Dryden currently flies four F-18 Hornet aircraft for research support and pilot proficiency. Two have a two-seat cockpit while the others are single-seat aircraft. The two-seat F-18 support aircraft are normally used for photo or video chase. They are configured to transmit live video pictures from the air back to Dryden so engineers can visually monitor the mission as it is being flown. This feature greatly enhances flight safety.
NASA research support aircraft are commonly called chase planes and fill the role of escort aircraft during research missions. Chase pilots are in constant radio contact with research pilots and serve as an "extra set of eyes" to help maintain total flight safety during specific tests and maneuvers. They monitor certain events for the research pilot and are an important safety feature on all research missions.
Chase aircraft also are used as camera platforms for research missions that must be photographed or videotaped. Aeronautical engineers use this pictorial coverage (photos, motion pictures, and videotape) extensively to monitor and verify various aspects of research projects.
The F-18 fleet also is used by Dryden research pilots for routine flight training required by all NASA pilots.