EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The space shuttle Enterprise, a prototype of the two space planes that have orbited Earth, Monday began a 28-day tour of the United States, Canada and Europe that will include a stint as centerpiece at the Paris Air Show.
The Enterprise, used in low-altitude landing tests in 1977, departed the desert air base -- landing site for five of the six shuttle space flights -- at 11:04 a.m. PDT.
'Conditions were very nice, clear skies, no major winds,' said Sharon Wanglin, a NASA spokeswoman.
The Enterprise will remain mounted on the back of a 747 jumbo jet throughout the tour, which concludes June 12.
The Enterprise has never been equipped for spaceflight, but Miss Wanglin said that has not diminished interest in the tour.
'It's exactly like the shuttle, in fact originally it was intended for space flight. But subsequent ones were lighter in body weight, so they kept this one for doing tests and things,' she explained.
The space shuttles Challenger and Columbia have both flown in space and two more shuttles are under construction. The seventh shuttle space launch is set for June 18 from Cape Canaveral.
For its landing tests, the Enterprise was carried to between 20,000 and 30,000 above the California desert atop the 747, then released to glide back to a landing at Edwards. It weighed about 150,000 pounds at the time and had a two-man crew.
The 747 was purchased by NASA from American Airlines in 1974. Its interior passenger equipment was removed and it was modified to carry the shuttle. Major changes incliuded addition of tail tip fins to the horizon stabilizer and mounts for the attachment of the shuttle.
The high point of the tour will be the Enterprise's display at the Paris Air Show May 24-June 5.
Stops on the Enterprise's U.S. tour will include Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs; McConnel Air Force Base, Wichita, Kan., and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio.
On May 19, the Enterprise will leave Wright-Patterson and arrive at Goose Bay, Labrador in the late morning. The 747 will be refueled and the Enterprise and its 747 carrier will depart in the early afternoon for Keflavik Naval Air station, Iceland, where it will arrive in the evening and remain overnight.
European stops will include Fairford Royal Air Force Base, England; Bonn-Cologne, West Germany. After the Paris Air Show, the Enterprise will travel to Canada for a stop in Ottawa.
The Enterprise, which will generally travel at an altitude of 18,000 feet, will make low passes over Quebec and Montreal before returning for final U.S. stops at Scott AFB, Belleville, Ill.; and Shepard AFB, Wichita Falls, Texas.
Low passes are also planned for Paris and along the Rhine River.
The Enterprise is scheduled to return to Edwards June 12.