James W. Smolka is Director of Flight Operations at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. As such, he is responsible for the Center’s fleet of highly modified manned and unmanned aircraft that are flown on worldwide science, astronomy, and aeronautical flight research missions, as well as the flight and ground crews that fly and maintain them.
Smolka previously served as the Center's chief engineer, responsible for providing independent technical guidance and oversight to Dryden flight projects to ensure conformance with Center and Agency standards, policies, and processes, as well as chairing Dryden’s Airworthiness and Flight Safety Review Board that determines and provides the appropriate level of independent technical review for each project prior to flight.
A research pilot at NASA Dryden since 1985, he has flown a variety of research and support aircraft. Smolka was project pilot on the Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles and Intelligent Flight Control Systems research projects flown on NASA's now-retired NF-15B research aircraft, and the Gulfstream/NASA F-15 Quiet Spike sonic boom reduction project. He was co-project pilot on the F-16XL Supersonic Laminar Flow Control aircraft and the F-18 High Alpha (Angle-of-Attack) Research Vehicle aircraft. He also participated in the F-15 HiDEC flight and engine control system projects, the AFTI/F-16, F-111 Mission Adaptive Wing, and F-104 Aeronautical Research Aircraft projects.
Before joining NASA, Smolka was an F-16 experimental test pilot with General Dynamics Corporation for two years at Edwards, including work as a project pilot with the Air Force/NASA Advanced Fighter Technology Integration F-16 Joint Test Force located at Dryden.
Smolka received his Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1972. He is a 1978 graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, served on active duty until 1983, and subsequently served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1999. Among the aircraft he flew in the Air Force were the T-38, A-7D, OV-10A, A-37, A-10A, and F-15B. Smolka retired from the Air Force Reserve with the rank of colonel in 1999 after 27 years of active and reserve service. Smolka received a Master of Science degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering in 1980 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also earned an engineer of aeronautics and astronautics degree from Stanford University in 1994. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in applied mathematics from the University of Washington.
A long-time member, he was recently inducted as a Fellow at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) 2012 Symposium, having attained a position of distinction in the field of experimental flight testing. Smolka has authored several technical publications and has taught a number of courses in the aerospace field for California State University, Fresno; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and Chapman College. He has accumulated more than 9,000 hours of flight time during his flying career.