Today I had an amazing opportunity to take a tour and take photographs inside of NASA Langley Reasearch Center’s aircraft hanger. I thought I would share some of my photos and share some information on each one because some of it was really interesting.
What I’ll do is go through the pictures I have and explain some things about them right after each, so scroll down for some cool science equipment!
A fully autonomous aircraft that is similar to what Google is trying to do with cars.
This composite Cessna aircraft has been outfitted with what is currently the most advance aircraft guidance system in existence. Similar to what Google is trying to accomplish with their self-driving cars, this aircraft can take in data from RADAR, altimeters, airspeed sensors, and directional sensors and use the information to guide the aircraft from point A to B with no pilot interaction required. The system is currently being tested (with a test pilot onboard of course) with eventual goals being the inclusion of these types of systems in manned commercial and private flights.
Combined with the automation of air traffic control systems, this aircraft navigation method can allow for aircraft to communicate with one another and automatically file in line for landings, greatly increasing the number of airports that could be used and reducing the needed capacity at the limited airports available for use today.
The center has many other different vehicles available for many different types of missions.
The center has many other different aircraft in use for various different applications. The aircraft above has an advanced version of the sensor used on all aircraft to determine air velocity, altitude, and direction of the aircraft, and has been used to learn more about the atmosphere in addition to being used to test theories to help soved problems such as the 737 rudder issue.
The aircraft can all be outfitted and customized for any particular mission that needed for researchers, even including mounting large equipment to the insides and bottoms of aircraft to take measurements. While I was in the hanger, there was a team prepping a propeller driven aircraft to fly a CO2 and Ethene measurement experiment that will span huge parts of the Eastern US in order to analyze our impact on the environment more closely. This mission also includes placing the same equipment inside of the AC130 for a higher altitude reading to go wtih the aircraft they were working on today.
Because the aircraft typically come second hand from military operations, some of the aircraft have unique properties, such as their jet engines which are ultra-low IR engines. These aircraft were originally used by the Coast Guard and needed to have a small heat signature so the engines used flow the exaust back into the engine. You could place your hand directly behind the engine at full throttle and not burn yourself.
On the roof of the hanger is mounted a large crane apparatus that goes along with a large picture of the earth hung over the NASA-side bay doors. This is actually a flight simulator that was used in the early Mercury and Gemini Missions to help NASA learn how to pilot their spacecraft, as it was something that had never been done before. This simulator simulates all six degrees of motion and was the source of all of the procedures for the first docking in space. All of the astronauts who flew had practice time in either this simulator or the second one that was built later at the gantry to accomodate the larger lunar lander. This peice of equipment ran in real time on purely analog circutry via the linkages that hang from the ceiling that you can see in the picture above. This is a national historic landmark.
This was an awesome, educational experience. I hope you enjoy the pictures, I certainly enjoyed taking them and learning about what NASA is doing with their equipment today.