NASA Pulls X-34 Hypersonic Test Vehicles Out of Storage

Absent their vertical tails, the two X-34 aircraft were convoyed from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center to the north gate of Edwards Air Force Base via Rosamond Boulevard Tuesday morning, and then overnight on Highway 58 to the Mojave Air and Spaceport Wednesday. (Credit: NASA Dryden/Tony Landis)


The two X-34 hypersonic research aircraft developed by Orbital Sciences Corp. to serve as flight demonstrators for a NASA rocket engine technology development program in the mid-1990s were transported overland via truck from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base to the Mojave Air and Spaceport Nov. 16-17. The two technology demonstrators will be stored temporarily at a hangar operated by the National Test Pilot School while undergoing inspections by Orbital Sciences personnel to determine if they are viable for flight.

The two X-34s and parts for a third had been in storage at various locations on Edwards and at NASA Dryden for the past eight years, after the original development program was terminated in 2001 for both technical and budgetary reasons. Although the first X-34 was carried aloft for three captive-carry flights by Orbital’s Lockheed L-1011 mother ship in 1999, neither X-34 ever flew in free flight.

According to John Kelly, NASA Dryden’s Flight Opportunities Program office manager, the two vehicles are under consideration as potential flight platforms for reusable space launch vehicle technology demonstrations, such as return-to-launch-site recovery and rapid-turnaround for lower-cost operations.

Under an existing contract with NASA’s Ames Research Center, Orbital Sciences personnel will determine over the next few weeks whether the aircraft can be restored and flown, as well as launched from Orbital’s L-1011.

“Orbital will tell us whether these existing vehicles are potentially viable as flight demonstrators,” Kelly said.

The overland move of the two X-34s was coordinated by Kay & Associates, the ground equipment and transportation support contractor at NASA Dryden.