In order to stabilize the crane during lifts the crew had to widen the base to keep it from damaging the truck. Using 5/8-inch thick steel plate mounted on the top of the flatbed just under the base of the davit, the crew was able to increase the area of the base. Underneath the flatbed, the crew mounted reinforced 1/4-inch angel iron and 3/8-inch channel iron to reinforce the underside of the bed. After the new base was attached, mechanics then brought the torque of all bolts to Thern's listed specifications of 150 feet/pound. With a reinforced flatbed and wider base, the truck was outfitted to handle the heavy payloads without bottoming out.
With a ground support crew ready to go it was time for flight-testing to begin. Scaled launched their Proteus twin turbofan high altitude multi-mission aircraft. Powered by Williams International FJ44-2E engines, the craft is designed specifically to carry payloads in the 2,000 pound class to altitudes above 60,000 feet and remain on station up to 14 hours.
For the test, the pilot brought the Proteus aircraft equipped with its load up to 10,000 feet and dropped the payload while measuring how it pitched. For collecting this data, Scaled used a comprehensive data acquisition tool that included real-time air-to-ground telemetry. Data was then displayed to both the ground crew or to pilots in the air in order to make adjustments. Onboard computer systems, recorders and transducers used in conjunction with ground-based equipment made gathering data for the flight extremely efficient. Once data was collected, Scaled engineers were able to create reports on what the pitch needed to be for a successful launch.
The payload or "mock" rocket Proteus carried for the test was fabricated from two propane tanks welded together and measured to weigh exactly 2,000 pounds. "When a 2,000 pound payload is dropped from 10,000 feet, there is going to be some clean-up," Storch says. "And cleaning up 2,000 pounds of metal is no easy task."
On the ground Storch and his crew with the modified Thern davit were ready to pick up as much of the payload as possible. "When we went to pick up the first of the material we were worried that our truck wouldn’t be able to handle the debris because of the weight," Storch says. "We were really impressed when it held together and we were able to easily hoist the material quickly into the truck."
"Even though it was successful at first we noticed that the truck looked like it wanted to turn over," Storch says. "But the crane held strong and once the suspension hit on the stop blocks we hoisted the material easily onto the bed of the truck." The team easily lifted the equipment and debris straight up and over for loading, clearing the area of any material dropped during the test.
"It’s not just the testing we are concerned about," Storch says. "We also want to maintain the integrity of the environment of the Mojave." In fact, the Mojave region where Scaled Composites does a majority of their testing is known for its fair, year-round weather and as a spot sought out not only by aerospace testing companies but by film studios as well.
Stuart Witt, a former test pilot who runs the airport in this weathered desert town, was working at his desk when he heard the explosion. "I turned and looked out the window," said Witt, 54...
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