Clayton and Marcella Luther left western Nebraska to serve the war effort in the 1940s. Dad taught hydraulics at Chanute Field in Illinois before joining the B-24 manufacturing effort at Ford Motor Company. That led dad to a career as an engineer in the auto industry. I too found some comfort in the Detroit suburbs as the nation prospered after the war.
Dad had publications left from WWII aviation so I grew up with cut away images of aircraft and some drawing skills. The growing space race fueled my aviation interests. I wasted my best study hall hours drawing pictures of space ships. I was one of many “rocket boys” who launched small rockets in the 1960s. I didn’t get good enough grades to fend off the selective service though.
FOUR COASTER CORPORATION ROCKET MOTORS: 160 LB OF THRUST!
I volunteered for the U.S. Army missile defense, hoping to be assigned near Detroit on the old Nike Missiles. Somehow I wound up on an Honest John rocket artillery assignment instead. The Honest John didn’t need a guidance system as it carried an atomic warhead. Unfortunately the blast radius of the warhead was greater than the range of the rocket. I felt safer after I landed in the cannon artillery in Vietnam. I was filling sand bags when man landed on the moon.
I brought no good habits home from Germany or Vietnam. In the 60s good habits were in low esteem anyway. Eventually I got crazy enough to try something sensible. Actually, most people think that Christianity is the ultimate crazy, but it works. There is an alternative reality where science fails and only the spiritual does work. Most don’t realize that THIS is that reality. I love it when my madness carries me past the world’s science and sanity with inexplicable success.
I took my scattered education to industry as a draftsman, and advanced neatly into the modern era of computer drafting. The auto industry met Japanese competition and intense lessons in quality control. It was great to witness new technologies and efficiency coming on line. But I retained a desire to be free of Detroit and launch into aerospace work.
SCHOOLS AND FOOLS
Amateur rocketry had progressed to glorious ambitions in the Cheap Access to Space (CATS) Contest. I was approved to teach a drafting class in our church community center, so I offered free drafting services to new space ventures. Suddenly the X-Prize fanned the flames even more. Wow…we had a pit pass for a new space race! Before we could go far my automotive career crashed along with the industry, and we had to abandon our home and the classroom.
X-PRIZES AND SURPRISES
I continued to perform services for a couple of X-Prize ventures. One is still active today, and the Ascender Space Plane is seeking funding now. I began a second career in my free time with several notable rocketry ventures. Bill Colburn, Mark Blair, Jerry Irvine, and Lutz Kayser found some minor projects for me along the years. Other ventures, like the Cerulean Space Kitten were a little more infamous, but still fun. http://www.spacedaily.com/news/launchers-00m.html
I gathered information on aerospace at every opportunity. I found work on Aerojet, Hamilton Sundstrand, and Boeing projects along the way. Without formal education I was gathering some sort of skills. I took correspondence engineering courses and studied Dan Raymer’s Aircraft Design text. I was drawn to horizontal launch concepts, and it was suggested that we look at orbital applications. That provoked the radical notion of in-line staging for horizontal launch.
I bought a bargain 3D CAD program called Alibre, and managed to develop blended wing body concepts with that software at home. The new Space world was moving along while I had notions collecting in the virtual world of CAD.
Eventually my career came to a total stop as industry invented the status they call “unemployable”. If you have been unemployed for a couple of months they think you have forgotten 30 years of design skills entirely. I stayed in Indiana for 6 months until my lease and my funds expired. Then dog and I moved in with my dad in Arizona. That time provided Social Security, nights for design, and days to help dad. I treasure the time I got to spend with dad when he needed my help. My new paradigm:
If you can’t join them, LICK them!
LAWYERS AND PATENTS
I build a glider, then a radio controlled model of my in-line staging concept. Each test flight was good on the first try. The model airplanes worked, now I needed a business model. Dad, as a retired engineer saw my space ship designs and said that I needed “professional help”. I think he meant engineering professionals, right? I did obtain two patents at some expense for lawyers. After dad passed away I bought a trailer and went looking for professional help.
To fund a larger prototype and interest the unmanned industries I launched a fund raiser on Kickstarter. It fell short of the goal, but served to get attention from one drone manufacturer. That was more valuable than funds that would tie me to the post office and boxes of hats and coffee cups! We have a few interesting possibilities with that contact now.
SCHEMES AND DREAMS
I operate by faith, not by sight. I see possibilities where others see barriers. A lifetime of good results inspires confidence that I am getting help. The Tower of Babel was resisted by God, but if he gets honor for his contribution, he may help our efforts to see a small part of his creation. I think our early moon astronauts got that message.
My notional ideas are embryonic, and far from the engineering effort for real space access. But others have assets and need these basic skill sets to realize their dreams. I have been making my services available, and opportunities do appear along the way.
INVITATION TO INVENTION
Horizontal launch has to mean more than an airplane ride to 50,000 feet (9.5) miles) at 500 miles per hour. Orbital launch requires 200 miles of altitude and 17,000 miles per hour. The rocket stages that provide that acceleration are expensive and usually wasted. If the aircraft delivered part of that acceleration it might have reusable value to reduce costs. Wings are still the best recovery system in service for that reusability mission. I am not alone in seeing that opportunity. The concept has reappeared for decades. I became aware that is available again now.
PROFESSIONAL HELP AND TOOLS
One pioneer has been doing the rocket science for this dream for over ten years now. Wes Kelly of Triton Launch Systems has been working towards a launch vehicle. I was invited to update the airframe concepts with our basic Geomagic (Alibre) CAD. Having delivered that, a recent meeting in Houston revealed a much bigger team of professional aerospace management and engineering behind the scenes. Those first CAD models are crude, but aerodynamic studies will point to the improvements for actual flight hardware. Siemens NX CAD tools are now on line for the next generation of CAD design. The marketing and management teams are hot on the trail of the mission now too. We have liftoff.
I have transitioned from the auto industry to aerospace, and moved west to Wyoming now. I followed my father’s footsteps…backwards!
SWEAT EQUITY AS INVESTMENT
There are interested satellite customers and investors. Spaceport Houston welcomes an airport launch venture too. At this time funding is being cultivated, but volunteers are laying the ground work before the paychecks are available. Horizontal launch is one of the best deterrents to wasteful overpriced space programs. We need to see this economy delivered as a live birth. Some serious credentials are already applied to the effort now. If you have the passion and some skills for this venture you may be considered as a contributor to this early stage development. Perhaps you see a vision that surpasses the opinion that others hold about your potential. Can you see with the eyes of faith where logic and education fail? It is illogical Captain! Henry Ford was not an engineer, but as a farm boy with mechanical aptitude and common sense, he revolutionized his world. Are YOU ready to boldly go?
David I. Luther