John Kiker's models

As seen in the December 2012 issue of Model Aviation.

Bonus video


When NASA’s 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) took off on September 19, 2012, to bring the Space Shuttle Endeavour to Los Angeles, two model aircraft from the National Model Aviation Museum went along for the ride. The models, 1/40-scale RC test models of the Boeing 747 and Orbiter, were built and used by John Kiker, Owen Morris, and other NASA engineers in 1975 and 1976 to test the inflight launch capabilities of the configuration. Kiker donated the models to the museum in 1980.
The 1/40-scale RC test models on display in the cabin of the SCA in September 2012. Photograph provided by NASA.

The Endeavour was being transported to Los Angeles to be retired and exhibited at the California Science Center. It was the SCA’s last flight before it was also retired. Gary Ash, chief of the Aircraft Maintenance and Quality Assurance Branch, Aircraft Operations Division Johnson Space Center, requested the loan of the models, noting that carrying them on the last flight of the SCA would be “both a tribute to him [John Kiker] as well as an educational tool to illustrate the value that models have in demonstrating innovative concepts.” Museum staff members agreed that using artifacts that represent and document the beginning of the Shuttle program to help document its ending adds to the powerful story the artifacts tell. It’s powerful enough to put the models’ long-term preservation at risk by sending them to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, then across the country and back. A specially built crate helped minimize the risk during transit. This is not the only time the test models have been displayed with one of their full-scale counterparts. In the early 1980s, when the SCA brought the shuttle prototype Enterprise to Dulles International Airport, photographs were taken of the Enterprise with the 1/40-scale test models. The image appeared in a May 1986 MA article written by Luther Hux to commemorate the donation of Enterprise to the National Air and Space Museum.
Luther Hux posing with the shuttle prototype Enterprise, his own RC shuttle model, and the 1/40-scale RC test models. This picture originally appeared in MA May 1986.

On the final trip, the 747 and space shuttle test models were installed in the cabin of the SCA where they were visible to those who toured the SCA at each stop along the route. According to Ash, they were extremely popular and admired. At an overnight stop in Houston, Kiker’s family was able to visit the SCA, see the models, and share stories of Kiker’s modeling career. For more information regarding the history of the models and their use to test the piggyback and in-flight launch concepts, visit For more information on the loan to NASA and the last flight of the SCA, see this link: We are honored that NASA recognized the importance of model aviation in research and design in such a visible way that allowed for the museum to share in the ending of an era. Update: In 2013 the National Model Aviation Museum was contacted about the possibility of loaning John Kiker's models to Space Center Houston. The 1/40-scale SCA and Space Shuttle were shipped to the Houston museum and are now on display inside of the full-scale 747. The models are kept in a special display case and the story of the John's piggyback concept is told by AMA Spokesperson Robert "Hoot" Gibson in a video. The models are on loan to Space Center Houston for the next few years. To learn more, go to or —National Model Aviation Museum staff

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Hello everyone at NASA. As the president of the Siskiyou County RCer's flying club, I just want to express our clubs appreciation of all that NASA does and accomplishes for the American people. Our hats go off to John Kiker, Owen Morris, and the other NASA engineers for building those beautiful scale models for all of us to enjoy! Wishing you all "Happy Landings"

As the person who performed the simulator programming for Boeing on this project (mated and separation flights), there are a couple misstatements by the announcer. The angle of incidence of the shuttle on top of the 747 was 7.5º, not the 6º the announcer said. The reason for this was that the 747 could not lift the total weight of both vehicles. So putting the shuttle at an angle allowed it to carry some of the weight. 7.5º was the optimum for lift without creating too much drag. But it did cause enough drag that when they separated the 747 wanted to do a huge pitch down as the drag on top was reduced, and the shuttle wanted to pop straight up (not at the forward angle the announcer showed). The difficulty was keeping the 747 from pitching forward fast enough to break its tail off on the shuttle. To just yank back on the stick to solve the problem would require ~155# of pressure immediately. The problem was that with the hydraulics of the 747 they couldn't just yank back on the stick and get enough change of trim to keep it from pitching. So we had to work out that if they trimmed the 747 with a 30# push then pulled 20# immediately on blowing the bolts they could keep the 747 level. The actual pitch angle of the 747 was within .01º of predicted for the first 90 seconds following separation. Since we trained the astronauts in our simulator we were rather proud of that. Additionally, if you look at the models closely you will see that the 747 had one vertical tip on the horizontal stabilizer (port side), and no paint where the one on the starboard side has been broken off. However, we didn't add those until well after the simulation process had been done, since we didn't realize until late that the shuttle provided so much turbulence that the vertical stabilizer was compromised in activity. So, the maker of those models added the vertical tip fins on the 747's horizontal stabilizer after we had done our work, well after the concept had been proposed to NASA. In fact, the shuttle produced so much turbulence that without the faring over the shuttle's engine cones the vertical stabilizer of the 747 would fall apart due to metal fatigue within 8 hours of flight time.

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