Tag Archives: NASA

Mojave Gate Guards

At the main entrance to the airport at Mojave is an area with some preserved aircraft from test programs.  While Mojave is not particularly welcoming to visiting photographers on most of their land, this location seems to be just fine.  The dominant aircraft is an ex-NASA Convair CV990.  It was used for Space Shuttle landing gear trials amongst many other things.  It is joined by an ex-USAF F-4 Phantom and a SAAB 35 Draken that had a second life at Mojave after retirement from the Royal Danish Air Force.

NASA Formations

Edwards AFB might be the home of the USAF flight test center but it is also home for NASA’s Armstrong test center.  Consequently, NASA was included in the flying display.  They put up a three ship formation that mad a series of passes.  The formation was led by a Gulfstream with an F-15 and an F/A-18 on the wing tips.  The Eagle is one that has been with NASA for years and is painted in a white scheme.  The Hornet was still in Strike Test colors from Pax River but I have no idea how long it has been with NASA.

The two jets also did some demonstrations of sonic booms as they maneuvered high above the crowd with the booms reaching the ground at different times depending on how high they had been created.  The sound was also modified by the maneuvering of the jet. Formations like this don’t appear regularly at air shows so this was a welcome addition to the flying program.

Joe Davis Airpark

I have been through Palmdale a few times but none of those previous trips coincided with a time when the Joe Davis Airpark was open.  I got to look through the fence at the aircraft on display but couldn’t go in.  This time, I was better prepared and was able to check the place out at my leisure (if you ignore having to do a Teams call halfway through while trying to find some shade and avoid noisy kids).  As it happened, they were planning on closing earlier than scheduled that day so I could have had another miss if I had waited until later in the day!

The park has a wide variety of aircraft types scattered around.  Photography is okay as things are not right on top of each other but the desert sun is still pretty harsh and so doesn’t make for the best results.  Still, I’m not going to stop shooting images just for that reason.  There are a couple of more unusual types on display and at least one of those is going to get its own post.  There are plenty of fighters and trainers.  An F-14 is always a welcome jet on display but an A-7 is also going to go down well with me as will an F-101.  The C-140 was a nice surprise as I do like a JetStar.

The larger aircraft start with a C-46 which was a bit close to the fence so made for a more busy background.  It is a small exhibit compared to the two largest items on display.  B-52s are well represented in museums around the US.  They were certainly built in large quantities.  This one has a Hound Dog missile alongside.  Next to it, though, is the most special asset.  A 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.  Retired by NASA at the end of the Shuttle program, it now resides in the sun a short distance from its old home at Edwards.

Lancaster Jets On Sticks

My friend, Paul, had advised me that Lancaster CA had a couple of aircraft on poles that were worth a look.  One is a retired Air Force test F-4 that sits at a busy intersection next to a rail station.  The other is a NASA F/A-18A that is at the entrance to a baseball stadium.  I decided to try and photograph both one evening when the light would be most favorable.

The guys hanging out near the F-4 looked a little perplexed as I drove up and started photographing this plane on a pole.  I think they didn’t see the interest in it that I did.  I think I attracted a few strange glances and I grabbed some shots and then headed back to the car.  The Hornet at the baseball stadium was a different story.  Not too many people around at that time so I took some shots and then headed off.  There was one more target of interest but that would have to wait for a morning visit.

SOFIA Makes An Entrance

One of the highlights of the show at Edwards Air Force Base was the appearance of NASA and DLR’s SOFIA airframe.  A Boeing 747SP that has been converted for infra-red astronomy, this was my first time seeing SOFIA.  It has a large telescope mounted in the rear fuselage with a huge rotating door that opens up when at cruising altitude – above the majority of the atmospheric blockage to IR – to allow the telescope to make observations.

SOFIA is being retired.  There is a debate about whether this is purely budget related or whether the successful launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (which also observes in the infra red spectrum), means that it is no longer needed.  Whatever the reasons, it is being retired and this show was a bit of a swan song.  As part of this, they actually opened up the door for the telescope which, apparently, is a first since it was first commissioned other than while it was observing.

The plane made a run in from show left making a cool pass but this was the side without the telescope visible.  They then turned around and made a banked pass along the crowd line with the telescope visible.  At first I thought that they had blown it because they had a nice bank angle on but were lining up too soon.  However, they straightened up for a while before bringing the bank back on and giving the crowd a good view.

They landed after this and taxied in to where I was waiting but that will be a separate post.

Edwards Storage Yard

I had a recent post of some shots from the USAF museum at Edwards AFB.  It reminded me of my first visit to Edwards in 1990.  On that trip I saw both the USAF side of things and the NASA side.  The NASA hangars were great and there were lots of amazing types being used for testing purposes.  I didn’t see everything I was hoping for there but it was still fantastic.  One thing that really excited me was the storage lot.  There were some interesting airframes parked up there.  An F-8 Crusader that had been used for supercritical wing testing was there.  I think that has since been taken care of and is now restored.  The fly by wire testbed was also there.

There was also a weird hybrid airframe.  I think it was called RSRA which stood for rotor systems research aircraft.  This was a hybrid of rotor and fixed wing technologies.  One of them was modified for the X-Wing program which was canceled before it could fly.  Not sure which one I saw but I think it was the unmodified one.  These things could have A-10/S-3 engines fitted to them for higher speed research work.  Oh, to have seen one in action.  This lot would have been definitely worth some time looking around if it had been possible.

NASA’s DC-8 Is Watching Me

While hanging out at Rainbow Canyon awaiting the next jet, someone was flying high above.  They were pulling a contrail at their altitude so you had a really good idea of their flightpath.  They were flying regular extended orbits above us.  The racetracks they left in the sky made it all pretty simple.  A look at an ADS-B tracker told me that this wasn’t a tanker waiting for trade.  It was NASA’s DC-8.  This is a rare beast indeed and, while still a long way off, I was glad to get a shot of some sort of it.

Wingtip Treatments

Richard Whitcomb was an aerodynamicist at NASA who pioneered a number of technologies that benefit the aviation world today.  One of those was his development of winglets.  These are the wingtip treatments that improve lift to drag ratio and climb performance without significantly extending the wing.  While his work was clear, it took a while for them to be implemented widely.  Now, most aircraft involve some sort of wingtip extension.  However, the first aircraft to replicate his design approach was the MD-11.

The MD-11 had a split winglet with a larger extension upwards and a smaller one downwards.  This reflected some of Whitcomb’s original drawings.  Strangely, after this, the focus was on upward winglets only (although the Airbus approach for a while was what they called a fence on the wingtip which was something more in keeping with the Whitcomb approach).  Recently, there has been a return to the original with APB introducing the Split Scimitar and Boeing producing their own Split Winglet design (not as elegant as the APB approach in my mind.

Most airliners and many business jets now incorporate a tweaked wing tip configuration.  Maximizing the aerodynamic performance requires squeezing as much as you can out of the design within the space constraints you have.  The following pictures are examples of the different types used.

NASA Gulfstream STA

The Evergreen Aviation Museum has more aircraft than it has space to display.  Some of them are parked out in the parking lot including a NASA Gulfstream II.  This is no normal GII either.  It is one of the four Gulfstreams that NASA had converted to act as Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA).  They were used for the shuttle crews to practice the approach and landing phase of a mission when the shuttle was gliding (very steeply) in the atmosphere.

The main gear was deployed to increase drag, the thrust reversers were engaged in flight and the flaps could be moved up as well as down to modulate life.  One seat was set up as a shuttle pilot station while an instructor sat in the other.  Many practice landings could be carried out using the STA fleet.  They also provided a secondary transport function.

The aircraft is currently in a rather ignominious position in the parking lot and it will hopefully find a better permanent home.

Palmdale Day Out

C59F9459.jpgA few years ago, I was in the LA area with my mate Paul.  We decided to try our luck with a visit to Palmdale.  Home of Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale has a history of interesting aircraft.  The Blackbirds were assembled here as were the Space Shuttles.  The B-2 bombers were also assembled on site.  It is home to some NASA aircraft and continues to support a variety of types.  Consequently, you can see some really interesting stuff.  Alternatively, you can have a day with nothing going on.  It is the luck of the draw.

C59F9444.jpgWe decided to try it out anyway and see what we could get.  One of the NASA ER-2s had been active so there was hope that it might be up and about.  One thing we hadn’t anticipated was that the weather was not going to be great.  We had figured it was likely to be clear but actually there was a fair amount of cloud cover all day.  Not ideal but it did keep the temperature down.

QB5Y2449.jpgWe did have success with the ER-2.  Unfortunately, we did not choose well for our locations.  It took off and landed on the runway that we were not close too.  Consequently, we got some shots but they were a bit distant.  We discussed a rapid change of location but, fearing we would get nothing by being in the car at the wrong time, stuck with it.

QB5Y2489.jpgOur location was not a total bust though.  We did get a sister ship.  A USAF U-2S came in and we got some shots of that.  It was not alone.  A B-2 also made some approaches.  We figured it was coming from Edwards and heading back there again.  Sadly, shooting black aircraft against a cloudy sky is a bit tricky.  Still, we might have done worse.  After a while, the local movements of Northrop Grumman shuttles had been enough so we decided to get on the road back to LA.