WAVERIDER and ASTRA,

A History

by

Duncan Lunan

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Page One

This article in itself has had a varied history. It began as a paper on Waverider applications, based on ASTRA's "Man and the Planets" discussion project, which I gave at the L5 Society Conference in London in 1977. It wasn't published, and in 1982 the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society published an updated version, deleting all references to ASTRA in accordance with the BIS bye-laws. We did a complete version for our own members in Spacereport. A very much revised version appeared again in Spacereport in 1988, after our Waverider conference, and still another in Asgard in 1990 after NASA's. Parts of it appeared again in 'Flight in Non-Terrestrial Atmospheres, or the Hang-Glider's Guide to the Galaxy', which Gordon Ross and I co-authored for the January 1993 issue of Analog, and ASTRA published a longer version in Asgard. We still have the masters of the 1988, 1990 and 1992 articles, and we can supply a set of copies for £5.

The Waverider reentry vehicle was devised by Prof. Terence Nonweiler of Queen's College, Belfast, and was intended to be the manned spacecraft in the British space programme based on the Blue Streak missile. The programme was cancelled by the Macmillan government, but work on Waverider continued at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough - mainly with a view to establishing Waverider's potential as a Mach 6 airliner. During this period (1960 - 65) at least one Waverider was tested at the Woomera Rocket Range, mounted on the nose of an air-launched Blue Steel missile. There are rumours that free-flight tests were also conducted at this time, but we have not been able to confirm this. The nearest thing to it seems to have been tests of X and Y-winged projectiles - in effect, four or three Waveriders mounted back-to-back - at NASA's Ames Research Center.

At the same time Prof. Nonweiler became Professor of Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics at Glasgow University, and on March 30 1962 he spoke on 'The Future in Space' to the Scottish Branch of the British Interplanetary Society, in the University Observatory. As it happens, this was the first meeting of the society which I ever attended. I don't recall any mention of Waverider's as such, though he did speak about upper atmosphere densities and reentry problems. However, he became a member of the society, and remained one when the decision was taken the following year to turn it into an independent Scottish society called ASTRA (originally the Association in Scotland for Technology and Research in Astronautics, later to Research into Astronautics' at the insistence of the Companies Office).

Nonweiler's classic paper 'Delta Wings of Shapes Amenable to Exact Shock-Wave Theory' was received by the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society in September 1962, and earned him that society's Gold Medal, but it was two to three years later before the concept briefly came into the public eye, due to the Mach 6 airliner work and the prospect of reaching Australia in 90 minutes. Newspaper articles lead to an appearance on an extremely contrived Scottish Television programme, in which news figures of the day were supposedly discovered in a restaurant: Professor and Mrs. Nonweiler just happened to have brought a Waverider model with them to dinner. Sandy Glover (my predecessor as President of ASTRA) and I both saw the programme, and as we were students of Glasgow University at the time we were able to buttonhole Professor Nonweiler and ask him various questions, including the fairly obvious geometrical problems of launching it and landing it as an airliner. We were disappointed to learn that on that level Waverider was still a purely theoretical concept, which didn't yet even include control surfaces.

In 1967 Professor Nonweiler took part in an ASTRA discussion project which led to my book "Man and the Stars" (Souvenir Press, 1974). His brief was to consider the problems of interstellar travel and navigation, but we went on to discuss the problems of landing on an Earth like world and in consequence the book included a description of the Waverider. Professor Nonweiler was strongly advocating winged space vehicles for delivery to planetary surfaces, and for landing in unknown terrain, he insisted on 'time to enquire' over the landing site - best attained with a low-wing-loading glider such as the Waverider. In this and in later meetings, he dismissed arguments that more sophisticated systems than wings would in time become available: wherever you have a planet with an atmosphere, a wing, which makes use of the properties of that atmosphere, is more elegant than something which wastes energy staying aloft by other means.

 

Page Two

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WAVERIDER and ASTRA, A History

Page One | Page Two | Page Three | Page Four | Page Five | Page Six

Other Waverider Pages

Waverider News from Across the Pond | NASA Briefings at Oshkosh Air Show

Hyper-X | Some Reflections on Waverider Design | TDRS

Hypersonic Flexwings | Intelligent Test Aircraft | Mayday

HOTOL | SR-71 | Alpha Station

Website Author: Nick Portwin (portwin@easynet.co.uk)

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Date Last Modified: 31 07 1999