NASA Armstrong’s Go for Flight

Welcome to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center located on Edwards Air Force Base in California. Armstrong has contributed for more than 70 years to the agency’s space exploration, Earth and space science, and aeronautics missions.

NASA's Ikhana aircraft is situated near NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center's Hangar 4802 along with five flight intruders. by Monroe Conner and Carla ThomasNASA

Supersonic flight, electric aircraft propulsion and integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system are some focuses for Armstrong, which is NASA’s lead center for atmospheric research. Experience preparation for a flight in this virtual tour.

NASA Armstrong’s Dale Reed Flight Research Lab

Models are a typical first step to prove new ideas for flight — whether those ideas are entirely new aircraft or simply new additions to existing crafts. The lab, also known as the model shop mainly supports an engineering campaign focused on the integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the National Airspace System. 

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The MicroCub is a modified 60-percent-scale super cub. Armstrong’s Subscale Research Lab team piloted the MicroCub, successfully demonstrating the aircraft’s airworthiness. The MicroCub will continue to support autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft to change and redefine future drone flights.



The Dryden Remotely Operated Integrated Drone, or DROID, is used as a pilot currency and qualification platform. It was a crucial part of many past missions including the Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept, a proposed technique to horizontally launch a rocket into near-Earth orbit from a towed glider.

Student Developed Aircraft System Provides Vital Data (2018-08-01) by NASA/Lauren Hughes and Monroe ConnerNASA


Former Chief Scientist Al Bowers was fascinated by the ability of birds to overcome adverse yaw and set out to prove why birds don’t have or need vertical tails. The “Preliminary Research Aerodynamic Design To Lower Drag (PRANDTL-D)” was born.

3D Printers (Things 1 & 2)NASA

3D Printers (Things 1 & 2)

The model shop uses 3D printers (Things 1&2) to print out prototype parts for testing before making the final product. The printers use a soluble base material that allows them to print complex assemblies all in one piece making it more cost efficient to determine the success of a piece.

Research Aircraft Integration Facility (RAIF)

Before turning subscale models into full sized aircraft, AFRC can also perform testing on simulators. The Research Aircraft Integration Facility (RAIF) houses in-real-time flight simulation capabilities. Simulations can be used for both pilot and control room training prior to flight. However, the main purpose of the simulators is to support new projects. The simulations can save time and money by testing out new technology without actually building the aircraft.

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Bridenstine practices flight in X-57 Simulator for NASA's Experimental All-Electric Aircraft (2018-08-28) by NASA/Ken Ulbrich and Monroe ConnerNASA

X-57 Simulator

When it comes to NASA’s experimental aircraft, or “X-planes”, no amount of preparation, training or precaution is too great. Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine pilots the X-57 simulator during a 2018 visit. The X-57 Maxwell will be the first NASA X-plane to feature a fully distributed electric propulsion system.

Data CollectingNASA

Data Collecting

Data collection helps drive design decisions and flight planning. Systems engineers make sure that the pieces of flight hardware and software work together correctly before it is integrated into the aircraft, and they simulate failures to make sure the systems detect them and respond correctly.

F-18 SimulatorNASA

F-18 Simulator

Three F/A-18 Hornet aircraft are flown at Armstrong for research support and pilot proficiency. Since they are already in flight, why are stimulators still used? After the flight phase is over, the simulator is used to support the engineer’s report writing and test new cockpit technologies.

NASA Armstrong’s Flight Loads Laboratory

The NASA Armstrong Flight Loads Laboratory (FLL) is a unique national laboratory in which structural tests are conducted to support flight research, programs and projects. The experienced technical staff provides expertise in test design, test operations, load and stress analysis, thermal analysis, instrumentation, and systems development. Look around to see how these tests are conducted, and what can be learned from them.

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Mechanical Loading SystemsNASA

Mechanical Loading Systems

The Flight Loads Lab can conduct mechanical load tests on structural components and full-size aircraft to help prevent overload or structural damage. For these tests, loads are applied through hydraulic actuators (large columns that contain hydraulic fluid and apply load forces)

Thermal and Cryogenic SystemsNASA

Thermal and Cryogenic Systems

Several ovens with programmable control are available in the FLL for thermal exposure of coupons and panels. There are six non-cycling-type ovens, which are manually set to maintain temperature. The maximum temperatures for these ovens range from 650°F to 1300°F.

Previous TestingNASA

Previous Testing

In 2008, the boilerplate Orion crew module underwent moment-of-inertia testing. Along with NASA’s Orion spacecraft, built to take humans into deep space, there have been many other historic artifacts tested in the FLL. Including the Pegasus Hypersonic Experiment (PHYSX) wing glove.

NASA Armstrong’s Engine Shop

The engine shop is used for inspections, troubleshooting, rebuilding, and testing engines. The Armstrong Engine Shop saves millions of dollars by doing repairs and inspections in house. Inspections are completed prior to any aircraft mission and the engine shop has the capabilities to take out and put back together engines and run them in the test facility to make sure they are mission ready. They support AFRC’s current aircraft and any other aircraft assigned to the center or tested at NASA.

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Types of EnginesNASA

Testing the Engines

The U.S. Air Force Flight Test Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California is a key NASA Armstrong partner. The Air Force shares its capability to tests engines, like this F-100-220. The engine facility can handle 26,000 pounds of thrust generated when the engine is tested.

Testing the EnginesNASA

Types of Engines

These are the personnel in charge of the engines here in the shop. The engines that have been or are currently in the shop include:

Pratt & Whitney: F100-100, F100-229, JT9, PT6. 
General Electric: F110-129, J85, F404-400, F118, CFM 56
Rolls Royce: Spey 511, AE3007
Honeywell: TPE331

NASA Armstrong’s Life Support

The Life Support office provides for the development, testing, and maintenance of life support systems and performs inspections, maintenance, and services for flight equipment. 

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These systems include maintaining ejection seats, aircraft oxygen systems, pressure suits and all crew-related flight equipment. The office personnel also perform life support systems training for aircrew and survival. Before getting ready for takeoff, let’s look around to make sure all of the equipment is flight ready.

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Parachute SimulatorNASA

Parachute Simulator

The parachute simulator is used to train pilots for emergency ejection. The training includes: how to properly steer a parachute, what to do if there is a malfunction in the gear, and how to maneuver around objects like power lines and trees.



In this picture from 2002, a life support technician, adjusts a prototype helmet on a pilot. To this day, AFRC pilots are testing new helmets and equipment. Pilots along with the life support team are researching how flight conditions can affect a pilot’s breathing during high-performance flights.



The cockpits seen here are similar to an F-18 and an F-15 aircraft (shown here flying over Edwards Air Force Base). Much like in the simulation laboratory, pilots train in these mockups to make it feel as real as possible. Life support can train the pilots on proper ejection methods and more.

Flight SuitNASA

Flight Suit

Astronauts are not the only ones who have to wear flight suits. Pilots here at AFRC also have to wear these pressurized suits due to high-altitude flights. Without these suits, the pilots would lose consciousness within seconds. The suit seen here was used for the SR-71 aircraft.

NASA Armstrong’s Dryden Aeronautical Test Range

The Dryden Aeronautical Test Range (DATR) supports a wide range of missions with a diverse set of requirements; multiple streams of downlink telemetry and video, ground-based high-accuracy radar tracking data, and range safety support of small and large uninhabited vehicles. 

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Basically, the DATR is responsible for how we communicate during missions. DATR has various operational centers, but today we will be looking inside the Armstrong Communications (COMM) building. 

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Fixed Telemetry SystemsNASA

Fixed Telemetry Systems

These tracking systems support both downlink telemetry and air-to-ground video. They provide real-time support to Unpiloted Aerial Vehicles, Remotely Piloted Vehicles, Low Earth Orbit vehicles, and piloted vehicles. The 3 current operational stations are able to support in winds up to 55 mph.

Video Control Center (VCC)NASA

Video Control Center (VCC)

Video systems provide flight vision of mission aircraft, as well as pre-and post-flight ramp activities. The Video Control Center (VCC) records and distributes both standard definition analog and HD video. One HD long-range optic camera can transport video over 2 km or 1.2 miles to the VCC.

Telemetry/Radar Acquisition & Processing SystemNASA

Telemetry/Radar Acquisition & Processing System

DATR maintains two Mission Control Centers that receive data from the Telemetry/Radar Acquisition & Processing System (TRAPS). TRAPS acquires multiple data sources, processes, distributes, and stores the data. The data monitors the status and performance of the research vehicle.

NASA Armstrong’s Flight Ramp

This view has seen many historical moments and it has been the runway for many successful research flights. The ramp is where most flights take off and land for missions, from past flights like the X-15 rocket plane, the space shuttle, and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser to current missions. 

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As the final destination of our “Go for Flight Tour,” it is time for takeoff. To most people, the sky's the limit, but for employees at AFRC it is just the beginning.

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NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center is situated immediately adjacent to the compass rose on the bed of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (2001-07-25) by NASA/Carla ThomasNASA

Compass Rose

NASA Armstrong was directly involved in the now-concluded Space Shuttle Program for more than 35 years, hosting the Approach and Landing Tests of the space shuttle prototype orbiter Enterprise in 1977 and as the initial, and later as the alternate landing site for shuttles from 1981 until 2011. 

Current AircraftNASA

Current Aircraft

Aircraft currently flown at AFRC include research and testbed platforms, science platforms, aircraft used for photo/video and safety chase, unpiloted aerial systems and drones, experimental aircraft, and various mission support aircraft. 

Space Shuttle Endeavour

October 2012, the retired space shuttle, Endeavour, left the ramp at NASA Armstrong headed to its final resting place. Endeavour landed at the Los Angeles International Airport and began a two-day journey down the streets of Los Angeles. Endeavour is now on display at the California Science Center.

An inflight view from the left side of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle is shown in this 1964 NASA Flight Research Center photograph. (1964-12-09) by NASANASA

Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV)

The LLRV, shown in this 1964 photograph, led to the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle used by Neil Armstrong and other astronauts to practice landing on the Moon. Before Neil was an astronaut, he was a test pilot right here at AFRC. 

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