A Day at NASA’s Dryden Research Center (#NASASocial): A Is for Aeronautics

If you missed last week’s post about Dryden Flight Research Center, you might want to start THERE. Otherwise, read on to continue the story.

A clear and consistent message was delivered at both the #DrydenSocial and last fall’s GRAIL Tweetup: NASA wants to use social media to help spread the word of its achievements. To that end, NASA trots out its best and brightest to address event attendees and then mixes in the kind of moments that only NASA can deliver.

David McBride, Dryden Center Director

To that end, the morning session of the May 4th NASA Social event at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) offered a broad overview of Dryden’s historical and continuing role in aeronautics research. David McBride, Center Director for DFRC and Christian Gelzer, Chief Historian, provided a wealth of contextual information in the day’s first two talks.

The wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium and whose book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Anna has just finished reading, has been making some interesting comparisons regarding NASA’s budget of late. According to Tyson (watch the video HERE), the $850 billion spent on TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is greater than NASA’s budget for the fifty-plus years that NASA has been in existence.

In no particular order, here are some the achievements that NASA’s budget has funded in that five-decade span:

• the Hubble Space Telescope and its associated increase in our understanding of the universe;
• a significant portion of the International Space Station (ISS);
• the Space Transportation System (the shuttle) that carried Hubble and the ISS’s pieces into orbit;
• deep space probes such as the Voyagers, planetary landers and rovers such as Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity;
• myriad Earth-orbiting satellites that have taught us much about our planet’s weather, composition, and history;
• and of course, the Apollo program and the astronauts who landed on the moon.

Note that all of these scientific and engineering achievements have something to do with space. Space is sexy, space gets people’s attention.

LLRV (See, space looks sexy.)

That said, the first A in NASA is for Aeronautics. In recent years, aeronautics has been a remarkably small piece of NASA’s little pie. In his introduction to the NASA Social #DrydenSocial attendees, David McBride, Dryden’s Director, pointed out that aeronautics research receives about 2.5% of NASA’s roughly $18 billion dollar budget in any given year. Those monies go towards funding the four dedicated NASA Aeronautics Research Centers: Langley, Glenn, Ames, and Dryden. At the end of that quickly narrowing financial funnel, Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) receives less than 1% of NASA’s budget.

It turns out, however, that the first A in NASA is a really important part of the United States’ overall economic picture. McBride indicated that the manufacture of aircraft and its associated industries were the single greatest positive contributor to the U.S. balance of trade. NASA’s own web pages put the scope of aviation’s influence in the U.S. economy as follows:

“Aviation generates more than $400 billion in direct economic activity, supports more than 650,000 jobs and accommodates more than 600 million passengers every year in the United States.”

At last fall’s GRAIL Tweetup, Charlie Bolden also addressed the importance of aeronautics, when he said that he would like a part of his legacy as NASA Administrator to include leaving funding for aeronautics research on a “upward trend” in order to return NASA to its traditional status as the “premier aeronautics research organization in the world.”

SSBD at Valiant Air Command

The technical talks at #DrydenSocial started with engineer Ed Haering, who is a superstar in the world of supersonic booms. Haering’s presentation covered work that has been done at DFRC to mitigate—sshhh!—supersonic booms. Because commercial aircraft are prohibited from flying over land at supersonic speeds (this was a huge problem for Concorde), this research is imperative if we’re ever to see another supersonic transport aircraft. The Lofty duo actually had the opportunity to see some of Ed’s work up close and personal when we visited Valiant Air Command in Titusville, Florida. Valiant is the home of the Shaped Sonic Boom Demonstration (SSBD) aircraft, a test aircraft on which Haering worked at Dryden. As its name suggest, the SSBD successfully demonstrated that a sonic boom could be shaped to reduce its impact, and by impact, we mean noise.


On the heels of Haering’s talk was an opportunity head outside and experience a sonic boom firsthand. Shortly after the #DrydenSocial attendees were led outside for a photograph beneath the wings of the X-1E, an F-18 flew overhead accompanied by the telltale crack of a sonic boom. Moments after that, the same F-18 treated us to a loud-and-low flyby.

NASA Dryden, or Anthony Nelson’s Office

In a day of artifacts and factoids, one that would have made a great impression on Anna, had she been there too, concerned the front of Dryden’s administration building. As we gathered around the X-1E, one of the handlers assigned to our group related that the front of the administration building had stood in for the NASA’s offices in I Dream of Jeannie. (If you want to read more about I Dream of Jeannie, click HERE.)

For Doug, though, the artifact that made the greatest impression was the insect-like Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV, in the photo above) which was located in a nearby hangar. The M2-F2 lifting body, used to validate the design of the space shuttles and located in the same storage space as the LLRV was a close second.

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