18 November 2009
After having flown as N616NA for NASA's Lewis Research Center in Cleveland for several years in supersonic transport-related studies, it was transferred to Langley Research Center and renumbered N816NA for a role it would serve for nearly six years starting in January 1979. The Convair NF-106B joined NASA's Storm Hazards Program to study the effects of lightning strikes on aircraft.
The program began the previous year in 1978 using De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft that would fly on the fringes of thunderstorms gathering lightning data to be used in planning the penetration flights of N816NA. The modified Delta Dart would be flown into thunderstorms to trigger lightning strikes. Mainly operating off the coast of Virginia and at various locations in the US Midwest, the Delta Dart would fly as low as 3,500 feet up to as high as 50,000 feet on its penetration flights. In its time with the Storm Hazards Program, N816NA made 1,496 thunderstorm penetrations and was struck by lightning 714 times. In a single flight in 1984 it was struck 72 times in the space of only 45 minutes while penetrating a thunderstorm at 38,000 feet!
The data collected during the course of the program proved to be extremely valuable to both commercial and military aviation and represented a significant step in aviation safety.
Source: Convair Deltas: From SeaDart to Hustler by Bill Yenne. Specialty Press, 2009, p151.