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You might know about the Astronauts’ love affair with the Chevrolet Corvette, but you might not know about the Dodge Charger that the U.S. Government runs on official business with an ER-2 airplane. That sounds ridiculous, but the white Dodge Charger’s job is so fantastic it almost seems like science fiction. Believe it or not, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses the Mopar muscle car to chase down a spy plane.

Why does NASA need chase vehicles?

NASA uses chase vehicles to safely land a research plane that used to be a spy plane. The plane, the ER-2, is a high-altitude civilian agency variation of the famed U-2S spy plane that the U.S. Government used to conduct surveillance. Unfortunately for the disciplined pilots of the U-2 and ER-2, landing the aircraft is a bit of an event. 

The Dodge Charger lands an ER-2 airplane.
A Dodge Charger chase vehicle | NASA

The aircraft works by flying at extremely high altitudes, and the specialty pilots are often in the stratosphere for around 10 hours before returning to land at the NASA Dryden facility. When the ER-2 and its exhausted aviator come in for a landing, its centrally located landing gear makes for an unorthodox landing requiring information from a chase vehicle. Without a car feeding it information, the ER-2 could skip off the ground and cartwheel into a devastating crash. 

Why does NASA need a Dodge Charger to be a chase vehicle? 

As you might imagine, an aircraft coming in for a landing isn’t a slow process. Enter the white NASA-liveried Dodge Charger. The Charger pulls onto the runway in a turn and compliments the ER-2’s speed. Then, the driver feeds information to the pilot with a radio, telling them how their approach is looking and how much distance there is to “touch down.” 

NASA clearly chose the police-spec Dodge Charger because it is fast, capable, and features the lighting necessary to conduct operations in adverse weather. However, NASA tries to operate the ER-2 in favorable wind and weather conditions. 

How does the government use the ER-2?

NASA says the ER-2 can fly at over 68,000 feet, making it invaluable for studying the stratosphere and ozone depletion. During its many years of research aviation, the ER-2 has proved invaluable for charting weather conditions, including hurricanes. Also, the ER-2 has been instrumental in mapping out satellite simulations. Still, the program wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful without the white NASA Charger. 

The NASA-liveried Dodge Charger is a staple for pilots of the ER-2.
Dodge Charger Mobile Chase Vehicle | NASA

Will NASA keep using the ER-2 and chase vehicles like the Dodge Charger?

As long as NASA uses the ER-2 for its research merit, it will likely use chase vehicles. According to NASA’s Dryden Facility, the Dodge Charger ensures that pilots who are fatigued from flying at the edge of the atmosphere for hours can land as safely as possible. Whether NASA might keep the Charger or update to something like a Dodge Charger Hellcat is yet to be determined. Either way, who wouldn’t want to chase down an airplane in a Dodge Charger in the name of science? 

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