Saturday, April 16, 2022

NASA’s High Altitude ER-2 Aircraft Returns to Flight

NASA’s High Altitude ER-2 Aircraft Returns to Flight

NASA's ER-2 No. 806 returns to flying high-altitude on April 7, 2022 with NASA pilot Greg "Coach" Nelson, after three years of heavy maintenance. NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California operates two ER-2 aircraft to collect information about Earth resources, celestial observations, atmospheric chemistry and dynamics, and oceanic processes. NASA's ER-2 set a world-altitude record for the class of aircraft with a takeoff weight between 26,455 and 35,275 lb on Nov. 19, 1998, when the aircraft reached 68,700 feet.

The Lockheed Martin ER-2 was developed for NASA to serve as a high-altitude scientific research aircraft. The ER-2 operates at altitudes from 20,000 feet to 70,000 feet, which is above 99 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. Depending on aircraft weight, the ER-2 reaches an initial cruise altitude of 65,000 feet within 20 minutes. Typical cruise speed is 410 knots. The range for a normal eight-hour mission is 3,000 nautical miles yielding seven hours of data collection at altitude. The aircraft is capable of longer missions in excess of 10 hours and ranges in excess of 6,000 nautical miles. The ER-2 can carry a maximum payload of 2,600 lb (1,179 kilograms) distributed in the equipment bay, nose area, and wing pods.

The aircraft has four large pressurized experiment compartments and a high capacity AC/DC electrical system, permitting it to carry a variety of payloads on a single mission. The modular design of the aircraft permits rapid installation or removal of payloads to meet changing mission requirements.

Flying from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, the ER-2 conducted its first low-level flight on March 21 since it was disassembled in October 2018.

During the maintenance period, pilot safety was enhanced through the Cockpit Altitude Reduction Effort, or CARE. The modification allows the pilot to safely operate the ER-2 by reducing effective cockpit altitude from 29,000 feet to 15,000 feet altitude when operating at 65,000 feet. Changing the altitude in the cockpit significantly reduces the possibility of decompression sickness.

Another important modification to the ER-2 utilizes the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) technology. The installation of the ADS-B system makes flying the ER-2 safer by allowing the pilot increased traffic situational awareness. The ADS-B system also brings the ER-2 in compliance with the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to operate in the national and international airspace.

Following a series of check flights on April 7, the ER-2 will resume flying missions for NASA’s Earth Science Division. The end of life estimate of 2030 for the ER-2 aircraft is coincident with the end of the Air Force U-2 program. 

For more information on the ER-2 aircraft, visit:

For more information on NASA's Airborne Science Program:

The Lockheed Martin U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is an American single-jet engine, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). It provides day and night, high-altitude (70,000 feet, 21,300 meters), all-weather intelligence gathering.

Caption Credit: NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC)

Image Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas

Image Capture Date: April 7, 2022

Release Date:  April 15, 2022

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