The invention of the wheel was a breakthrough in human history that holds the base of most of our inventions today. It is a common sight to see a car or a truck being towed but has anyone considered an airplane being towed? People frequently come up with that idea, and that is not a rare thing to happen at all.
Gliders are the light aircraft designed to fly without engines. If they have no engines, how do they fly? A glider is launched either using a ground engine for pulling the launch cable or by attaching it to a powered aircraft with a cable. The glider is towed up to the altitude required where the glider pilot releases the cable and goes on his way. This method was used pretty commonly during the World War II.
The gliders, however, are designed very light that makes them capable of being towed. What if the same massive and powered aircraft needed to be towed by another? NASA thought of the matter seriously and attempted to tow launch a QF-106 with a C-141 four engine jet transport. The idea was a part of the project Eclipse aimed to “demonstrate the viability of towing a delta-wing aircraft having high wing loading, validate the tow simulation model, and demonstrate various operational procedures, such as ground processing, in-flight manoeuvres, and emergency abort scenarios, ” states NASA.
The project was completed successfully as NASA completed six towed flights in February 1998. The clip below shows the takeoff and flight of a QF-106 “Delta Dart” attached to the USAF C-141A with a tether.
The US Airforce project was supported by NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California and the idea of a tow-launch vehicle was conceived and patented by Kelly Space and Technology, Inc. (KST). Pretty cool, isn’t it?