Located in Edwards, California in the western Mojave Desert, the Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center was renamed in 2014 to honor astronaut Neil Armstrong. NASA Armstrong is chartered to research and test advanced aeronautics, space, and related technologies that are critical to carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration, space operations, scientific discovery, and aeronautical research and development.

Since its deployment into the USAF’s F-16 fleet in 2014, Armstrong’s automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (Auto GCAS) saved the lives of eight pilots by 2018. (NASA)

Armstrong flight-tests some of the nation’s most unique aircraft and aeronautical systems and conducts flight operations for a wide variety of airborne science missions. In support of space exploration, the center is managing launch abort systems testing and integration, in partnership with Johnson Space Center and Lockheed Martin, for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a spacecraft built to take humans to the Moon and Mars. Armstrong also provides space-to-ground communications support for the International Space Station.

NASA Armstrong was directly involved in the now-concluded Space Shuttle Program for more than 35 years, serving as the primary alternate landing site for the operational shuttles from 1981 until the last shuttle flight in 2011.

Armstrong is involved in many aspects of NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics and Aviation Safety programs. Current or recent projects have involved improving fuel efficiencies and reducing potentially harmful exhaust emissions, noise reduction on takeoff and landing via aerodynamic improvements including flexible control surfaces, research into vehicle integrated propulsion, and development of systems and procedures to safely integrate remotely or autonomously operated aircraft into the national airspace with aircraft flown by onboard pilots.

Fiber Optic Sensing System (FOSS) technologies, developed for aeronautics research, can solve a number of technical challenges for industries as diverse as medical, power, beverage, and automotive. NASA’s unmanned Ikhana aircraft was the first to fly with a FOSS wing shape sensor. (NASA)

Armstrong also supports NASA’s space technology development efforts through its management of the Flight Opportunities Program, which provides flights on a variety of sub-orbital vehicles, balloons, and aircraft to developers of various technology payloads that could aid NASA’s future space exploration activities.

Airborne Science Operations

Armstrong’s Airborne Science Program uses the center’s unique aircraft and sensors to conduct observations and collect atmospheric data as well as advance the use of satellite data. The primary objectives include conducting in-situ atmospheric measurements, collecting high-resolution imagery for spaceborne calibration, developing new technologies such as remotely operated unmanned aircraft systems, testing new sensor technologies in space-like environments, and calibrating/validating space-based measurements and retrieval algorithms.

NASA’s DC-8 aircraft carries sensors that collect data in support of scientific projects in archaeology, ecology, soil science, geography, hydrology, meteorology, atmospheric chemistry, oceanography, volcanology, and biology. NASA also uses Lockheed ER-2 Earth resources aircraft as flying laboratories that study Earth, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes.

NASA’s C-20A has been modified and instrumented as a platform for a variety of Earth science research experiments. The aircraft features a Platform Precision Autopilot designed by engineers at Armstrong that allows the aircraft to conduct repeat passes virtually identical to previously flown flight paths to obtain precision measurements using the radar instrument to compare with data obtained on prior passes over the same terrain.

A General Atomics Predator B unmanned aircraft system named Ikhana is available for both environmental science and aeronautical research experiments. It is designed for long-endurance, medium-altitude flight and can carry a variety of atmospheric and remote sensing instruments including duplicates of those sensors on orbiting satellites. One Global Hawk aircraft is used on a variety of Earth science missions requiring high-altitude, long-endurance capabilities. The ability of the unmanned Global Hawk to autonomously fly long distances and remain aloft for extended periods brings a new capability to the science community for measuring, monitoring, and observing remote locations on Earth.

Flight Research, Test, and Engineering

The Flight Research, Test, and Engineering Directorate provides research and project support engineering to Armstrong. It is comprised of the six branches described below.

Aerostructures Branch

The Aerostructures Branch covers airframe structure disciplines including static structures, structural dynamics, external and aerothermal loads, and hot structures. The branch has experience in flight projects such as extremely light-weight, high-altitude aircraft; transports; high-performance military aircraft; and hypersonic vehicles. The Flight Loads Lab (FLL) develops advanced sensor technology for flight and ground test including structural health monitoring, extreme temperature environments, active aeroelastic control for weight reduction and/or performance enhancement, morphing structures, thermal protection systems for hypersonic vehicles, and external and internal loads for advanced vehicle configurations.

Flight Systems Branch

Cockpit Interactive Sonic Boom Display Avionics (CISBoomDA) software displays the location and intensity of shockwaves caused by supersonic aircraft. It can be integrated into cockpits and flight control rooms, enabling pilots and air traffic controllers to make in-flight adjustments to control the timing and location of sonic booms. (NASA)

The Flight Systems Branch consists of two groups: avionics engineering and systems integration and test. The branch performs development activities and supports the NASA Mission Directorates through projects like the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA); Commercial Crew development program; and supersonic, subsonic, aviation safety, and integrated systems research programs. The branch develops avionics and control systems for flight platforms including specifying, designing, developing, verifying, validating, implementing, and supporting avionics systems (hardware and software) for flight. Technologies involve flight control systems, small prototype hardware development, cockpit display development, and UAV systems design and development.

Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) Branch

The SE&I branch focuses on defining, implementing, integrating, and operating a system (product or service) including the engineering activities and technical management activities related to the system. The goal is to provide systems engineering services to ensure that Armstrong systems are designed, built, and operated in the most cost-effective way possible. The branch provides high-quality systems engineering expertise and supports large and complex flight and space projects including SOFIA.