Friday, July 17th, 2009 – Edwards, California
We arrived in Lancaster, CA, and prepared for a day of tours of NASA Dryden. The Dryden Flight Research Center is located two hours north of Los Angeles, within the Edwards Air Force Base complex in the high Mojave Desert. The facility tour was split up into 2 major parts: the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility – Hangar 703 and the Dryden Flight Research Center, proper. We toured these facilities with the Marshall Academy, the Marshall Robotics Academy, and the Ames Academy.
We started our tour with an introduction by our tour guide in front of Hangar 703. The hangar contains two impressive research aircraft: the DC-8 Airborne Lab and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The DC-8 is maintained in partnership with the University of North Dakota and is a National Suborbital Education and Research Center.
The University and other educational, federal, state, and foreign institutions use the aircraft for various airborne and earth-science based experiments. Some areas of study include archeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, soil science, and biology.
Next to the DC-8 Airborne Lab was SOFIA, a converted Boeing 747SP outfitted with a 2.5 meter airborne telescope in the back of the fuselage. The reflector telescope is used for infrared astronomy. The plane and telescope are maintained by NASA and the German Aerospace Center, respectively. The main uses for the machine are to study the chemical and physical makeup of planetary atmospheres and surfaces, to investigate comets, and to examine the formation of stars.
We left Hangar 703 for the Dryden Flight Research Center. To get there, we traveled to Edwards Air Force Base. The tour started with a look at a set of F/A 18-A test planes. These planes are used to flight research in fiber optic winger sensors, flight control systems, and validation studies. On the way out of the hangar, we saw the dry lake bed and one of the Shuttle Carrier 747 aircraft.
The next stop was the Ikhana unmanned science and research aircraft. The Ikhana is a modified Predator B used for long-endurance, high-altitude flight. It is equipped with modified instruments for use in multiple civil research roles.
We ended the day in the F/A 18 Simulator laboratory. The lab operator let all of the Academyites have a go at take-off and landing in the simulator.