The X-40A test vehicle is shown making one of seven autonomous free flights at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in 2001. Hoisted to 15,000 feet by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, the X-40 points its nose down initially at a 60-degree angle before it flares near the runway and touches down at about 220 miles an hour. The X-40A provided valuable approach and landing data for the 120-percent scale X-37A vehicle that would later make its own drop tests at Dryden. Those tests paved the way for the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, scheduled to launch in early 2010 from Cape Canaveral. The X-37B will reach orbit atop an Atlas V booster, reenter the atmosphere autonomously, and land in California.
Video: NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (2:54)