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History in Two: The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969.  Over a decade prior to this, and nearly four years before President Kennedy's famous speech, the Air Research and Development Center's Ballistic Missile Division began research on high thrust space vehicles capable of lunar flights. In January 1957, the ARDC invited the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A) to collaborate on future space plans and projects. With the decision to use civilians for space flight, NASA was formed in July 1958 and began operations in October to carryout the flights to the moon. Among the many undertakings for landing on the moon, a Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) project was started, even before NASA had selected the strategy to use a Lunar Module. Bell Aircraft LLRV concept

Proposed by Bell Aerosystems in 1961, the craft would be of unconventional design, using a gimbaled GE CF700 engine turned on a vertical axis and utilizing hydrogen peroxide thrusters for control. First flight of an LLRV occurred October 30,1964 at the South Base complex on Edwards Air Force Base with NASA test pilot Joe Walker at the controls. Testing continued at Edwards over the next three years and after completing over 200 flights, the two LLRV’s were transferred to Marshall Space Center to be flown by the Apollo astronauts at Ellington AFB, Texas.

LLRV 1 systems test at Edwards AFB, CAAs the design of the Lunar Module progressed, NASA chose to have additional vehicles constructed that would have flying qualities closer to the actual lander. The three new vehicles were known as Lunar Landing Training Vehicles. In addition, the two LLRV’s were also modified to have their flight characteristics similar to the actual Lunar Excursion Module. The first of these flights began in October 1968 on a very compressed schedule. Between October 1968 and November 1972, the vehicles made nearly 600 flights, training all of the flight crews chosen for lunar landing flights. Despite all the safety precautions, three of these vehicles were lost to accidents, the most notable being Neil Armstrong’s safe ejection from LLRV #1 on May 8, 1968. 

Six Apollo flights landed on the moon, and each flight commander manually piloted the Lunar Module safely and expertly onto the lunar surface. In retrospect, it’s clear how essential the LLRV and LLTV were to the success of the Apollo lunar landings.