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A view from within the cockpit of a plane in flight looking out to the blue skies.

Aircraft Flown at Armstrong

For more than seven decades, pilots at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, have flown everything from light aircraft to high-speed jets and rocket-powered airplanes.

Research and Testbed Platforms

F-15B Tests Feasibility of Using Probes for Air-to-Air Shockwave Probing
The Eagle Aero probes flew attached to the red device underneath NASA’s F-15B research test bed aircraft.

F-15B TN 836 Aeronautics Research Test Bed

The F-15B research test bed continues to be an innovative and cost-effective tool for flight testing advanced propulsion concepts. Also known as TN 836, this is a modified twin-engine jet aircraft that provides NASA, industry, and universities with long-term capability for the efficient flight test of aerodynamic, instrumentation, propulsion, and other flight research experiments.

Gulfstream III Aerodynamics Research Test Bed

NASA Armstrong operates a Gulfstream G-III aircraft, NASA tail number 804, as an aerodynamics research test bed.

X-57 Maxwell

NASA’s X-57 “Maxwell” is the agency’s first all-electric experimental aircraft, or X-plane, and is NASA’s first crewed X-plane in two decades. The primary goal of the X-57 project is to share the aircraft’s electric-propulsion-focused design and airworthiness process with regulators, which will advance certification approaches for distributed electric propulsion in emerging electric aircraft markets.

Science Platforms

NASA DC-8 science aircraft in flight against clear blue sky.
NASA’s DC-8 deploys to Iceland on a mission to study Arctic polar winds.

DC-8 Airborne Science Laboratory

NASA operates a highly modified Douglas DC-8 jetliner as a flying science laboratory. The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703 in Palmdale, California, and is used to collect data for experiments in support of projects serving the world’s scientific com­munity.

ER-2 High-Altitude Science Aircraft

NASA operates two Lockheed ER-2 Earth re­sources aircraft as flying laboratories in the Airborne Science Program under the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The aircraft collect information about the Earth’s resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes. The aircraft are also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.

C-20A Environmental Science Research Aircraft

NASA Armstrong operates a C-20A as an environmental science research aircraft for a variety of geophysical research missions. A military version of the Gulfstream III business jet, the aircraft has been extensively modified and instrumented for the role, including installation of a sophisticated synthetic aperture radar in an underbelly pod, a self-contained on-board Data Collection and Processing System (DCAPS), and a precision autopilot that enables the aircraft to fly repeat passes over a target within 15 feet of the original flight path.

Support Aircraft

Small two-seat aircraft in flight against a blue sky with white clouds.
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center installed a conformal antenna on the door of its T-34C aircraft to test its performance parameters.

F-15D Support Aircraft

NASA Armstrong flies F-15D Eagle aircraft for research support and pilot proficiency. The F-15Ds have a two-seat cockpit and like the two-seat F-18 support aircraft, they are normally used for photo or video support. They transmit live video from the air back to Armstrong so engineers can visually monitor the mission as it is being flown. This feature greatly enhances flight safety.

F/A-18 Mission Support Aircraft

Three F/A-18 Hornet aircraft are flown at NASA Armstrong for research support and pilot proficiency. The aircraft were obtained from the U.S. Navy between 1984 and 1991. One has a two-seat cockpit while the others are single-seat aircraft. NASA research support aircraft are commonly called chase planes and fill the role of escort aircraft during research missions.

B200 King Air Mission Support and Research Aircraft

NASA Armstrong operates two Beechcraft B200 Super King Air aircraft for flight research and mission support. One of Armstrong’s King Air aircraft, NASA tail number (TN) 801, serves as a testbed for various research projects, and is also flown for a range of mission support activities. The other aircraft, NASA TN 7, can carry up to 11 passengers and is primarily used for pilot proficiency and for transporting personnel on NASA business to locations not served by regular airlines.

T-34C Mission Support Aircraft

NASA Armstrong operates the Raytheon Aircraft Co. T-34C training plane for pilot proficiency and mission support. The aircraft accompanies research flights for photography and video data collection, and also as safety chase. At Armstrong, the T-34C is primarily used for chasing remotely piloted unmanned air vehicles that fly slower than NASA F-18 mission support aircraft can fly.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

Aircraft with round nose and long, thin wings soars over Edwards Air Force Base.
NASA’s Global Hawk 872 soars over Edwards Air Force Base, Edwards, California during a check out flight on Aug. 17 for the NOAA-led Sensing Hazards Operational Unmanned Technology (SHOUT) mission.

Global Hawk

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, operates two Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aircraft for high-altitude, long-duration missions. Acquired from the U.S. Air Force, these two aircraft consist of a Block 2 Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration model and a Block 10 initial production model. A third Block 10 Global Hawk is being refurbished to be operational.

X-Planes at Armstrong

Experimental aircraft, or X-planes, are built for a wide range of research purposes – technology or concept demonstrators, unmanned test missiles, and even as prototypes.

Learn More about X-Planes at Armstrong
Neil Armstrong standing in front of X-15.