Conducting mock dogfights with neighborhood friends on bicycles as the children pretended they were flying jet fighters was one of Trong Bui's memories from his childhood in Vietnam.
Today, Bui has realized his dreams of a career in aviation as an aerospace engineer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
Image Right: Scott Bartel of Blacksky Corp. and Trong Bui, principal investigator for the aerospace rocket experiment at NASA Dryden, install the rocket data acquisition system into the first of two solid-fueled aerospike research rockets flown in March 2004. NASA photo EC04-0113-40, by Tom Tschida
"I was always interested in fighter jets, and dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot some day," said Bui, who grew up during the Vietnam War era as well as the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the 1960's. "I was very proud that I was always the first kid who correctly identified the jets that flew over our neighborhood, either by sight or sound."
He read as much as he could about airplanes, and was a big fan of the French comic book series "Tanguy et Laverdure" and" Buck Danny, "which told fictional stories of the adventures of French and American fighter pilots.
Born and raised in Saigon, Vietnam until he was 14, Bui and his family escaped to Thailand by small boat in 1979, four years after the Vietnam War concluded. Sponsored by his aunt and uncle in Sacramento, Calif., they left a Thai refugee camp for the United States four months later.
Bui never forgot his dream of becoming a pilot. But after being rejected twice for pilot training by the Air Force, first due to disqualification of his green-card permanent resident status, second due to his eyesight, Bui decided to study aeronautical engineering so that he could still work with airplanes.
While working on his master's dissertation project as a graduate research assistant at NASA Ames Research Center in 1988, Bui became interested in working for NASA. He worked in the Unitary Wind Tunnel Complex at NASA Ames, where he was assigned to work wind tunnel wall interference issues for the 11-foot transonic wind tunnel.
"I simply fell in love with the technical research work that was conducted there, both in the wind tunnels and in the massive computational facility that NASA Ames had," Bui recalled.
After obtaining his masters degree in 1990, he accepted a position at NASA's Glenn Research Center (then Lewis Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio. At Glenn, he was assigned to the Inlets, Ducts, and Nozzles Flow Physics Branch of the Internal Fluid Mechanics Division working on the Proteus Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) code.
In 1997, Bui transferred to NASA Dryden where he was involved with the F-15 Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles (ACTIVE) thrust vectoring nozzles project, the X-43A skin friction experiment and the High Speed Instrumentation Test project that was intended to collect data for a scramjet flowpath in flight at Mach 6. He also worked on the Russian CIAM (Central Institute of Aviation Motors) scramjet flight experiment, in which NASA collaborated with the Russian agency to obtain flight data for a Mach 6.5 scramjet mounted on the nose of a rocket.
Now working in the Propulsion and Performance Branch of Dryden's Research Engineering Directorate, Bui was recently involved in the Dryden Aerospike Rocket Test, which he deems a highlight of his career. NASA, the Air Force Flight Test Center, Blacksky Corp., and Cesaroni Technology Inc., joined forces to become the first known team to fly a rocket with an aerospike nozzle to transonic speeds.
Bui explained: "To me there is no comparable experience to design, ground test, and then finally watch your work take off with lots of noise and smoke, screaming straight as an arrow into the sky, and punching a hole into that wide clear blue sky at supersonic speeds," he observed.
"All of the advances and rewards that we now have in the air travel, defense, and the space industry were drawn from the pool of knowledge that prior aerospace researchers (both from inside and outside of NASA) have created through all their hard work and sacrifice," Bui added.
Bui earned bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and a doctorate in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
When not working complex aerospace engineering projects at NASA Dryden, Bui enjoys reading, listening to classical music and rollerblading at the beach, and especially spending time with his wife and three-year old daughter.
Publication-quality photos to support this release are available for downloading at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/news/newsphotos/trong_bui.html.
Media representatives interested in interviewing Trong Bui should contact Roberta Ross at 661/276-3143 or NASA Dryden public affairs at 661/276-3449.
For further information about the Aerospike Rocket Test research program, log on to: http://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/aerospike_rocket.html
For more information about NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, log on to: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden
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