April 24, 2014
If all goes well, a Gulfstream II will soon have a place of honor at – of all places – a space museum.
That’s because the Gulfstream II was not only the first long-range business jet, but four GIIs were used by NASA for many years as the shuttle training aircraft (STA), piloted by astronauts so they could practice landing approaches they would later have to perform in the orbiting space vehicle.
A crowd-funding campaign is underway to bring one of the STAs – Grumman Gulfstream II N945NA – to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (USSRC) in Huntsville, AL, which will use the aircraft as a museum exhibit and immersive classroom.
Dubbed “Land the STA,” the $70,000 crowd-funding goal – running on fund-raising website www.indiegogo.com until May 3 – will be used to install the GII on the museum grounds. The aircraft is currently on the ground at Birmingham, AL’s Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, but if the fundraising goal is reached, USSRC officials hope to have the STA installed in their Shuttle Park by the end of the summer.
Future plans for the GII-STA exhibit include building a mock runway leading up to the aircraft, installing a canopy to protect it from the elements, as well as a scaffolding/staircase that will enable the public to explore the interior of N945NA. An outdoor amphitheater for educational presentations and demonstrations is also planned.
As of April 23, the campaign had raised more than $43,000, with 225 contributors, and several local Huntsville businesses joining up to support the campaign.
“All contributions pave the way for future museum guests and trainees to enjoy our STA exhibit,” said Trevor Daniels, community and government relations manager at USSRC, noting that donation categories start at $5, with a variety of perks associated with various donation levels.
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center acquired the GII STA N945NA from NASA in 2012. Specially modified for astronauts and shuttle commanders, half of the GII’s cockpit is a traditional Gulfstream cockpit, while the other half replicates the space shuttle’s flight controls. According to USSRC, NASA had also considered several other aircraft – including the Boeing 737 – for use as an STA, but the GII was selected for its lower operational costs and flight capabilities.
Commanders and pilots usually flew around 1,000 approaches in the STA as part of their training for a mission. Onboard computers helped simulate the feel of the orbiter’s landing approach, as did putting the two Rolls-Royce Spey engines in full reverse, deploying the main landing gear and extending the Gulfstream’s specially-modified wing flaps.