National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Dryden Flight Research Center
P.O. Box 273Edwards, California 93523AC 805-258-3449FAX 805-258-3566
What Is “Flight Research?”
n 1901, Wilbur Wrightargued that to really learnabout flight, one had to“mount a machine and becomeacquainted with its tricks byactual trial.” That argument stillholds true today in the uniquediscipline of flight research, thespecialty of NASA’s DrydenFlight Research Center,Edwards, Calif. In flight re-search, new aeronautical con-cepts and new aircraft designsare flown and tested usingactual aircraft. In other words,flight research is that pointwhere the rubber meets theroad, where the aircraft, humanand real-life flight conditions
First flight of a piloted aircraft, Dec. 17, 1903, withOrville Wright at the controls.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
come together for the first time. It providestechnology with a moment of truth, wheretheory and reality come face to face; where itsparticipants “separate the real from the imag-ined,” as Hugh L. Dryden, former NASADeputy Administrator and NASA Dryden’snamesake, once said.
he unknown is inherently unpre-dictable. Wind tunnels, simulators andcomputers can only model what isknown. That became clear by the mid-1940s asengineers began to probe the technologicalchallenges of piloted, supersonic flight. Datafrom transonic wind tunnels was inconclusive,and the practice of near-supersonic dives inproduction aircraft was too dangerous. It be-came apparent that to push the boundaries of knowledge, to see what lay beyond the currentFS-1997-07-035-DFRC
Origins of Flight Research
frontier, someone actually had to go there. Itwas clearly the time for specially built, experi-mental airplanes.The National Advisory Committee forAeronautics (NACA), the prime United Statesgovernment agency responsible for aeronauticalresearch, began work with the armed services todevelop the first research airplanes capable of supersonic flight. By early 1945 the world’sfirst experimental airplanes were under devel-opment: the rocket-powered XS-1 (later desig-