NASA’s Armstrong Flying Research Center in California has revitalized a F/A-18D aircraft, now known as NASA 862, originally received from the United States Navy in 2021. The modernized aircraft, freshly painted in NASA colors, is nearly ready for flight certification. The upgraded F/A-18D will be used to monitor the supersonic X-59 aircraft and will also provide a platform for videographers and photographers to document missions. Despite being considered outdated by military standards, the F/A-18D was chosen for its modernity compared to the center’s older F/A-18B models, and the availability of its parts. Following a thorough overhaul and weight and balance checks, the aircraft will undergo an airworthiness review, after which it can be approved for flight.
What is the Role of the F/A-18D Aircraft, NASA 862, at NASA’s Armstrong Research Center?
A F/A-18 aircraft, received from the United States Navy in 2021, has been revitalized, splashed with NASA colors, and is nearing flying certification at NASA’s Armstrong Flying Research Center in Edwards, California. NASA 862 will monitor, or “chase,” the quiet supersonic X-59 aircraft and serve as a platform for videographers and photographers to document missions.
How was the Paint Barn Involved in Revamping the Aircraft?
The F/A-18D aircraft named NASA 862 has been adorned with new colors thanks to the US Air Force Corrosion Control Facility on Edwards Air Force Base, also known as the Paint Barn.
What was the Process for Acquiring and Preparing NASA 862?
The journey of acquiring and preparing this aircraft began in 2020. Troy Asher, NASA Armstrong’s director of Flight Operations, led a campaign to replace the center’s historic two-seat F/A-18B models with modern aircraft. To achieve this goal, Asher delegated NASA Armstrong flight operations engineer Jack Ly to evaluate different aircraft.
Why is the F/A-18D Model Selected Despite Being Considered Outdated by Military Standards?
In May 2021, Ly identified the F/A-18D that would become NASA 862 at its home base at the United States Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. Despite being considered outdated by military standards, the F/A-18D is more modern than the F/A-18B and has more readily available parts.
What Changes Were Made During the Aircraft’s Overhaul for NASA Armstrong Missions?
During the four-month preparation period for transfer to NASA Armstrong, the aircraft’s military components were removed. Plans were made to send it to the Naval Air Station North Island Base near San Diego in June 2022 for intensive depot-level maintenance. The overhaul included removing the wings, checking for corrosion, updating its systems, and performing other critical checks and services. Full aircraft controls were fitted in the rear cockpit to allow a second pilot to receive training or maintain proficiency.
What Role Does the Aircraft Management Information System Play in the Process?
In May 2023, NASA logged the plane into its Aircraft Management Information System and checked its weight and balance.
What is the Next Step for NASA 862 Before Its First Flight?
The initial airworthiness review of the aircraft is scheduled for this month. Asher will sign the airworthiness certificate and transmit it to Center Director Brad Flick for final approval before the aircraft may fly. The upgraded aircraft will help NASA continue its mission of exploring and documenting the cosmos.