NASA Shuttle Specific Sections > Shuttle History - Pre-RTF

Columbia STS-28 – Called Back to Duty

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On February 24, 1987, Brewster Shaw experienced a close call with a T-38 jet, as was reported by JSC Space News Roundup: “Pilots know that practice makes perfect, and Rob Rivers has recent evidence to underscore the point. Rivers, a research pilot and aerospace engineer in the Aircraft Operations Division since October 1986, concluded a routine checkout flight in a T-38 Talon on February 23 with a series of simulated no-flap approaches and one-engine approaches to Ellington Field. He thought he could use the practice, he said.

The next day, he was flying a T-38 into Los Angeles with one engine out, the other on fire and the cockpit filled with smoke. ‘I guess from a seat-of-the-pants aspect, I was happy I had practiced the day before,’ Rivers said. He and astronaut Brewster H. Shaw, Col. USAF, were in NASA 914, bound for Los Alamitos Army Air Field southeast of Los Angeles, when a bright flash erupted in front of the canopy of the twin-engine jet. They were about ten miles out over the pacific on the northbound leg of their approach. Rivers, who was flying in the front seat, felt a shock on his right hand, which was on the throttle. There was a loud bang, then a jolt.

‘I turned toward shore and asked for an emergency approach,’ Rivers recalled. ‘The rear cockpit began filling up with smoke. I began shutting down the electrical system, turning off the generator, radio and other systems, and left one VHF radio on. That meant we had to do a VFR (Visual Flight Rules, or, with no instruments) landing. Colonel Shaw, who has flown into Los Alamitos more often than I have, took the stick and pointed the nose in the right direction.’

Rivers said they soon felt a second jolt, followed by a warning light indicating a fire in the right engine. They declared an emergency, telling the ground that the aircraft was on fire. ‘As we crossed the coast, we got a left engine fire light. We were over land, over densely populated areas, and the field was in sight,’ Rivers said. Because of the danger to underlying areas, and because hydraulic power for a T-38 is supplied by the engines, shutting down the left engine was not a viable option, Rivers said, and ejecting is always the last resort. ‘The aircraft was flying fine. That’s the big reason why we stayed with it.’

The potential danger to populated areas if they did have to eject was one reason why they flew in over the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Storage Area. ‘The aircraft could have impacted there with less danger to people if we’d had to eject,’ Rivers said. They were able to stay with the aircraft, however, and after touchdown Rivers cut power to the left engine. ‘We rolled out, came to a stop and raised the canopy. I looked over my left shoulder and saw a big fire in the back of the aircraft.’ Shaw got out first and came back to help Rivers when his feet got hung up in his oxygen line. From the rear of the canopy back to the vertical stabilizer was one big gaping hole. ‘All the fuel in the airplane was burning,’ Rivers said.

The T-38, built by the Northrop Corp., first flew in 1959 at Edwards Air Force Base. It was a direct outgrowth of Northrop’s N-156 program and later derivatives were the F-5 and the F-20 Tigershark. The Talon was selected by NASA in 1964 as an astronaut proficiency maintenance aircraft, and also is used in some research and development roles. With the loss of NASA 914, there are now twenty-five T-38’s at Ellington. An investigation board is studying the incident.” (JSC Space News Roundup, March 6, 1987)

Pilot Richard “Dick” Noel Richards, Cdr. USN, was born August 24, 1946 in Key West, Florida, but considers St. Louis, Missouri, his hometown. He’s five feet eight inches tall and weighs 155 pounds. Richards received a bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Missouri in 1969 and a Master of Science in Aeronautical Systems from the University of West Florida in 1970. He was commissioned an Ensign in the Navy upon graduating from the University of Missouri and was designated a Naval Aviator in 1970.  Richards flew support missions in the A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom while being assigned to the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 33 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia. He then was deployed to the North Atlantic and Mediterranean aboard the USS America and USS Saratoga, where he again flew F-4s. In 1976 he was selected for test pilot training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. After test pilot school Richards spent three and a half years as a project test pilot for automatic carrier landing systems development. As carrier suitability project officer for the F/A-18A Hornet he performed the airplane’s first shipboard catapult launches and arrested landings during initial sea trials in 1979. Richards has logged over 3,200 hours in fifteen types of aircraft. “Richards was one of the nineteen astronauts selected by NASA in May 1980, qualifying as a shuttle pilot in August 1981,” explains Michael Cassutt in ‘Who’s Who in Space’ (ISS Edition 1999). “He worked as deputy chief of aircraft operations and also managed the in-flight refueling of the Shuttle carrier Aircraft in addition to serving as a shuttle CapCom from April 1984 to September 1985.He was scheduled to be pilot aboard shuttle mission 61-E, the Spacelab Astro 1 intended to observe Halley’s Comet in March 1986.”

In an interview for the JSC Oral History Project (Jan. 26, 2006) STS-28 Pilot Dick Richards remembered how he got involved with the space program: “I know when that photograph came out of Earthrise, and I’m almost sure it was Apollo 8 that took that photograph, I just, like the rest of the world, was just stunned by that. And that’s when I first all of a sudden started connecting about the fact that, wow, this is really something we’re doing, going to the Moon.

So I started following it more closely, and I can’t recall when it was, but sometime between that point and the actual Apollo 11 landings, I actually did something I had never done before, which was wrote off to NASA and asked them about the astronauts and the space program and so forth. And they do like they’re doing right now, they sent me a packet of stuff, and of which was in there a compilation of the entire short summary of the biographies of all of the astronauts that they had.

So I read through the thing, just scanned through it. But I picked up on the fact that almost all of the current astronauts they had there were either current active duty military officers or former military officers and all of them, for the most part, were pilots, which was, I said, ‘Hey, that’s sort of where I’m heading as well, too.’ So I just sort of filed it away as I said, ‘Boy, that would be really fun to do if later on I got myself into a position to do that.’

I also noticed that they had enough information in there that all these guys were pilots and all of them test pilots as well, too. And the Navy at that point, I’d just come back from my summer cruise or either I was just going to it where they gave us an aviation oriented two months, and part of the two months was a little visit to Edwards Air Force Base, the test pilot school out there as well as Patuxent River. So I just sort of filed that away, saying if that ever happened to me, I’d be interested in doing that sort of thing.

Of course, Apollo landings came and went, Skylab started, and for the most part, though, I was busy being a naval officer at that particular point, and it wasn’t until John Young showed up at the naval air test pilot school that all of a sudden I said, ‘Hey, this connection that I thought of many years ago, it’s still here and it looks like my timing is just lucky enough to be right that they’re starting a new phase and maybe I can get into it.’ So that’s how I got involved, yeah.”

Mission Specialist David Cornell Leestma, Cdr. USN, was born May 6, 1949, in Muskegon, Michigan. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1971 and earned a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1972. After graduating first in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1971, Leestma was assigned to the USS Hepburn in Long Beach, California, before reporting to the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School in 1972. He earned his flight wings in October 1973 and was assigned to VF-124 in San Diego, California, for initial training in the F-14A Tomcat and then transferred to VF-32 in June 1974, stationed at Virginia Beach, Virginia. In 1977 Leestma was reassigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 4 at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California, where he did extensive work with the F-14A. Leestma has logged over 3,000 hours flying time. He was selected as astronaut candidate in May 1980 and in August 1983 became the first member of his astronaut group to be assigned to a flight crew – which flew STS 41-G in October 1984. That flight lasted 197.5 hours and 132 orbits. His second assignment would have been the cancelled 61-E / Astro 1 mission. Leestma became deputy director for flight crew operations in 1988.

Mission Specialist James Craig Adamson, Lt.-Col., USA, was born March 3, 1946, in Warsaw, New York, but considers Monarch, Montana, his hometown. He’s five feet 11 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1969 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University in 1977. Adamson was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army at West Point in 1969. He was a distinguished graduate of his flight class at the Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama and flew with the Air Cavalry in Vietnam as team leader and air mission commander. Upon returning to the U.S., Adamson assumed command of a Hawk Missile Battery in Fort Bliss, Texas. Upon receiving his Masters from Princeton, Adamson assumed the position of assistant professor of aerodynamics at the U.S. Military Academy of West Point. In 1980, he graduated from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. Adamson has been employed at the Johnson Space Center since 1980. During the operational flight test phase of the shuttle program he served as aerodynamics officer in Mission Control. Upon completion of the four operational test flights, he became guidance navigation and control officer for STS missions 5 through 41-C. He also worked as research pilot for the JSC aircraft operations division. Adamson was selected as an astronaut candidate in May 1984 and was originally assigned to mission 61-N, which eventually became STS-28.


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