From August 1976 to February 1982, a Lockheed JetStar research aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base was used to test and certify the space shuttle’s Microwave Scanning Beam Landing System (MSBLS). This aircraft navigation system provided the precise position of the shuttle orbiter in relation to the runway to the shuttle pilots during landing approach.
The MSBLS consisted of specialized equipment installed on the aircraft and on the ground near the runways. Dryden pilots logged 671 flight hours during 346 missions to check out MSBLS equipment at the three primary shuttle landing sites.
The JetStar was first flown to Long Island, N.Y., where the AIL Division of Cutler Hammer installed MSBLS equipment. Preliminary trials took place at the Grumman Corporation’s microwave test facility at Peconic, New York. In August 1976, NASA research pilots flew 21 MSBLS approaches to lakebed Runway 17 at Edwards. A laser tracking system provided the airplane’s exact position in flight to validate the accuracy of the MSBLS. These tests certified Runway 17 for use by the prototype orbiter Enterprise in the Approach and Landing Test program in 1977.
NASA Dryden's now-retired Lockheed JetStar flies a low landing approach to lakebed runway 35 at Edwards past the data monitoring system pole of the space shuttle's microwave scanning beam landing system in 1977. A second set of MSBLS ground stations were installed for the main 15,000-foot concrete runway at Edwards, and tested with the JetStar making numerous landing approaches over the course of 83 flights through October 1977.
Dryden pilots took the JetStar to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in April 1978 for certification of runway 33/15. By December, the crew had completed more than 100 data runs. A year later, the JetStar crew began a series of 46 MSBLS flight tests at Northrup Strip, later renamed White Sands Space Harbor, near White Sands, N.M.