Bell UH-1 Helicopter Trainer

This cockpit simulator was designed to teach military pilots to read the instrument displays and operate the many switches needed to safely fly a Bell UH-1 helicopter, which was informally known as a "Huey." Although the trainer didn't move, it was an excellent tool for pilots to practice the procedures and checklists they must follow during takeoff and landing, as well as during their mission. Beginning with Project Mercury, astronauts have used these kinds of stationary procedures trainers to help them get familiar with the spacecraft they fly - and still do.

Of course, helicopters in general also have played a significant role in our space program. The Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon trained in helicopters to prepare them for the kind of hovering approach they would make in landing the Lunar Module. Helicopters also were an essential part of the recovery forces that made sure astronauts were safely plucked from the water after they splashed down in the ocean to conclude their spaceflight. That job continues today as astronauts who return to Earth from the International Space Station are greeted by a rescue force flown to the Soyuz landing site by Russian helicopters.

Before Neil Armstrong first touched down on the moon in 1969, he and other astronauts had plenty of practice on the simulated lunar surface at the Langley NASA Research Center in Virginia.

Although NASA did use helicopters in the early 1960s to ascertain some of the problems of vertical descent to a lunar landing, there were no direct parallels between flying an aircraft in the Earth's atmosphere and piloting the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) in the vacuum of space. If there had been parallels, the LEM would have looked something like a conventional aircraft - which it absolutely did not.

Langley researchers, because they were the early champions of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous concept inside of NASA, played the leading role in the original conceptualization of the LEM, and they knew that the pilot of this vehicle, however its final design turned out, would have to overcome some distinctly unusual problems.

In technical terms, control of the LEM required small rockets that operated in an on-off manner. The firing of these control rockets in space produced abrupt changes in torque-forces that tended to produce rotation or rolling - rather than the smoothly modulated torques of a helicopter.

 

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