On November 18, 2015 near NASA’s Johnson Space Center at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas, three WB-57s took off and flew in formation flight over the city. This was the first time that all three WB-57s have been in flight simultaneously since the early 1970s, when the U.S. Air Force maintained a squadron. These three WB-57s are rare, high-altitude bomber planes from the 1950s and 1960s and are currently the only ones in flyable condition in the world. Only recently did the third plane come out of storage, after sitting in the desert for about 40 years.
DynCorp International Helps Rebuild a WB-57
DynCorp International (DI) team members working in support of the NASA Aircraft Maintenance Operational Support (AMOS) program aided in the reconstruction of this third WB-57 aircraft, which had been retired from military service in 1972 and stored in “The Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. This aircraft holds the record for the longest time an aircraft has been in extended storage before returning to flying status – the previous record was a mere 20 years compared to this 41 year hiatus. Due to this extended time period, the logistical challenges were astounding – most original parts were no longer in production and the original manufacturers were often no longer in business. The combined efforts of DI and NASA engineers, mechanics and logisticians made this transformation and landmark achievement possible.
Integrating Custom Modifications
NASA’s WB-57s feature important modifications compared to the originals. In general, only the fuselage, landing gear and horizontal tail survive from the original aircraft. Each one has twice as much wingspan and twice the power of the original versions. As a result, NASA WB-57s are capable of operation for extended periods at altitudes well in excess of 60,000 feet. They can fly for approximately 6.5 hours and have a range of approximately 2,500 miles with a useful payload capacity of more than 8,800 pounds.
NASA WB-57 High Altitude Research Program
Since the early 1960s, NASA has been using WB-57 aircraft to support scientific research and advanced technology development and testing. With the newest WB-57 joining this fleet, more options are available to provide different types of payload integration and research platform support. Missions include: atmospheric and earth science research, ground mapping, cosmic dust collection, rocket launch support, and test bed operations for airborne and spaceborne systems.
DynCorp International’s Work with NASA
“DynCorp International has great career opportunities that few people in aviation get to fully experience,” said Jim Snowden, executive manager, NASA Aircraft Maintenance and Operational Support. “On our NASA contract we are fortunate to contribute to successful missions performed by one of the world’s most unique aircraft fleets. In recent years we have ferried Space Shuttles across the country on the back of 747s. Our mechanics train International Space Station astronauts for basic maintenance skills they will require on-orbit. We transport high value, highly critical space hardware around the U.S. in the Super Guppy for eventual testing and/or launch into space. We fly to Kazakhstan every few months to retrieve ISS [International Space Station] astronauts after their return from space. We train astronauts flying the T-38s for their Space Flight Readiness Training. We have spent years performing Gulfstream missions to collect ecological research data throughout North America. We support numerous NASA research missions flown by both Johnson Space Center in Texas and Langley Research Center in Virginia. We overfly hurricanes for history’s first data collection events spanning the entire height of hurricanes. Among all those exceptional missions, our WB-57 experiences always rank at or near the top. How many mechanics in the world get to completely refurbish a WB-57 that hasn’t flown in 41 years? How many people in the world get to prepare and fly the only three operable WB-57s for a training and documentation mission that underscores the value and flexibility of these airborne research platforms? The answer is, ‘Not that many, and the only company in the world where you can do all that is DynCorp International!’”