The SOFIA observatory, DC-8 airborne lab, an ER-2 and
one of NASA's modified 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft occupied
the new Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility during dedication
ceremonies on 4/9/09
Photo: Tom Tschida
4/9/2009 - PALMDALE, CA – NASA dedicated its new Dryden
Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., a world-class
facility that is home to several specialized NASA Earth and
space science aircraft, during ceremonies on Thursday, April
9. The event drew local, regional, state and federal officials
along with several hundred guests to the cavernous hangar and
office complex adjacent to the U.S. Air Force Production Flight
Test Plant 42.
The former aircraft assembly hangar and office structure is
a satellite facility of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center
at Edwards Air Force Base.
"This facility is unlike any other, providing the space
we need to manage and operate a suite of unique aircraft,"
said NASA Dryden's acting director, David D. McBride. "This
facility is about more than aircraft. It will support a constant
flow of people coming to the Antelope Valley. Science campaigns
by earth scientists and astrophysicists to gather the facts,
increase our understanding of our planet, and about our universe."
Mayor James C. Ledford Jr. of the City of Palmdale noted that
establishment of the facility is the result of a collaborative
partnership between NASA and several local and regional agencies,
along with research institutions around the globe. He cited
as an example the international partnership represented in the
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that
is based on the facility.
"We are going to have scientists from all over the world,"
he added. "We need to be prepared to be hosts. We need
to be prepared to learn what others might be bringing besides
their technologies. They will be bringing their cultures. I
find that to be very, very exciting.
"What this facility represents is huge as far as aeronautical
engineering that keeps us on the cutting edge, and it is a source
of national pride,” Ledford concluded.
That theme was echoed in comments from U.S. Rep. Howard P.
"Buck" McKeon of California's 25th congressional district,
who said he couldn't think of a more fitting home for a NASA
research facility and laboratory than Palmdale.
"The Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility…will provide
not only a great addition to Dryden’s mission capabilities,
but also an incredible tool for collaborations among industry,
universities, government and international partners,”
Five NASA science aircraft are either currently based at the
facility or soon will be, including a DC-8 flying science laboratory,
the SOFIA 747SP, two ER-2 high-altitude aircraft and a Gulfstream
III. The consolidation of these aircraft at one facility creates
a considerable cost savings to the American taxpayer by sharing
maintenance and fleet operations at one facility devoted to
the support of science missions.
Missions launched from the facility will address a variety
of science disciplines, including astronomy, climate change,
tropical storm development, intercontinental pollution, earthquake
and volcanic activity, vegetation and eco-system studies, and
glacier dynamics and sea ice research in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Steve Volz, Associate Director for Flight Programs for NASA's
Earth Science division in Washington, D.C., pointed out the
criticality of specialized science aircraft to both supplement
as well as validate the data obtained from environmental satellites
in orbit around the planet.
"We have over 15 satellites in orbit right now and seven
more in development," said Volz. "These are billion-dollar
missions, multi-billion-dollar missions, or investments. The
only way we can accomplish the groundbreaking Earth science
from orbit is by (having) a healthy and vigorous airborne sciences
Volz noted that airborne science performs a variety of roles
for NASA's science missions, including calibration of instruments
while flying under satellite orbital tracks.
"A picture from space…doesn’t mean anything
if we don’t know it’s absolutely accurate,"
Volz said. "The DC-8, the ER-2 and the G-III…carry
calibration instruments that enable us to know what we are measuring
from space – whether it’s global ice change, atmospheric
chemistry change – are correct because we cannot go up
in space and recalibrate our instruments.
"They also…provide a way to develop new instrumentation,"
he added. "If it takes a billion dollars to launch a satellite,
you want to make very certain that your instrument works properly.
These airplanes provide that necessary test bed to try out as
many as 15 to 20 instruments at a time through different environments
to see how the measurements work. A few hundred thousand dollars
on an airplane can save tens of millions of dollars on a satellite
development activity. It really is a bridge to orbit for satellites,"
NASA refurbished the main building to provide a state-of-the-art
facility for scientists ranging from undergraduate students
to experts in key disciplines. Universities and research organizations
from around the world will enjoy the convenience and accessibility
of the NASA Dryden facility in Palmdale.
Built originally by Rockwell International's North American
Aircraft Division for final assembly of the U.S. Air Force B-1
Lancer bomber in the early 1980s, the 422,000-sq.-foot structure
includes offices and laboratories for preparation, integration
and testing of complex airborne instruments. Situated on 16.2
acres, the facility has easy access to the adjacent taxiways
and runways at U.S. Air Force Plant 42.
Source: NASA Press Release