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July 26, 2011
Astronauts Jeffrey S. Ashby (left) and Pamela A. Melroy, STS-112 mission commander and pilot, respectively; along with instructor David L. Mumme, are photographed in the cockpit of a KC-135 aircraft at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center (JSC). Although used primarily for the Zero Gravity program at JSC, the large aircraft also fits the bill for heavy aircraft familiarization. Most training for Shuttle landings takes place in the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), which is much lighter in gross weight than the Shuttle. It does a superb job of flying like the Shuttle while on final, but in the flare (right at landing) there are some subtleties to the dynamics of heavy aircraft that only a vehicle of similar weight can demonstrate. Astronauts practice landings in the KC-135 since it is more similar in gross weight to a Shuttle.

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