New Videos Offer Peek into Secretive NASA Test Flights

A video taken in the 1970s shows the YF-12C during a mid-air refueling. This video, and more can be found as part of NASA's latest YouTube video exhibit courtesy of the Armstrong Flight Research Center. (Screenshot via YouTube).

The public may never see exactly what goes on at Area 51, so this may be the next best thing.

To celebrate 70 years of flight testing, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in the last three weeks has released more than 200 videos of never-before-seen test flights — some dating back decades.

The videos include a trove of 30-second-or-less films showing takeoffs, landings, in-flight maneuvers and weather testing on some of the world’s most capable — and stunning — aircraft.

Of note:

A NASA SR-71 Blackbird refuels from a U.S. Air Force tanker during a test flight in 1991.

An unmanned experimental Pegasus X-43A hypersonic aircraft drops from a NASA B-52 for a Mach-10 test flight over the Pacific Ocean in 2004.

An Air Force C-5A aircraft undergoes a wing vortices test at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, in the 1970s.

A YF-12C takes off from Edwards Air Force Base in the 1970s. The experimental fighter-interceptor, the YF-12 “Blackbird” — precursor to the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft — was a version of the Lockheed A-12 aircraft. In a few Air Force flight tests in 1965, the YF-12 set a speed record of 2,070.101 miles per hour, according to NASA.

As part of the America’s “X-plane” experimental series, an X-15 hypersonic aircraft approaches and lands on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards in California’s Mojave Desert (date of video unknown). The aircraft hit a max speed of 4,520 miles per hour in 1967.

Originally called the Dryden Flight Research Center after aerospace engineer, Hugh Latimer Dryden, the center dates to 1946 “when 13 engineers and technicians from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory came to Muroc Army Air Base (now Edwards) in California’s high desert to prepare for the first supersonic research flights by the X-1 rocket plane,” NASA says.

It was renamed the Armstrong Center in honor of astronaut Neil Armstrong in 2014.

Check out more test flight videos on YouTube here:

About the Author

Oriana Pawlyk
Oriana Pawlyk is a reporter for She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.