Monday July 7, 2008 – NASA Glenn Research Center – Cleveland, OH
The NASA Glenn Academy was treated to a tour of Glenn’s fabled Aircraft Operations Hangar – the large, distinctive hangar dominates the view of the NASA center from the airport and neighboring freeways. Jim and Al, both former Navy Pilots, served as our tour guides; we knew we were in good hands. They divided us into two groups to alleviate crowding around the different aircraft.
For Al’s group, the first plane we saw was the Twin Otter. The large, versatile aircraft is powered by two turboprop engines and is used by Glenn as an icing research test bed and is outfitted with extensive instrument packages, large Pitot-static probes and wing-attached sensors. It has also been used as a sensor development platform with the Air Force Research Lab’s work on persistent surveillance techniques using visual and infrared scopes for realtime tracking in support of satellite intelligence. The Twin Otter crew has been working on training DVDs and simulator software for flight crews as well.
Our next stop was the Learjet 25: a small, high performance plane used for instrument calibration, solar cell research, and air-sampling. It carries a pod that can be equipped with radar or remote sensing hardware. Its interior was a far cry from the business-plush accommodations that Learjets are frequently associated with, instead carrying only a small couch to provide room for researchers and equipment. We noticed that fuel pods were attached to the ends of its wings and that the fuel flow required the wings to be structurally robust – just like the S-3, our next plane.
The S-3B Viking was designed for anti-submarine warfare and was commissioned to serve on aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy. A couple of these planes were transferred over to NASA to be used as research aircraft. One of these planes’ old military avionics was replaced with commercial state-of-the-art equipment, thus eliminating the need for much ground support during takeoffs and landings. A weather radar replaced the surface search radar originally installed. All in all, $1.5 million in modifications was invested in the S-3B. The second S-3B aircraft is in a “deferred maintenance” status until an immediate project can necessitate the need to fund the modifications. The plan is to utilize the S-3B’s heavy-duty structure to conduct aviation safety research, meteorological studies and communications system testing. During the tour we also stopped by the Hangar’s battery fabrication room and machine shop where extra work on the aircraft is conducted. A walk by the other S-3B awaiting funding revealed that much of it was still in its Navy configuration, with Navy-style paint, markings, torpedo and sonobuoy bays. An ejection seat trainer was also out in the open for us to see as Al explained how pilots would use it become familiar with the egress procedures.
As the tour drew to a close we passed a T-34C Navy trainer aircraft, which is known as a fuel-efficient turboprop-powered aircraft. Finally, we saw a Learjet 23 that was in a deferred maintenance status and not currently flying.