Video Shows How NASA Repurposes F/A-18B Hornet Fighter Jets for Science

NASA is like the DoD's nerdy little brother.

NASA has hangars full of high-tech toys ranging from those that are under construction, like the James Webb Telescope to steam-spewing rocket engines. But all of those cutting-edge aerospace instruments aside, it also finds ways to repurpose the out-dated machinery from the US’s sprawling military industrial complex.

Most recently, the space agency received three F/A-18B Hornet jets on November 6, a trio of multi-million dollar hand-me-downs that will now be used for research and training missions. In the recently released video, one of the $29 million aircraft is seen touching down on an airstrip at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center.

The multipurpose planes were first flown by the United States Marine Corps and Navy during the 1986 U.S. bombing of Libya. They are both fighter and attack aircraft, meaning they were used for both dogfights and ground strikes. Now, they’ll accompany NASA vehicles during research outings, train fledgling pilots at the Armstrong Center, and potentially be used to document research with photos and videos.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Shelton delivers an F/A-18B Hornet to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. Shelton, center, was met by Armstrong’s Tom Grindle, from left, Ted Williams, Gary Gano and Brian Fox.

NASA / Ken Ulbrich

While all three Hornets are still fully functional, they’ve been eclipsed by their successors like the $91 million F-35 Lightning II, a powerhouse capable of flying at 1,200 miles per hour while touting stealth capabilities. The Hornets can rival this speed, but run on tech and designs that are decades-old, which means they’re now best-suited to chip in on NASA’s chiller missions.

Once all three Hornets are evaluated, NASA will decide to either scrap them for parts to maintain other vehicles or if it’s worth it to retrofit them with research equipment with the goal of augmenting the Armstrong Center’s fleet.

This isn’t the first time NASA has repurposed military aircraft. In 2010, the agency acquired three F-15D jets from the Air Force, which were used for similar research initiatives.

It’s like NASA is the Department of Defense’s nerdier little brother that gets all of last decade’s best toys.

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