Dryden is NASA's premier site for aeronautical research and operates some of the most advanced aircraft in the world. It is also the home of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), a modified Boeing 747 designed to carry a Space Shuttle orbiter back to Kennedy Space Center if one lands at Edwards. Kevin Petersen is currently the Center's Director.
Until 2004, Dryden operated the oldest B-52 Stratofortress bomber, a B-52B model (tail number 008) which had been converted to drop test aircraft, dubbed 'Balls 8.' It dropped a large number of supersonic test vehicles, ranging from the X-15 to its last research program, the hypersonic X-43A, powered by a Pegasus rocket. It was also the last B-52B still flying, but had the fewest flight hours of any existing B-52 bomber. The aircraft was retired and will eventually find a permanent home at the North Gate of Edwards; a fitting location for an aircraft that was arguably the greatest contributor to aerospace and flight test development.
NASA's predecessor, NACA, operated the Douglas Skyrocket. A successor to the Air Force's Bell X-1, the D-558-II could operate under rocket or jet power. It conducted extensive tests into aircraft stability in the transsonic range, optimal supersonic wing configurations, rocket plume effects, and high-speed flight dynamics. On November 20, 1953, the Douglas Skyrocket became the first aircraft to fly at over twice the speed of sound when it attained a speed of Mach 2.005. Like the X-1, the D-558-II could be air launched using a B-29 Superfortress. Unlike the X-1, the Skyrocket could also takeoff from a runway with the help of JATO units.
The Controlled Impact Demonstration was a joint project with the Federal Aviation Administration to research a new jet fuel that would decrease the damage due to fire in the crash of a large airliner. A remotely piloted Boeing 720 aircraft was flown into specially built wing openers which tore the wings open and fuel sprayed everywhere. Despite the new fuel additive the resulting fire ball was huge and the fire still took an hour to fully extinguish.
Even though the fuel additive did not prevent a fire the research was not a complete failure. The additive still prevented the combustion of some fuel which flowed over the fuselage of the air craft and served to cool it similar to how a conventional rocket engine cools its nozzle. Also instrumented crash test dummies were in the airplane for the impact and provided valuable research into other aspects of crash survivability for the occupants.
LASRE was a NASA experiment in cooperation with Lockheed Martin to study a reusable launch vehicle design based on a linear aerospike rocket engine. The experiment's goal was to provide in-flight data to help Lockheed Martin validate the computational predictive tools they developed to design the craft. LASRE was a small, half-span model of a lifting body with eight thrust cells of an aerospike engine. The experiment, mounted on the back of an SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, operated like a kind of "flying wind tunnel."
The experiment focused on determining how a reusable launch vehicle's engine plume would affect the aerodynamics of its lifting body shape at specific altitudes and speeds reaching approximately 750 miles per hour (335 meters per second). The interaction of the aerodynamic flow with the engine plume could create drag; design refinements look to minimize that interaction.
The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle or LLRV was an Apollo Project era program to build a simulator for the Moon landing. The LLRVs, humorously referred to as "Flying Bedsteads", were used by the FRC, now known as the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to study and analyze piloting techniques needed to fly and land the Apollo Lunar Module in the moon's airless environment.