NASA Dryden operates several unique aircraft on Earth Science missions around the globe in support of NASA's Sub-orbital Science Program. A highly modified DC-8 jetliner flies a variety of missions including research of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, sensor development, and satellite sensor verification. NASA's two high-altitude ER-2 aircraft carry instruments that gather data about Earth resources, celestial observations, oceanic processes, and atmospheric chemistry. The aircraft are also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.
Altair / Predator B
The Altair is an extended-wingspan civil variant of the turboprop-powered military QM-9 Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) being developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The Altair is designed to meet payload, duration and altitude requirements for NASA Earth science missions, and will also serve as a testbed to demonstrate operational reliability and systems redundancy necessary to allow operation of UAVs in national airspace.
NASA's B-52H is an air-launch aircraft supporting NASA's flight research and advanced technology demonstration efforts. The new air-launch aircraft serves as an excellent launch platform for both NASA and USAF efforts in researching and demonstrating technologies for future access to space vehicles. The Air Force Flight Test Center (AFFTC) at Edwards AFB and NASA Dryden have a mutual Alliance that serves as a bilateral, cooperative relationship to improve service and lower cost to the internal and external customers of both.
Beamed Power Research
This project explored a concept that could power future solar-electric unmanned aircraft and spacecraft by precisely beaming laser light to the aircraft. The concept could allow solar aircraft to be flown at night or at high latitudes during winter when days are short and nights are long. It could also conceivably be used, in conjunction with orbiting satellites, to power aircraft and ground rovers on planetary explorations.
F-15B Research Testbed
The F-15B Research Testbed provides NASA, industry, and universities with long-term capability for the efficient flight test of aerodynamic, instrumentation, propulsion, and other flight research experiments.
The Helios Prototype solar-electric flying wing was one of several remotely piloted aircraft, also known as uninhabited aerial vehicles or UAVs, that were developed as technology demonstrators under the now-concluded Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) project. Prior to its loss in an in-flight mishap in June 2003, the Helios Prototype set a world altitude record for propeller-driven aircraft of almost 97,000 feet.
Intelligent Flight Control System (IFCS)
The Intelligent Flight Control system flight research project is designed to evaluate self-learning neural network concepts into flight control software that can efficiently optimize aircraft performance in both normal and failure conditions, enabling a pilot to maintain control and safely land an aircraft that has suffered a major systems failure or combat damage.
The X-40A was an 85-percent scale version of the X-37 experimental space-access technology demonstrator. The unpowered X-40A flew several helicopter-launched approach and landing tests at NASA Dryden in 2001 to validate the autonomous guidance and navigation systems to reduce risk for the follow-on X-37 project.
The X-43A is a small experimental research aircraft designed to flight-demonstrate the technology of supersonic ramjet or "scramjet" propulsion at hypersonic speeds. Its scramjet engine is an air-breathing engine in which the airflow through the engine remains supersonic. The X-43A sustained a record speed of Mach 6.83 or about 4,900 mph on March 27, 2004, and a follow-on flight is targeted to reach speeds of up to Mach 10.