Concept

Mid-air retrieval

Résumé
Mid-air retrieval is a technique used in atmospheric reentry when the reentering vehicle is incapable of a satisfactory unassisted landing. The vehicle is slowed by means of parachutes, and then a specially-equipped aircraft matches the vehicle's trajectory and catches it in mid-air. This is a risky technique, and so is only used when other forms of landing are infeasible. Successful mid-air retrieval requires correct operation of the retrieving aircraft, favourable atmospheric conditions, and successful execution of a tricky manoeuvre, in addition to correct operation of the vehicle itself. These risks can be mitigated somewhat: for example, multiple recovery aircraft can be used. The need for human aviators to perform a manoeuvre which would normally be classed as a stunt may in the future be avoided by advances in unmanned aerial vehicles. Notable uses of the technique: The first use of midair retrieval was in 1955, with Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar transports being used to recover Ryan AQM-34 Firebee target drones during test flights. On operational flights, the Firebee used the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter as its recovery aircraft. The early-1960s era Corona reconnaissance satellite returned delicate film capsules to Earth that required mid-air retrieval by a specially modified aircraft. Early in the program, modified C-119 Flying Boxcar airlifters were used, replaced in 1961 by modified JC-130B Hercules and supplemented in 1966 with JC-130H. These aircraft were manned by a crew of 10 personnel. The crew consisted of two pilots, one flight engineer, two telemetry operators, one winch operator, and four riggers. The telemetry operators would acquire the location of the satellite and relay the info to the pilots. Once visually acquired the pilots would head on course to the satellite descending towards the Pacific Ocean. One could visually acquire the satellite and its parachute at an altitude of approximately 50,000 ft.
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