The Convair NC-131H might look like one airplane violently eating another, but it is in fact a very useful one-of-a-kind aircraft which was used by the US Air Force as a “total in-flight simulator” – or TIFS for short. The Convair NC-131H was only retired in 2008, after decades of service.
The aircraft first flew in 1970. It was designed to allow pilots and engineers to study how different aircraft would fly – before moving on to building extremely costly prototypes. Originally a USAF C-131B transport aircraft, the NC-131H underwent extensive modifications. Its original piston engines were replaced by Allison 501-D22G turboprop engines with nearly twice the horsepower, but the most noticeable modifications were the second cockpit on the nose and the vertical fins on the wings.
The NC-131H TIFS could be configured with two different noses. The first nose was a two-place cockpit from which onboard computers simulated the flight characteristics of various aircraft. It provided a large field of view and contained reconfigurable controls and instrument displays. The original cockpit carried two backup pilots who monitored the simulations and could take control in case of a problem.
In the second configuration – called the Avionics Systems Test and Training Aircraft (ASTTA) – the nose housed large prototype radars, infrared cameras, and other sensors. A crew station in the main cabin accommodated the system operators.
The Convair NC-131H TIFS was found to be especially useful when it came to studying how large aircraft would handle during takeoff and landing. Vertical fins on the wings generated side forces to simulate crosswinds and provided test data. This data could then be used to help develop the new aircraft.
During its long career, the NC-131H TIFS simulated many military and NASA aircraft including the B-1, X-40, Tacit Blue, Space Shuttle, B-2, YF-23 and C-17. Civilian aircraft development projects included the Boeing Supersonic Transport (SST), 7J7, MD-12X and Indonesian N-250. The aircraft also acted as a training aircraft for test pilots.
Source: US Air Force Museum