NASA pilot reveals what the ER-2 is like to fly

What is involved in operating the NASA ER-2 at very high altitude? Mark Broadbent speaks with a pilot to find out

“You see airliners way below you, making contrails.” So said Greg ‘Coach’ Nelson, former United States Air Force (USAF) Lockheed U-2 pilot turned research pilot with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Armstrong Flight Research Center. He has an incredible view from 60,000 to 70,000ft when flying the equally incredible ER-2 High-Altitude Airborne Science platform.

NASA U-2
NASA 809: Lockheed ER-2 N809NA in flight over the snow-capped mountains of the southern Sierra Nevada in 2008
NASA-Carla Thomas

“On Earth, you look up at airliners making contrails and you can barely see the aeroplane,” Nelson told Aviation News. “It’s kind of the same thing – you look down and barely see the aeroplane that’s making the contrail.

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