643 Test 281 - Princeton Sailwing (Fink)

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There were two separate tests of the Sailwing concept (see also Test 291: Sailwing AR-6 (Fink). Marvin P. "Mike" Fink was the NASA project engineer for both tests. This first test in 1966 was for a full-scale airplane configuration.

Dr. Robert Ormiston was a graduate student intern involved in tests with the sailwing. His dissertation lead to an article in the AIAA Journal of Aircraft. In that, he explains "The sailwing is a unique type of semiflexible foldable wing which has been under development at Princeton University since 1948. The practical potential of the sailwing has spurred experimental and analytical research in many areas, including aerodynamics, longitudinal stability and lateral control...Possible applications such as auxiliary wings for air cushion vehicles, towed cargo gliders, foldable light aircraft, rocket booster recovery aids, lifting body re-entry vehicles, and compound helicopters have been studied." Bob is the Aeromechanics Chief Scientist for the Army at Moffett Field.

Bob reports that he and fellow student John Mercer came to NASA with their advisor, Tom Sweeney. Tom, head of the Princeton flight concepts laboratory, was the originator of the Sailwing concept. He led the Princeton test team supporting the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel tests but does not appear in any of the photos.

Another significant person associated with Sailwing was Phil Condit, also a Princeton student. His Master’s degree research was on the high-aspect ratio Sailwing airframe used in test 281. This airframe was used for limited flight testing at Princeton before it was modified for testing in the LaRC tunnel. Phil helped modify the original glider configuration (initially used for tow testing behind a ground vehicle) to a powered version used for flight testing. As part of his research, he designed the lateral control system that was used for flight control and also investigated the Langley tests. The powered Sailwing was subsequently modified back to the unpowered version in preparation for the Full-Scale Tunnel testing. Phil completed his Master’s degree in 1965 and left Princeton before the wind tunnel tests in 1966.

In 1965 Condit joined Boeing as a new engineer and was assigned to work with NASA Langley as an aerodynamics, stability and control expert on an in-flight simulation of supersonic transport handling qualities using the Boeing 707 prototype as an in-flight simulator. He became President of the Boeing Company in 1992 and later became the Chief Executive Officer of Boeing in 1996. (Chambers, Joseph R., “Innovation in Flight,” p 38).

The photos below show the full-scale model of the sailwing configuration in test section. Pictured is student intern John E. Mercer from Princeton.


Fink, M.P., "Full-Scale Investigation of the Aerodynamic Characteristics of a Model Employing a Sailwing Concept," July 1967

Ormiston, Robert A., "Theoretical and Experimental Aerodynamics of the Sailwing," J. Aircraft, Vol. 8, No 2, February 1971, pp. 77-84

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