NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center: Advancing Technology and Science Through Flight

NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center:  Advancing Technology and Science Through Flight

[Mission Control]: Ten… nine… eight… ignition sequence start,
engines on, five… four… three… two… one… all engines running… [Music]>>When you think of NASA,
you probably think of space exploration, which is
a huge part of what NASA does. But, what you might not
know is that aeronautics, the science of flight, is
also an important piece of NASA’s directive. It’s even in our name
– National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In fact, NASA was conducting
flight research long before we put a man on the moon. NASA has flown some of the world’s most advanced
research technologies leading to innovations in safety… [Aircraft Computer]: Pull up!>>…speed, and efficiency. We here at NASA’s Armstrong
Flight Research Center have been on the cutting edge of
aeronautical development in pursuit of our goal
to advance technology and science through flight. [Aircraft flying] [Music] Our story began in the 1940’s when the National Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor agency, teamed up with the
U.S. Air Force to fly the X-1 rocket plane
in pursuit of one question: could an aircraft and
its pilot fly faster than the speed of sound? [1940s Film Narrator]: A B-29
will take the XS-1 aloft, and launch her at an
altitude of about 35,000 feet. The really big moment…through
the sound barrier! [Sonic boom] The first time ever
in level flight.>>They successfully answered
that question in 1947. New X-planes soon followed, and throughout the 1950s
these aircraft made headlines with ever-higher speed
and altitude records. The fastest and most remarkable
of all the rocket planes, the X-15, was flown
from 1959 to 1968. There was simply
nothing else like it. Pilots took it to speeds of
over 4,500 miles per hour and some flights
reached altitudes so high that they passed
briefly into space. Many of NASA’s X-15 test pilots
actually earned their astronaut wings here. One of the pilots who did not
was a young man named Neil Armstrong; however, his
experiences flying the X-15, as well as the Lunar
Landing Research Vehicle, provided him the skills he
needed on later missions where he, of course, did
end up earning his wings. [Neil Armstrong]: That’s
one small step for man…>>Research aircraft like the
X-15 provided valuable information about the human body in
spaceflight, and were critical in the design of future
aircraft and spacecraft. [Music] [Radio Chatter] [Aircraft flying] The Armstrong Flight Research
Center introduced the world to wingless experimental
aircraft. Flown in the 1960s and 1970s, these vehicles made
a great contribution to the future of space flight. In 1977, we applied knowledge
gained from the flights of these lifting bodies when
we conducted the Approach and Landing Tests, a
milestone in the development of the Space Shuttle Program. [Radio]: Down!>>The prototype orbiter
Enterprise was used to verify the flying
characteristics of the shuttles and to test the systems before
they ever went into space. These risky flights, five
in all, were a success, and the Space Shuttle
program would go on to be one of NASA’s most important
achievements in space travel and exploration. During the life of the program
there were 59 successful shuttle landings here, including
those of the Enterprise. Today, wingless lifting
bodies are making a come back as Sierra Nevada brings its
Dream Chaser to flight status. Supporting the shuttle program
was only one part of our work in the post-Apollo years. Have you ever heard
the term “Fly By Wire”? It describes the use of
electronics and computers to control an aircraft. Taking the place of
mechanical or hydraulic systems, flyby- wire technology
was first tested on a modified F-8
aircraft in 1972. The flights were dangerous, but
they revolutionized aviation. A fly-by-wire production
system first appeared on the Air Force’s
F-16 and is now common on all new commercial airliners,
most new business jets, and even in family automobiles
as drive-by-wire systems. ABS brakes, cruise
control, accelerators – even steer-by-wire –
are technologies derived from research done
at NASA Armstrong… and all are now part
of our daily lives. [Music] [Aircraft taking off] Another example of aeronautical
innovation NASA conducted at Armstrong is winglets,
which were tested and validated here
in the 1970s and 80s. By reducing aerodynamic drag, winglets improve aircraft fuel
efficiency; they are now used on all types of aircraft. We also conducted tests in
the mid ’70’s to find ways to reduce drag on
long-haul trucks with aerodynamic fairings, the results of which have
also been widely adopted. [Truck driving] As far back as the 1960s’s,
NASA Armstrong pioneered the use of a Ground Control
Station from which to fly Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles, known as UAV’s. Becoming increasingly common
today, these aircraft are used by the center to develop
technology that allows them to see one another and automatically take evasive
action to avoid collisions. Known as Automatic Dependent
Surveillance Broadcast, or ADS-B, this tracking
technology is something that all aircraft operating
in US airspace must adopt by January 2020 in order to
comply with FAA regulations. Between 2007 and 2009 one of
our UAV’s, known as Ikhana, flew over thick smoke and
haze to record hot spots and the progression of
wildfires in California. Data from the aircraft sensors
was downlinked and overlaid on Google Earth maps, then
transmitted in near-real time to the Interagency Fire Center,
where it was made available to fire incident
commanders to assist them in allocating their
fire-fighting resources. The effects were dramatic
enhancements for the fire crews. Armstrong also operates two
early model Global Hawks, another type of UAV. These aircraft can fly long
distances, remain airborne for up to 32 hours, and
can carry large payloads of instruments into
areas, such as hurricanes, that are too dangerous
for scientists to fly in. [Music] NASA has long been involved
in Earth Science research and the Armstrong Flight
Research Center operates a variety of aircraft
to support this directive, including two ER-2’s,
a DC-8, and a C-20, as well as the large UAVs. These aircraft are equipped with
instruments that researchers use to obtain measurements of
environmental phenomena, such as the thickness
of ice sheets, precipitation, and air quality. Measurements and readings
are often combined with global satellite
observations and ground sampling to better understand these
environmental conditions. [Music] In the 1990s and early 2000s, Armstrong tested hybrid
propulsion technology in the hopes of making
aviation greener. Other NASA aeronautical research
has improved fuel efficiency, lowered noise levels, and
reduced harmful emissions, but much more can be
done in these areas. That’s why NASA implemented
the Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project to explore
and document the feasibility, benefits, and technical risks that will further
reduce the impact of aviation on the environment. The goal is to reduce aircraft
fuel consumption, emissions and noise simultaneously… a much more difficult
challenge than working to reduce them individually. As part of this project, NASA
Armstrong performed ground tests with its DC-8, measuring
emissions and fuel performance
of biofuels. Results indicated as much
as a 50 percent reduction in emissions at takeoff
thrust- a difference which could significantly
improve the air quality around airports. And we are currently working on an Adaptive Compliant
Trailing Edge flight experiment that will demonstrate a
single, non-rigid wing flap that can be flexed
in different ways; this leads to more efficient
control methods when airborne. Flying from 2007 to
2013 at Armstrong, the X-48 subscale Hybrid
Wing Body was another program in NASA’s Environmentally
Responsible Aviation portfolio. NASA, Boeing Phantom Works,
Cranfield Aerospace of the U.K., and the Air Force
Research Laboratory, partnered to study the
structural, aerodynamic, and operational advantages
of the Hybrid model, sometimes called a
Blended Wing Body. The concept is a cross
between a conventional aircraft and a flying wing. The design has the
potential to yield up to thirty percent
better fuel economy than traditional aircraft
due to its unique shape. [Music] The Stratospheric Observatory
for Infrared Astronomy, known as SOFIA, is a
partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace
Center, DLR. The flying observatory consists of a highly modified 747SP
former airliner carrying a 17-metric ton, German-built,
infrared telescope. Missions are flown at altitudes
between 39,000 and 45,000 feet, putting the telescope
above 99 percent of the Earth’s water vapor. Being able to reposition
the telescope anywhere on Earth is a unique capability:
not long ago, for example, it enabled astronomers
to chase Pluto’s shadow as it moved across the Earth, and SOFIA was able to
study the dwarf planet for a much longer period of time
than a stationary observatory. The aircraft, flown out of
Armstrong’s Palmdale hangar, is making infrared
astronomy missions available to the international
science community. [Aircraft taking off] [Music] Armstrong Flight Research Center
flies modified high-performance aircraft as test
beds for a variety of flight research experiments. In the 90s we used F-18s to test and demonstrate thrust
vectoring, which is a standard
feature on today’s F-22. We used F-15s for a
series of experiments on intelligent flight
control systems, a variation of which
appears on the F-35. This system makes it
possible to recover from what otherwise would
be catastrophic failure of equipment, systems, or even
portions of the aircraft itself. [Music] [Aircraft flying] [Aircraft Computer]: Pull up!
Pull up! Altitude!>>Long involved in aviation
safety, NASA Armstrong, working with the US Air Force, has been developing automatic
collision avoidance technologies for over 20 years. The most recent version of Automatic Collision
Avoidance Technology, or ACAT, flew on an Air Force F-16D. This integrated hardware and
software system is designed to detect and avoid
ground collisions. [Aircraft flying] [Radio chatter] In an effort to introduce
this development into general aviation, researchers at Armstrong have
been using a small UAV, DROID, to demonstrate the ability to implement it using common
cell phone technology, which provides for low cost
and high accessibility. [Aircraft flying] [Radio chatter] From its very inception, NASA Armstrong has
explored supersonic flight. Today, the goal in this field is to enable supersonic
transportation over land. [Sonic boom] Because planes traveling at supersonic speeds
cause sonic booms… [Sonic boom] …which are potentially
disruptive to people and structures on the ground,
our researchers are working to minimize the booms’
impact at ground level. [Music] We conduct tests of
future supersonic wings and aerodynamic designs, as well
as research into the effects of sonic booms on structures and
people, in pursuit of our goal to one day achieve quiet
or low-level sonic booms. [Sonic boom] Armstrong continues
to apply flight research and test techniques to
new launch systems… [Radio]: Launch, launch, launch!>>harboring innovative ideas
that are now under study and will rapidly be
brought to flight. [Rocket liftoff] [Music] [Crowd] Five, four,
three, two, one…>>NASA Armstrong also manages
the agency’s Flight Opportunities Program, created to
provide opportunities for space technologies to be
demonstrated and validated in relevant environments. In 2011, seven companies
were selected to integrate and fly a variety of technology
payloads at reduced costs, a central goal of the program. These payloads, flown
on reusable, commercial vehicles near
the boundary of space, are helping to pave the way
for future space exploration. [Rockets] [Music] NASA has shifted its
approach to space exploration. The agency is partnering with
a variety of private companies to develop cost effective
crew and cargo transportation to Low Earth Orbit, known as LEO. Sierra Nevada Corporation’s
Dream Chaser Space System, which has already done
flight-testing here at Armstrong, is
one example of this. With increased reliance
on private industry for LEO transportation,
NASA will be able to focus on deep space exploration, taking us into outer
space farther than we have ever been before. [Music] [Radio chatter] [Music] So, as you can see, there
is a lot more to NASA than space exploration. NASA works everyday to solve
the challenges that still exist in our nation’s air
transportation system. With green aviation, the
agency is helping create safer, cleaner, and more
effective travel for everyone through fuel-efficient flight
planning, and the reduction of aircraft fuel consumption,
emissions, and noise. Here at NASA’s Armstrong
Flight Research Center, we are conducting an
unprecedented array of science missions that
will seek new knowledge and understanding of Earth, the
solar system, and the universe. [Music] [Radio chatter]>>At Armstrong, we are
pioneers, taking the first step in proving new flight
technologies, which have practical
implications here on our planet and improve our ability
to explore beyond. [Music]

Danny Hutson

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