Justin Hayward from Simple Flying – Reports
NASA has a long relationship with Gulfstream, but there have been other jets.
NASA operates a fleet of Gulfstream jets for various purposes including research and transportation of personnel, including astronauts.
The current military-configured Gulfstream jet used by NASA is the Gulfstream C-20A, which is a modified version of the Gulfstream III.
NASA also operates standard-configured Gulfstream jets, including several Gulfstream III jets and one Gulfstream V, for transport and research projects.
Photo: Jonverve via Wikimedia
NASA is likely best known for its space and near-space flights and research. Unsurprisingly, the space agency has operated a wide range of aircraft over the years – including transport aircraft, helicopters, military jets, and experimental aircraft. The modified Boeing 747s used to transport the Space Shuttle may be well remembered – but they are far from the only aircraft used. Perhaps with a lower profile, NASA has also long operated private jets. These have seen use to transport personnel, including astronauts, around the world, and as part of research operations.
Current military configured Gulfstream jets – Gulfstream C-20A
NASA’s current private jet fleet is made up of Gulfstream jets. The agency has a long relationship with the US manufacturer Gulfstream (as do other US government agencies). It currently operates the C-20A, the Gulfstream III, and the larger Gulfstream V jets.
The Gulfstream C-20A is the military variant of the Gulfstream III (modified to take just 14 passengers). These jets were taken on by NASA after government service and are seen painted in the standard blue, white, and gold livery of the US Air Force.
NASA currently operates at least one of these aircraft. It carries the registration NASA802 and was acquired in 2008. It is based at the Armstrong Flight Research Center and is used mainly for research projects. One such recent project is the Unmanned Air Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) project. This uses the C-20A to test new radar equipment and has been used recently for mapping wildfires in California. The photograph below clearly shows the aircraft fitted with this radar pod.
Current private Gulfstream jets – the Gulfstream III and V
NASA also operates standard-configuration Gulfstream jets. These are the same models as in private jet use and have all been acquired from previous operators.
The agency currently has several Gulfstream III jets, and one Gulfstream V. The Gulfstream III is a popular model, first introduced in 1983 and with many updates over earlier models. NASA operates several aircraft – based with the Armstrong Flight Research Center, Langley Research Center, and the Johnson Space Center. These are used both for transport and research projects.
The Gulfstream V is a larger and longer-range aircraft (it was the first ultra-long range aircraft in the Gulfstream fleet). NASA only has one of these aircraft, based at the Johnson Space Center.
Looking back – earlier Gulfstream jets and Learjets
Before its current Gulfstream III and V jets, NASA has operated several other types. Sticking with Gulfstream, the agency previously owned both the Gulfstream I and Gulfstream II jets (the Gulfstream II is pictured below). These likewise were used to transport staff and crew, and for research purposes. As these aircraft were in use during the 1960s and 1970s, they would no doubt have been used for astronaut transport during the days of the Space Shuttle program.
Photo: Eric Salard via Wikimedia
Aside from Gulfstream, NASA also previously operated the Learjet 24 (pictured below) and the Learjet 25. These flew in the earliest days of the agency. The Learjet 24 has a special place in private jet history as one of the earliest private jets, launched in 1966. As well as for passenger transport, NASA used one of its Learjet 24 aircraft as an observation platform (equipped with telescopes) as part of its Airborne Observatory platform project.