This week, NASA and the DLR began the ND-MAX research program designed to understand engine performance, emissions, and contrail formation from different types of aviation fuel. The collaboration sends the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s DC-8-72 Flying Laboratory to Germany for paired flying with the DLR’s A320 Advanced Technology Research Aircraft.

ND-MAX—smell my exhaust

N817NA trailing D-ATRA during the first ND-MAX flight

The DLR A320 will be flying with different types of alternative biofuels and the NASA DC-8 will follow behind at a safe distance to analyze the particles and gases from the A320’s engines. According to NASA, the goals of the research program are to ‘assess the effects of alternate fuels on aircraft engine performance and emissions, with a special focus on discovering how soot from those emissions can affect the size, concentration and lifetime of contrail ice particles’.

Similar research has been conducted by NASA and the DLR over the past few years with other aircraft. NASA notes that results of those flights showed a 50% blend of biofuel reduced soot emissions by as much as 50 to 70 percent. The focus on contrail formation is particularly important as the cirrus clouds that form from contrails have an out-sized effect on earth’s climate compared to the CO₂ produced by the aircraft engines.

Track the flights

You can track D-ATRA and N817NA together using our Multi-select feature on or follow each flight individually in our app. The easiest way to track the flights are to use the aircraft registrations. All the flights are being conducted from and near Ramstein Air Base in Germany.


Follow the DLR A320 with registration D-ATRA.

The DLR’s D-ATRA A320


Follow NASA’s DC-8 with registration N817NA.

NASA’s DC-8 Flying Laboratory

According to NASA’s schedule, the flights will continue through the beginning of February.

Go inside the NASA DC-8

DLR hosted a live look inside the DC-8 and in-depth look at the instruments behind the science.

Other NASA + DLR collaboration

NASA and DLR also maintain a permanent research collaboration in the unique SOFIA telescope, a heavily modified 747SP fitted with a large telescope. You can learn more about SOFIA and other airborne science projects here.

The joint NASA + DLR SOFIA Telescope 747SP


Image credits—D-ATRA, N817NA, N747NA

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