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NASA’s ER-2 returns to high-altitude flying

Aircraft No. 806 is one of NASAs two Lockheed ER-2 Earth resources aircraft based at NASA’s Armstrong Building 703 in Palmdale, California. It’s part of the Airborne Science Program under the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

The ER-2’s were acquired by NASA in 1981 and 1989 to replace two Lockheed U-2 aircraft that had been in use since 1971. NASA’s ER-2 set a world-altitude record in its class in 1998 when the aircraft reached 68,700 feet. Since 1971, the Airborne Science Program has flown more than 4,500 data missions and test flights.

NASA explains that these high-flying laboratories are used to “collect information about Earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes. The aircraft fly as high as 70,000 feet. and are also used for electronic sensor research and development, satellite calibration, and satellite data validation.”

A NASA press release reported that during the overhaul period, aircraft No. 806 received multiple modifications to enhance pilot safety.

Through the Cockpit Altitude Reduction Effort (CARE), the pilot is able to safely operate the ER-2 by “reducing effective cockpit altitude from 29,000 feet to 15,000 feet…when operating at 65,000 feet. Changing the altitude in the cockpit significantly reduces the possibility of decompression sickness.”

An ADS-B transponder was installed to enhance pilot situation awareness and comply with the FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization mandates for certain airspace.

NASA said that test flights of the newly overhauled aircraft commenced April 7, and the ER-2 will return to science service once those checks are complete.

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