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