Within a few days of each other I received email from Gus and Joe pertaining to lifting body experiments that NASA performed featuring a Pontiac tow car. Here's the letter from Gus:|
I thought you'd get a kick out of this. Back in the early 60s, NASA was developing early versions of the spacecraft that was to become the modern-day space shuttle. Back then, they were looking into a design called a "lifting body", so named because the entire fuselage of the craft helped it stay in the air. They built a plywood mock-up of their design, and were going to do some test flights. Trouble is, they were on a shoestring budget (it was kind of a skunkworks operation). They needed a way to bring the model up to take-off speed, to test its flight and gliding ability.
Enter Pontiac. Engineers at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center went and bought a Catalina convertible (around a 1963), stripped it of all unnecessary accessories, took it to Mickey Thompson for modifications to the engine and powertrain, installed a roll bar, and flipped the passenger seat to face rearward for an observer. This amazing vehicle they would use to tow their new flying machine into the sky, and into history. (It would also achieve about 4mpg during the flight tests!)
For more images take a look at the complete photo gallery.