Commentary

November 30, 2012

NASA pilot living his dream

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Diane Betzler
staff writer


Palmdale, California resident Troy Asher is a man who doesnít believe in working for a living instead Asher believes that people should pursue their passion and go after the education needed to become a success in that special career that calls out for them.

Someone once told me that if you do what you love, youíll never have to work a day in your life,î Asher says as he sits in the cockpit of NASA Drydenís biggest research aircraft, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a research airplane known by most, simply as SOFIA.

Asher is Drydenís lead pilot for SOFIA and flying became his passion when he was only eight.

My parents booked us on a flight to visit my grandparents and I knew during that first flight that I wanted to become a pilot,î he said.
Asher never lost his desire to fly airplanes; instead, as he grew older his passion for flying grew stronger.

An adventurer at heart, Asher said his parents werenít rich and so he knew from the start that he was going to need scholarships to help pay for the education he knew he needed to get him where he wanted to go.

I applied to the Air Force Academy while in high school,î he shared.

Apparently his hard work and good grades throughout his school years paid off because he was accepted into the academy and started there just 30 days after graduating from high school.

I started working on my resume for the academy in about the seventh grade, but couldnít actually apply until my junior year [of high school, he said.

Today he is out there doing what he loves and says heís enjoying every moment he spends on the job.

He admits it took a lot of hard work, motivation and discipline to get the education he needed to accomplish his goals, but says he hasnít worked a day since he graduated from the United States Air Force Academy with a degree in engineering and, instead of going to work for a living; Asher began to live his dream and fly airplanes.

ìI started in the test business in 1998 when I attended Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base,î he said.

After graduating from the TPS, Asher spent the next 10 years in the Air Force flight testing some of Americaís finest flying machines.
ìI tested Boeingís B-1 bomber, Northrop [Grummanís] B-2 and the B-52,î he said. Asher eventually became an instructor at the school and trained upcoming test pilots in T-38s, the trainer aircraft that just about every military pilot learned his trade in.

After retiring from the Air Force in 2008, Asher applied for and won the job he holds today as a NASA research test pilot.

As a NASA test pilot he flies research flight missions and transports scientists from around the world to where they need to be to conduct the research needed to uncover some of Earthís most well kept secrets.

To fulfill this role, Asher, as well as NASAís team of research test pilots arenít limited to testing the aircraft to ensure itís fit to fly the mission, itís also imperative that each test pilot become familiar with the planned mission so that they can interact with the team of scientists.

ìItís important that we get involved with the project so that we know whatís going on in the science end,î he says.

He said research pilots need to understand what the scientists are trying to get so that they can get them where they need to be.

ìEach of our research pilots here has a technical background, we each have a degree in engineering,î Asher said. He said thatís important so that they can interact with the science teams.

ìBefore we go on a research or a test mission, we plan extensively to make sure everything goes right, everything is safe and everything is efficient,î he said, adding that NASAís pilots are productive members of the planning team.

Although one gets the impression that SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747 thatís been turned into the worldís largest airborne observatory, might just be Asherís favorite aircraft to fly, she isnít the only research craft he pilots.

ìMost of us fly several different airplanes,î he said, adding that he just returned from flying the Gulfstream III and a team of scientists to Japan where they took a close look at the insides of some of the countryís volcanoes to determine if the recent earthquakes there caused any awakenings in those volcanoes.

The NASA-operated Gulfstream III is a multi-role twin-engine, turbofan research aircraft that is used for a variety of light research experiments.

ìIt carries a unique radar pod that was built by JPL in Pasadena and takes three-dimensional images of the surface of the Earth,î Asher said, explaining the importance of that kind of research.

ìWe map California constantly, weíre always looking at California from Mexico to Canada for [signs of] earthquakes,î he said.
He said through mappings scientists can see centimeters of movement in the ground.

Also among the fleet of research aircraft owned by NASA Dryden is a McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing)-built DC-8, a four-engine narrow-bodied aircraft thatís also been highly modified as a flying laboratory ó and Asher gets to fly them all.

SOFIA just spent a year in her hanger in Palmdale while a team of scientists and engineers were busy testing the many upgrades installed into her cockpit and cabin. Sheís now ready to take flight and go back to doing what she was modified to do, soar high into the Earthís atmosphere and carry scientists and their high tech equipment safely on their research journeys.

When asked what advice the research test pilot would give to the countryís young people about their future he said, ìIt may be hard to see now, but staying in school will open doors for you that would otherwise be closed.

Asher says he hears from people his age that those who didnít pursue their education have come to regret it.

ìStay in school, learn to do something you love to do, and youíll never ëworkí a day in your life!î he advises Americaís youth.




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