So P-791 nickname is Bertha (or Big Bertha)http://www.hacinc.us/news.htm
...an unofficial personal account
An accounting of the events of first flight Project P-791 on 31 January 2006 at Lockheed Martin SkunkWorks, Palmdale California according to an eyewitness.
The flight test crew had been briefed the night prior to the event. The winds were forecasted to be around 3 knots which would have been within the "first flight" testing criteria of not greater than 5 knots. The aircraft was declared ready for flight.
The HAC team gathered at the hangar at approximately 5:45 AM. Some forty or so other folks had already arrived. Food and drink were assembled on multiple tables in the hangar entry befitting the traditional first flight festivities hosted by Lockheed Martin. The area was open to those gathered, an uncommon practice to the typically closed practices of plant security. But this then, was a special day, and it was obvious by the crowd's gathering, suggesting that this event was about to see something quite different from any other. Three luxury busses were waiting to take a VIP crowd to the viewing area to observe events as soon as the hybrid aircraft was to leave the hangar.
But something was amiss, and potentially disturbing. We felt it as we departed our parked cars and proceeded to the hangar. It was the wind; not three knots, but over ten, and gusting. Someone forgot to tell the weatherman! Once inside the hangar and as the time 6:30 AM approached it was becoming obvious that wind would perturb the scheduled testing events. We anxiously awaited Lockheed Martins declaration.
First Dr. Bob Boyd made the announcement, then it was followed by a statement that our "Invited Guest" badges might be more valuable on EBAY the following day since the dates would be wrong, as it was the current opinion that the tests would be postponed to a subsequent date.
As some folks started to depart it was Neil Kacena who announced that they would wait as long as 7:30 AM before cancelling, hoping that the winds would somehow abate and the guests not disappointed. As time advanced the winds continued and became more "gusty" and hopes faded. Then, strangely, at 7:24 AM the winds stopped; not even a breeze. As fast as our hopes had faded, our expectations again soared.
Suddenly the crews hopped into action, the guests were rushed into the busses, the hybrid was taken into tow out of the hangar and we were all off to the flight line, refreshed by the expectation that within a matter of minutes we would finally see the historical first flight of our hybrid aircraft.
Out onto the flight line, to the north of the same runway where we had a week earlier viewed the ground testing activity, the busses took up position; the guests to the event disembarked and waited anxiously. It was now about 7:40 AM. Big Bertha as I called her (the hybrid aircraft) advanced to a holding area at the end of the runway as the pilots continued their checks ending finally with the ballonet final inspection and a call that they were ready.....; when all of a sudden there was a radio transmission that the control room was down. What do you mean the control room was down? Lets launch this thing...what do you think we are waiting for...its the hybrid that has to get airborne not the control room. Then there was the obvious explanation, we need the control room to monitor and record the telemeter data from the aircraft from which to ascertain flight qualities and other performance functions. "How long to get it back up?", was the query transmitted from our vantage point. "Fifteen minutes to reload because of a power interruption", was the reply. OK, that's not bad. We will wait. Believe me we would have waited all day. AT 8:00 AM we settled down thinking just a few minutes more and the show would start. AT 8:15 AM another delay of about 10 minutes was announced...a UPS failed and we will have to reload again was the nervous voice on the other end of the radio. Nerve racking, but intent upon seeing this through, the time ticked off and then the call, that was sweet to our ears; We are back up...lets go.
Finally, the aircraft started to increase power and positioned itself on the end of the runway and not quite stopping, began to advance. Then a real surprise; within two body lengths the long awaited expectation....IT'S AIRBORNE. The sight was just too much to behold. My Goosebumps had Goosebumps and I'll have to confess it was hard to hold back tears at such a marvelous sight. Its been years since I jumped around like an idiot...I usually just walk around that way....but this was the event of a lifetime; of a century; and whatever else one might fathom up. "Bertha" I love you!
The aircraft took to an altitude of between three and five hundred feet, passed overhead and into the morning sunlight. The two pilots were obviously having fun because they made a number of airborne maneuvers.
As the pilots neared the end of their outbound leg Big Bertha turned starboard and then to the port and re-approached the runway for the very first historical landing. The aircushion landing system had been extended throughout the flight and as the aircraft passed in front of us the aft hover cushion touched first, fingers fully extended, then the aircraft had sort of a soft, but slight bounce where the forward cushions made ground contact, then the vehicle settled down on all four. The aircraft rolled out, came to a stop, then advanced slowly to the end of the runway. Four minutes had elapsed. Mission accomplished!
You can only imagine the excitement and the dialogue rendered by all. A non-eventful landing; sweet words to a flight test crew, but as far as events go this was was anything but non-eventful. History will record this event as the start of a new age of affordable cargo transportation that can go anywhere.
If there were any critics or skeptics in the crowd they became zealots favoring the program that day. I suspect that all of Palmdale heard about the aircraft, as crowds and cars were lined up on Sierra Highway watching the events on the field. Word has it that pictures are already on the internet and an Antelope Valley Press (the local newspaper) reporter called asking if Lockheed Martin cared to make a comment.
As the guests arrived back into the hangar, Bertha
was allowed to travel back to the hangar under her own power and through the fence where she was finally hooked back onto the tow vehicle and pulled back into the hangar. As the pilots disembarked the cockpit, they were greeted with the traditional "water barrel" christening where in lieu of a standard shower, they were treated as though they just went through a car wash.
Then fun was had by all, speeches, awards and accolades to those who contributed to the enterprise.From start to finish; from a clear sheet of paper to product, only fourteen months.
Lockheed Martin should be proud. Yet another demonstration of engineering brillance and leading edge commitment from the infamous "SkunkWorks".