Flight Operations of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) in Braunschweig and Oberfaffenhofen (where the Flight Operations management is based) operates Europe's largest civilian research fleet of aeroplanes and helicopters. DLR Flight Operations (DLR Flugbetriebe) is responsible for providing and deploying these aircraft. These highly modified aircraft can either be the object for aeronautics research themselves, or they can be used as research platforms on which scientific equipment can be installed for observing Earth and the sea surface, or for atmospheric research.
About 75 employees are responsible for the aeroplanes and helicopters: technicians, engineers and pilots. DLR's 13 pilots are highly specialised, several of them hold a test pilot license. In regular flight simulator training sessions in the US and in Germany, they are trained in extraordinary flight situations and flight states. The special challenges of flying on scientific missions - for instance in the Eurocopter BO 105 with swinging external loads, or flying through strong turbulence, such as wake vortices, in the Falcon 20E - make such training indispensable.
Up to 30 scientific missions per year are entered into each aircraft's flight logs. This amounts to up to 250 flight hours in the service of science. Each of these assignments, however, requires detailed and technologically intensive preparation. This includes the often extensive modifications made to the aircraft, sometimes even at the aerospace engineering level. The requisite development and certification procedure can be handled internally by DLR. Development and airworthiness engineers at DLR's flight facilities and research institutes are entrusted with these tasks. Depending on the specific scientific task at hand, it can take several months to complete such a certification procedure. Relatively small modifications can be certified by DLR itself, while larger modifications - including structural changes to the aircraft - are implemented in cooperation with the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt (German Federal Office of Aviation; LBA).
The DLR research fleet is deployed over water, icy surfaces and land across the globe, from Greenland and Spitsbergen all the way down to Antarctica, and from the US via Europe and Russia to Japan.
These institutions provide scientific services, both for DLR research programmes and for other national and international institutions, for public authorities and industrial clients. The German Federal Office of Aviation (LBA) has accredited DLR Flight Operations as aerospace engineering facility capable of independently carrying out maintenance work on its aircraft. In cooperation with DLR's own Design Organisation (Entwicklungsbetrieb), DLR Flight Operations is able to practically completely independently perform the certification procedure for modifications to aircraft for the integration and alteration of scientific components.