraft could serve as orbiting
vehicles equipped to re-enter the atmosphere and land safely. The
entire body of the craft becomes a controllable airfoil. Although
the concept was rejected for use in the Apollo program, Reed was
key in development of the prototype M2-F1 lifting body that flew in
1963. This success led to the creation of rocket-powered lifting
bodies, with the research ultimately contributing to the design of
the space shuttle.
Reed innovated by using model drone aircraft for research in the
RPRV program. He used actual ground based cockpits which contained
the same instruments and sensors of a fully equipped airplane. his
research used a pilot and a radio uplink, and eventually added
computer control systems.
Reed designed and patented a foldable airplane for Mars
exploration in 1977. The aircraft would have been dropped from a
Viking spacecraft and explore the planet at low altitude before
running out of fuel. It then would have landed and continued to
feed data back to NASA like the rovers are doing now. He patented a
solar guidance system for aircraft, and conducted experiments in
gyroless autopilots, deep stall flight tests, and free flight
After retiring from NASA in 1985, Reed worked for Lockheed
Advanced Development Projects for four years before returning to
NASA as a contract aerospace engineer. He worked on a variety of
projects including the X-33, X-36 and X-38 research vehicles, and
the Beamed Laser Power Flight Demonstration.
Reed managed 19 projects, designed a dozen aircraft, and wrote
numerous technical reports, papers and a book, "Wingless
Flight." He received numerous awards for his contributions to
This Distinguished NASA Aeronautical Researcher and longtime
resident of Lancaster, CA leaves behind his wife, Donna, and four
children, Cristy, Charmaine, Chariann, and Robert.