For the first time ever, a space shuttle landed at Cape Canaveral AFS. Perched on top of a modified NASA 747, the Shuttle Orbiter Columbia made a historic landing here March 5.

The landing marked the end of a “ferry flight” from Palmdale, Calif., where
Columbia was undergoing extensive avionics upgrades at Boeing facilities.
Ferry flights normally land at the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing
Facility. However, the SLF wasn’t available for Columbia because the Shuttle
orbiter Atlantis was parked there after landing on a separate ferry flight
about four hours earlier.

With Atlantis’ presence on the SLF and the need for ramp space there for
aircraft supporting Thursday’s scheduled launch of the next shuttle mission,
there wasn’t enough room for Columbia.

“Supporting two Space Shuttle landings on the same day required NASA and
the Air Force to share resources more than usual,” said Lt. Col. Randy Horn,
commander of Cape Canaveral AFS. “Having Columbia land at Cape Canaveral
AFS is the latest example of the Air Force and NASA working together to
build Cape Canaveral AFS and KSC into an integrated spaceport.

This was the first time two orbiters have been airborne on their special
747 carriers at the same time. Atlantis returned from space last week,
landing at Edwards AFB, Calif. Both Atlantis and Columbia left on their
ferry flights March 1.

Four forecasters from the 45th Weather Squadron flew aboard the 747s,
providing NASA flight crews with weather data that allowed them to
avoid unstable weather en route back to Florida. Air Force teams on the
“pathfinder” aircraft, flying approximately 100 miles ahead of the 747s,
monitored atmospheric conditions and relayed much of the data the
forecasters used.

The pathfinder aircraft that led the way back to Florida for Columbia was
a KC-135 assigned to the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, MacDill AFB, Fla.

Weather created delays when leaving California and flying back to Florida.
Ferry flights usually take two or three days, but it took five days to get
the orbiters back to the Sunshine State.

“Bad weather delayed our departure from California. Then it changed our
route. We were originally supposed to stop at Tinker AFB, Okla., on our
way to Florida, but weather forced a detour to Dyess AFB, Texas,” said
2nd Lt. Barry Hunte, of the 45th WS. He flew on the 747 that ferried
Columbia back to the Cape. “Our job was to watch the weather and make
sure we stayed away from conditions that might damage the orbiter, while
at the same time getting the flight as far east as possible every day,”
he said.

Hunte said the primary concern on any ferry flight is precipitation. “With
the weather patterns the country has experienced in the past week or so,
it wasn’t easy getting back to Florida,” he added.

“This mission was a dramatic departure from flying tanker missions,” said
Capt. Gayle Abbas, the pathfinder co-pilot. “We were busy and weather got
in the way, but it was a learning experience and a lot of fun. We feel
like we contributed to America’s space program. It feels great being part
of the team.”

A NASA 747 carrying the Shuttle Orbiter Columbia taxis on the flightline
shortly after arriving at CCAFS. (Photos by Staff Sgt. Joel Langton)