NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center: 70 Years of Flight Research

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[Music]>>Armstrong Flight Research
Center’s origins date back to 1946, when thirteen National
Advisory Committee for Aeronautics engineers and
support staff arrived in California’s Mojave Desert on a
quest for supersonic flight with the X-1, the first aircraft to
be designated an X , or experimental, vehicle, by the
U.S. Air Force. The first Air Force flight to
pass Mach 1 came on October 14,1947, with the NACA
following on March 4, 1948. [Music]>>Other X-planes followed the
X-1, designed to find data related to
speed, temperature, structure, control, or human physiology. [Music]>>By the early 2000s, NASA
Armstrong was testing the first integrated
hypersonic scramjet,the X-43. The air-breathing engines
reached Mach 7 and Mach 10. [Sonic Boom] [Startled Woman]: What was
that???!!>>A defining feature of many
high-speed air vehicles is a loud sonic boom. Over the years,
NASA tried to mitigate these booms, modifying various
aircraft, like the F-5 Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration, F-15,
and F-18, to test theories and new technologies. Armstrong even
used schlieren imaging of aircraft in flight to better
understand sonic shock waves. And finally, seven decades after
helping to create the first sonic boom, NASA is designing a
new x-plane to demonstrate quiet boom capabilities, which could
make non-disruptive supersonic flight over land possible. [quiet boom] [Music]>>Armstrong began flying
Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UASs, as
research vehicles as far back as the 1960s, and developed the
first purpose-built Ground Control Station for these
aircraft. More recently,
Armstrong and other NASA centers began working to
integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems into our National Air
Space. [radio chatter] [Jet flying]>>In the 1970s, Armstrong
developed digital fly-by-wire, control technology that replaced
hydraulic systems and eventually transferred to military and
commercial aviation, cars, motorcycles and boats. The 80s and 90s saw the center
develop thrust vectoring for jets, making them more
maneuverable, and investigating safety improvements for
commercial aviation. In the early 90s, Armstrong
began the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology
program to develop greener aircraft and study the
environment. The solar-powered Helios reached
an altitude of 96,863 feet during the program and
prototypes of the Predator-B eventually led to
one of NASA’s current science platforms,Ikhana. A new
x-plane, the all- electric X-57, promises high-efficiency,
quieter, more environmentally friendly flight. We are also
currently testing a new, morphing flap that can reduce
noise and improve performance, and new control techniques for
increased efficiency. [Music]>>While the center’s
initial focus was aeronautics, within 10 years it added space
as a research objective. [Rocket flying]>>The development of Reaction
Control Systems for the legendary X-15 was critical for
spaceflight. Later space work included the
Lunar Landing Research Vehicle to train Apollo astronauts to
land on the Moon, and Lifting Bodies, designed to return from
space and fly to a landing instead of descending under a
parachute. Armstrong’s lifting body track record made it the
obvious site for approach and landing tests of the
space shuttle prototype Enterprise, and, later, Sierra
Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. During
the Space Shuttle years, 54 missions landed here. [Music]>>Armstrong was involved in
testing the pad launch abort test capsule for NASA’s next
spacecraft, the Orion crew module, which will take
astronauts on our Journey to Mars. The capsule’s instrumentation
and wiring took place at the Center, as did its weight and
balance, center of gravity, and combined systems testing. [Music]>>Software for the Space
Launch System, the rocket that will fly Orion into space, was
tested onboard Armstrong’s F-18, which flew to simulate a rocket
flight path. Another Armstrong F-18, this
time diving nearly vertically, was used to test a radar system
that helped land the Mars Curiosity rover on the surface
of Mars in 2012. [radio chatter]>>Always pursuing breakthroughs
in atmospheric flight and and operations, our Center has
investigated new air launch techniques that could yield
dramatic cost savings for access to space, and equal gains in
efficiency. In addition, Armstrong’s Flight
Loads Laboratory performed mechanical load testing on a
Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, or
HIAD, that could slow spacecraft for entry into a
planet’s atmosphere. In order to spur space
technology development in the private sector, the Center runs
the Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Flight
Opportunities Program, funding tests, in space-like
environments, of new technologies intended for
commercial suborbital spacecraft. Among other things,
the program has matured a 3-D printer that can print parts and
tools on the International Space Station. [Music]>>The center has long operated a
number of aircraft for the Agency’s Airborne Science
Program, flying scientists around the world to study the
Earth. This includes a DC-8 flying laboratory, a C-20, two
ER-2 high-altitude aircraft, and two Global Hawks, all
carrying instruments to study our planet and its ever-changing
environment. NASA’s Predator B, Ikhana,is used today as a
science platform. Besides assisting with imaging
wildfires, Ikhana gave us the first images of Orion returning
to Earth for splashdown in the Pacific after its initial
orbital flight. Armstrong also operates and
maintains the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared
Astronomy, or SOFIA, a 747 with the world’s largest
airborne infrared telescope, yielding extraordinary
astronomical data about our solar system and far beyond. As Armstrong begins a new
decade, advances in science, technology, aeronautics and
space exploration are all rooted firmly in the last seventy years
of its history.

 

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