In a special behind the scenes day at Dryden Flight Research Center, about 70 social media followers enjoyed a day of viewing current projects, hearing of past successes, hearing a sonic boom and then seeing its FA-18 Mach 1.8 source fly overhead at 500 feet.
They also got to send photos and messages from the cockpit of a NASA F-18.
Participants were selected by random drawing from among those who regularly follow Dryden on Twitter, Facebook, and Google +. They came from all over the United States – from Mojave, Calif., to New York City.
To start, they were briefed by David McBride, center director, and Christian Gelzer, chief historian.
Followers then heard about several of the center’s current research projects and missions. They also had the chance to speak with a number of Dryden engineers, pilots and technicians, and got up-close-and-personal with several research and mission-support aircraft during a tour of Dryden’s facilities.
McBride started his presentation with a reminder that the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act incorporated the 1917 National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
“Aircraft never fly as designed, and our job is to get the computer models closer to real life,” he said. “Aeronautical and space manufacturing is one of the few items that today contribute to a favorable balance of trade.”
The major payoff from aeronautics research is in improvements in commercial aircraft.
Dryden has pioneered knowledge with composite materials, the critical wing, winglets and the “fly-by-wire” research that started using an F-8 aircraft and an available Apollo 15 computer. At the time there were ‘nay sayers’ who said it would not work. But now, almost all new aircraft are fly-by-wire. Even current automobiles use that concept, not mechanical links. In short, “we turn ideas into reality,” McBride said.
Dryden, in cooperation with Boeing, is flight testing the concept of a blended wing body aircraft. It has the potential of a 20 to 40 percent reduction in fuel burn.
“For NASA, we operate the DC-8 Flying Science Laboratory,” McBride said. “Although more than 40 years old it hosts important airborne experiments continuously. It has hosted experiments from the Arctic to the Antarctic and all points in between. It recently flew research missions through unmarked Antarctic canyons for over four hours, at 1,000 feet above ground level”
There have been more than 600 manned rocket launches that started from Dryden. Research conducted using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy [SOFIA] has been reported in a special issue of the journal, Astronomy. SOFIA carries a 20-ton, 10-foot diameter telescope up to 35,000 feet, where a door opens to allow direct study of the infra-red emissions of the universe.
NASA Social@Dryden guest Jackie Silver tries on a partial G-suit and helmet worn by pilots of Dryden’s high-performance research and mission support aircraft under the watchful eyes of Dryden life support technician Bill Wellner.
The public funds NASA at about one-half of one percent of the federal budget. Some of the public may not care about how old the universe is, but the work that NASA has done has had a high return to the public. For example, it resulted in saving billions of gallons of diesel fuel.
Gelzer traced Dryden’s past back to the X-1 rocket ship in 1946 when a group of Langley Research Center engineers realized the advantage of the location.
There were continuing rocket ship tests over the years up to the X-15 that reached a speed of Mach 5. It was the first aircraft to leave the atmosphere, return and land.
Another high point in Dryden’s history is the M2-F1. It showed that a lifting body design could safely reenter the atmosphere at the extreme speeds that a reentering spacecraft would attain. The work contributed to the Apollo project.
In 1972, Dryden installed and tested in an F-8 Crusader aircraft, the first digital fly by wire system without a mechanical backup. The work led to the F-16 fly by wire system. The Helios and Pathfinder solar powered aircraft were tested at Dryden. Pathfinder reached 50,000 feet, then a record for solar-powered aircraft. During the 1970s gasoline shortage, Dryden investigated streamlining shapes to reduce wind drag. The now common shapes were devised and the gain in efficiency determined.
Current sonic boom research was outlined by Ed Haering, principal investigator.
The aim is to have aircraft produce sonic puffs not booms, so that supersonic flight over continental land is acceptable, and the project may take 15 to 25 years.
The WSPR [Waveforms and Sonic boom Perception and Response] project has gathered information from more than 10 people on their reaction to sonic booms. Over 22 booms were produced during the project. Haering showed a video from inside an aircraft as it dove to produce a boom. A few minutes after Haering’s presentation, the attendees got to experience a boom. They marveled at the precision with which the boom was produced,
The group then saw the Lunar Landing research Vehicle and the M2-F1 lifting body. These historic artifacts from NASA’s pre-Apollo days are owned by the Smithsonian Institution, but housed at Dryden in a non-descript shed presentations.
The Global Hawk hanger was the next stop.
Phil Hall of NOAA explained the capabilities of this amazing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
Both operating aircraft were completing modifications for the test of one UAV refueling another. They were fitted, one with a fuel probe boom, and the other with a fuel receiving drone. A few weeks ago, the two aircraft were the first UAVs to fly in formation. The second control room for the Global Hawk is housed in a trailer. Late this year, a Global Hawk and the trailer will be stationed at NASA’s Wallops Island Research Center. From there, the Global Hawk will be able to research tropical storms at the African coast
Next stop for the tour was the Ikana, Dryden’s Predator B Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Herman Posada explained how the Ikhana has been used to image forest fires, and help direct firefighting tactics.
Housed in the same hanger is Dryden’s Gulfstream III. This business jet has been modified and is now a research test bed. Ethan Bauman presented the ACTE [Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge] project. Another project was explained to the group by Natalie Spivey. This is the Discrete Roughness Edge study. It seeks to promote smooth air flow over an aircrafts wings. Such streamlined flow makes the wing more efficient.
Following lunch, the social media attendees heard presentations on current research projects and programs. These included Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology, and the Flight Opportunities Program. Several specialized Dryden facilities were presented, including the Life Support facility, the Flight Loads Laboratory and the Experimental Fabrication Shop. Briefings on Dryden’s photography and videography operations that support its flight research mission were also on the afternoon schedule. One-on-one meetings with the presenters were available.
“The thing that impresses me the most is the research at Dryden that benefits so many people,” said Craig Fifer, one of the attendees. “A lot of time research seems abstract, but we saw the connection about what NASA that does applies to everyday life.”.
Dryden public affairs staffer Lisa Mattox of Tybrin Corp., who organized Dryden’s NASA Social, said the event was very successful.
Dryden’s first NASA Social followed an experimental “Tweetup” last year when it hosted about 10 followers of NASA’s Twitter account during a news conference for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy at its Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
“We found it was a great way to communicate directly with our social media constituency, and indirectly with their followers,” said Dryden Strategic Communications chief Kevin Rohrer.
NASA social media followers can follow the center’s activities on its Twitter account, @NASADryden and on its Facebook page.