Text Size
Dryden Flight Research Center - Flight Research Milestones - 1990s
October 5, 2012

The X-31 aircraft on a research mission from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, is flying nearly perpendicular to the flight path while performing the Herbst maneuver.X-31 Enhanced Fighter Maneuverability Demonstrator - The X-31 aircraft on a research mission from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, is flying nearly perpendicular to the flight path while performing the Herbst maneuver. (NASA Photo). 1999:
Sept. 15 The final checkout flight by one of the DFRC's ER-2 aircraft completed a series of tests of the entire radar and telemetry range from Edwards AFB to Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah, for the first flights of the X-33.

Sept. 8 First flight of the Helios Prototype aircraft, the larger follow-on to Pathfinder, Pathfinder-Plus, and Centurion in the series of high-flying, solar-powered aircraft developed by AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, CA, as part of the ERAST program.

Jun. 29 The prototype test version of the X-34, designed to demonstrate launch-vehicle technologies that will reduce the cost of access to space, made its first captive-carry flight attached to the belly of its newly modified L-1011 carrier aircraft.

Apr. - May The Altus II aircraft - developed and built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, of San Diego, CA, for NASA's ERAST program - conducted nine scientific flights over the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i in support of the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement studies conducted by Sandia National Laboratories for the Department of Energy. It and a partner Twin Otter aircraft gathered measurements of atmospheric radiation both around cirrus cloud layers and in the clear sky. The two aircraft did an in-flight comparison of the data from their instruments, contributing to an improved understanding of the interacting elements of the global climate system.

Feb. 6 The X-38 demonstrator for a crew return vehicle completed a successful free flight after release from the B-52 carrier aircraft.

Nov. 19 - A NASA ER-2 aircraft based at Dryden set a provisional new world altitude record of 68,700 feet for medium weight aircraft.

Nov. 10 - The remotely piloted Centurion aircraft flew for the first time in a series of three low-altitude flights in which its power came from batteries to operate its 14 electronic motors and its electronic systems. The other two flights occurred on Nov. 19 and Dec. 3, with the aircraft reaching 400 feet on the third flight.

Oct. 22 - The Pegasus® Hypersonic Experiment, a highly instrumented glove on the Pegasus® booster's delta wing, gathered more than 90 seconds of hypersonic temperature, pressure, and airflow data after the booster was launched from an Orbital Sciences Corporation L-1011 aircraft.

Aug 6 - NASA's remotely piloted ->Pathfinder-Plus -> solar-powered aircraft flew to a record altitude of 80,285 feet above Kaua'i in the Hawaiian Islands following a long ascent.

Jun. 1998 - NASA's F-15B Aerodynamic Flight Facility aircraft successfully completed a series of six flights testing Thermal Protection System materials for the X-33 Advanced Technology Demonstrator at Dryden.

Mar. 24 - An L-188 Electra aircraft owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, flew near Boulder with an Airborne Coherent LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) for Advanced In-flight Measurement on its first flight to test its ability to detect previously invisible forms of clear air turbulence. Coherent Technologies Inc. of Lafayette, Colorado, built the device for the DFRC, which participated in the effort as part of NASA's Aviation Safety Program, for which the lead center was Langley. Results of the test indicated that the device did successfully detect the clear air turbulence.

Mar. 12 - NASA's B-52 008 dropped the first X-38 atmospheric test vehicle for the first full test of its parafoil parachute. The parafoil deployed within seconds of the vehicle's release from an altitude of approximately 23,000 feet. The unpiloted X-38, with a lifting-body shape originally developed for the X-24A project in the early to mid-1970s, descended to a landing on Rogers Dry Lakebed. The X-38 is an 80-percent-scale prototype of a crew return vehicle for the International Space Station.

Feb. - The specially instrumented DC-8 resumed flying its medium-altitude, science-gathering missions in the middle of the month following maintenance and upgrades of its satellite communications system. Already in January, one of Dryden's ER-2s flew an experiment to collect high-altitude particulate matter. Both aircraft flew a variety of missions over widely scattered geographic regions during the rest of the calendar year to gather data about Earth science, including weather and climate.

Dec. 20 - NASA research pilot Mark Stucky flew a QF-106 on the first towed flight behind an Air Force C-141 in the joint Eclipse project with Kelly Space & Technology (KST) to demonstrate a reusable tow launch vehicle concept developed by KST. Kelly hoped to use the data from the tow tests to validate a tow-to-launch procedure for reusable space launch vehicles. Stucky flew six successful tow tests between December 1997 and February 6.

Nov. 12 - A NASA/Boeing X-36 Tailless Fighter Agility Research Aircraft successfully completed the 31st flight since May 17-demonstrating the feasibility of future tailless fighters to achieve levels of agility superior to today's best military fighter aircraft. Two 28-percent-scale, remotely piloted X-36s participated in the program, which featured a tailless configuration to reduce the radar signature of the aircraft.

Oct. 31 - A NASA SR-71 completed its first flight as part of the NASA/Rocketdyne/Lockheed Martin Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment (LASRE) to test a one-tenth-scale, half-span model of the engine to be used on the X-33. Developed by a firm now called Boeing North American-Rocketdyne, it does not include a bell-shaped nozzle, making it smaller and lighter than normal rocket engines of comparable thrust.

Jul. 30 - NASA's first X-38 Advanced Technology Demonstrator for a proposed Crew Return Vehicle from the International Space Station completed its first captive flight beneath B-52 008. Built by Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif., the X-38 resulted from the cooperation of NASA's Johnson Space Center and DFRC.

Jul. 7 - The Pathfinder solar-powered, remotely piloted aircraft set a new, unofficial altitude record for solar-powered aircraft of 71,500 feet at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kaua'i, HI, breaking its previous records of 50, 567 feet set on Sep. 11, and 67,350 on Jun. 9.

Jun. 27 A YO-3A (NASA tail number 718) transferred to Dryden from the Ames Research Center, beginning a series of aircraft transfers from Ames. It was followed by a C-130B (NASA tail number 707) on Jun. 30,1997; a Beechcraft 200 Super King Air Oct. 3; two ER-2's (706 and 709 respectively) on Nov. 3 and 6; a DC-8 (717) on Dec. 29; and a Learjet (705) on Feb. 9. The ER-2's and the DC-8 became a part of a new Airborne Science Branch that was forming at Dryden during the period of the transfers. Except for 707, all of the NAS numbers changed to Dryden's 800 series; the aircraft kept the last two digits from the Ames numbers.

Nov. 26 - Year-long Supersonic Laminar-Flow Control program concluded with 45th flight on highly modified F-16XL research aircraft. Program proved that laminar-or smooth-airflow could be obtained over a significant portion of an aircraft wing's chord at speeds of Mach 2 by use of a suction system pulling turbulent boundary-layer air through tiny holes in the wing skin.

Nov. 24 - First flight of Tu-144LL flying laboratory inaugurated year-long flight test program in support of NASA's High Speed Research program.

Nov. 1 - F-15 ACTIVE research aircraft conducted first thrust vectoring of engine exhaust at speeds approaching Mach 2.

Sep. 6 - F-18 HARV made final flight in 385-flight research program that increased our understanding of flight at high angles of attack.

Jul. 2 -NASA announced award of X-33 contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. to design, build, and fly a vehicle that will demonstrate advanced technologies to dramatically increase reliability and lower the cost of putting a pound of payload in space. The test vehicle was projected to fly from the DFRC in the year 2002.

Nov. 30 - Improved software enabled a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 to make a final landing at Edwards without the need for the pilot to manipulate the flight controls while using only engine power for control.

Oct. 13 - First flight of the two-seat F16-XL with the active glove installed. The F-16XL was piloted by Dana Purifoy, and began a program researching laminar flow at supersonic speeds using a suction panel that covers 60 percent of the wing chord. Previous studies with the single-seat F-16XL used a glove that covered only 20 percent of the chord.

Sept. 11 - Pathfinder set a new altitude record for solar-powered aircraft. The remotely controlled, unpiloted prototype attained an altitude of 50,567 feet during a nearly 12-hour flight. Solar cells on the top surface of the all-wing aircraft powered 6 electric, propeller-turning motors for propulsion. Pathfinder is part of NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program.

Aug. 29 - Aided by NASA-developed propulsion controlled aircraft (PCA) system, a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 made first-ever, safe landings of an actual transport aircraft using only engine power for control.

Aug. 11 - CV-990 LSRA completed study of space shuttle landing gear, with a total of 155 research flights. Final tests subjected orbiter wheels to total failure modes on the lakebed surface and a concrete runway at Edwards.

June 11 - NASA's B-52, No. 008, became 40 years old. Based at Dryden since mid-1959, it is the oldest B-52 still flying.

May 13 - X-31 completed final research flights, making a total of 555 for the program.

Oct. 1 - Dryden assumed full Center status as NASA's Center of Excellence in Atmospheric Flight Research. NASA personnel numbered 465.

Aug. 4 - X-31 logged 438th flight, new record for experimental aircraft. Record holder had been X-29, set on its last flight in 1992.

Aug. 3 - Sixth and last Pegasus® mission using NASA's B-52 "008" as the launch vehicle was successful. Future airborne launches to be with an L-1011 owned and operated by Pegasus® developer, Orbital Sciences Corp.

July 20 - 25th anniversary of Apollo 11 featured salute to Dryden's Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), used to develop moon-landing training techniques.

Mar. 18 - 10,000th research mission was logged by Dryden's Western Aeronautical Test Range (WATR), a flight with the F-18 HARV.Facility was developed in the 1950's to support the X-15 program.

Mar. 1 - Dryden named a Center again. Transition period to institute independent administrative functions ended Sept. 30.

Feb. 3 - Final flight of an F-104 at Dryden, a symbolic farewell with NASA 826, was piloted by Tom McMurtry, Chief, Flight Operations Division. First acquired in 1956, 11 F-104's flew at Dryden over a 38-year period as chase and research aircraft. Last research mission with NASA 826 was Jan. 31. The other remaining F-104, NASA 825, was flown on its last research mission Jan 24.

Dec. 21 - The Perseus remotely piloted aircraft flew for the first time in a project to develop technologies to be used to construct and fly unpiloted vehicles on high-altitude science missions.

Nov. 1 - The Space Shuttle Columbia, on mission STS-58, landed at 7:06 a.m. (PST), the last planned landing of a shuttle at Edwards. Nearly 35,000 people, including about 5000 Dryden guests, viewed the morning event.

June 24 - Replica of X-15 rocket research aircraft, displayed at the corner of Lilly Ave. and Lakeshore Dr., was dedicated.

June 15 - Modified F-15 called ACTIVE-Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles - replaced the HIDEC as Dryden's integrated systems aircraft. It featured forward canards and was later fitted with thrust vectoring nozzles to study their use for pitch and yaw control.

May 21 - First research flight with Dryden's F-18 Systems Research Aircraft (SRA) checked out an electric actuator that monitored and controlled one of the aircraft's ailerons, and became a testbed for advanced electric and fiber optics components.

Apr. 29 - The thrust-vectored X-31 executed a minimum radius 180-degree turn-the "Herbst Maneuver"-while flying at more than 70-degrees angle of attack, beyond the aerodynamic limits of any other aircraft.

Apr. 21 - The F-15 HIDEC was landed using only engine power to turn, climb, and descend. Gordon Fullerton was the pilot on this milestone event, which was part of what became the Propulsion Controlled Aircraft project.

Mar. 9 - NASA SR-71 flew on first science mission, taking a JPL ultraviolet camera to 85,000 feet for night photo studies. Flight was also first SR-71 night mission at Dryden.

Dec. 22 - Flights began with Dryden's CV-990 Landing Systems Research Aircraft (LSRA), equipped with a space shuttle landing gear fixture that later lead to increased orbiter cross wind landing limits at the Kennedy Space Center, and aided in the decision to resurface the Kennedy runway.

Oct. 24 - Research Aircraft Integration Facility (RAIF) officially opened, giving Dryden a unique capability to carry out interdependent systems testing, systems troubleshooting, and rapid pre-and post-flight systems checks on several aircraft simultaneously. On Nov. 17, Center Director Ken Szalai renamed the facility as the Walter C. Williams Research Aircraft Integration Facility.

July 1 - Single-day Dryden record of six missions tied by X-29 No. 2 after the aircraft returned to flight for a 60-flight Air Force study using vortex flow controls on nose to study improved control at high angles of attack.

May 16 - Maiden landing of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, built to replace Challenger. Landing was viewed by an estimated 125,000 people, including 2,500 school students.

April 23 - First flight of an X-31 aircraft from Dryden following relocation of X-31 International Test Organization from Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, in a DOD study of thrust vectoring for air combat at high angles of attack. Karl Lang of the German firm Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm, one of the participating firms in the project, was the pilot.

Dec. 12 - F-18 HARV, with pilot Ed Schneider, achieved its design point of roughly 70 degrees angle of attack.

Nov. 1 - Tests of pressure sensitive luminescent paint on a flight test pylon mounted under an F-104 aircraft ended on this date, opening the door for a new method of measuring surface pressures on aircraft.

Oct. 3 - Dryden aeronautical engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer became first-ever female crewmember to fly in an SR-71.

Sept. 30 - Seven-year X-29 Advanced Technology Demonstrator program ended after 362 research missions with the two forward-swept wing aircraft. No. 1 aircraft was flown 242 times to validate design concepts. X-29 No. 2 was flown 140 times in high-angle-of-attack studies. USAF later flew No. 2 in a vortex control study.

Aug. 14 - First all-NASA SR-71 flight with research pilots Steve Ishmael and Rogers Smith in the cockpit. It was the first Mach 3 mission flown at Dryden since the last YF-12 flight Oct. 31, 1979.

Jul. 12 - First flight of F-18 High Alpha (Angle-of-Attack) Research Vehicle (HARV) with thrust vectoring system engaged to enhance control and maneuvering at high angles of attack; 104th flight of the HARV, which arrived at Dryden Oct. 22, 1984, and initially flew a series of missions without thrust vectoring to obtain experience with aerodynamic measurements at high angles of attack and to develop the flight research techniques needed for this measurement.

May 15 - Full-scale X-30 structural test component, representing a wing control surface, arrived at Dryden's Thermostructural Research Laboratory for loads and temperature testing.

Dec. 3 - Position of Dryden site manager redesignated as director in reorganization that strengthened Dryden's role as a national flight research installation, with Ken Szalai, chief of Dryden's Research Engineering Division, named to new position. Dryden personnel numbered 430.

Oct. 25 - Final test in a series of eight using B-52 No. 008 to validate drag chute deployment system for use on space shuttles to improve their landing efficiency. The tests with 008 were on the lakebed and main runway.

May 3 - First flight in NASA's first program to investigate laminar flow at supersonic speeds with actively controlled suction. Program used the only two F-16XL prototypes to investigate passive and active methods of reducing turbulence on wing surfaces at high speeds.

April 5 - Pegasus® space booster successfully air-launched from NASA's B-52 in one of the first successful flights of a commercially developed space launch vehicle placing a payload into earth orbit. The launch, was off the California coast, with a NASA-Navy payload placed in a polar orbit 320 miles high.

Feb. 15 - First of three SR-71's arrived at Dryden for a program to investigate a host of disciplines to help development of future high-speed civil and military aircraft. Two YF-12A's, prototypes of the SR-71, and a YF-12C were flown at Dryden from 1970 to 1979 in an earlier high-speed program.

Image Token: 
Image Token: 
Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator