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February 26, 2008
NASA Dryden's Mark Dickerson -- Giving Back What He Has Been Given
When Dryden engineer Mark C. Dickerson was in junior high school, a teacher took him flying and opened his mind to a new world of possibilities.
That experience helped the youngster later realize his dreams of flying in the Air Force and working at the Pentagon and NASA. Now, he strives to be a role model -- on the job at Dryden, and through the Civil Air Patrol as a flight instructor -- to help inspire generations of young people who want to fly.
The CAP is his passion, and he becomes animated when discussing his glider flights with cadets.
"I was a Civil Air Patrol cadet," Dickerson said. "I signed up because I wanted to fly airplanes. At that time, there wasn't a lot of access to actual flight time, so we spent a lot of time marching in veterans' parades.
"When I came to California after I left the Air Force, I found kids here in the same situation I was (in) as a cadet. They were interested in airplanes, but they didn't have much opportunity to fly. I really enjoy figuring out ways to get them airborne and nurture their passion for aviation."
Together with other CAP volunteers, he has organized glider encampments that include flying and training for cadets. The activity is a good fit with Dickerson's personal mission statement: To help people around him be the best they can in whatever they're trying to do.
"I had many people who helped me along the way," he said, an advantage he has never forgotten.
To those ends, Dickerson has this advice for young people:
"Set a vision for your own life. If there is something important, something to do, something you love, get off the dime and go after it. Don't let situations or circumstances provide a ready excuse for not giving it your best shot. It's not all green lights. Many of the lights are going to be red when you step out. But you have to be willing to dream and be willing to go after the dream."
Dickerson came to Dryden in 2003 and currently is the center's technical integration manager for aeronautics research. In that post he is tasked with finding the best route to project success. Many times a project has a staff of a single individual, he said, but if the need of a small project can be coordinated with that of a larger one with similar needs it can lead to mutual benefit.
"It's quite a challenge -- one that can have a great payoff: to allow Dryden to perform in exceptional ways across multiple projects even with limited resources."
Dickerson has managed several projects at Dryden, including those devoted to advanced flight controls research and development of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. He also oversaw NASA's entire Subsonic Fixed Wing research project, an $80 million annual effort of the agency's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate involving four field centers and 11 disciplines.
Dickerson has served as project manager for the Intelligent Fight Control System or IFCS, and earlier worked as a safety contractor for IFCS verification and validation. He also supported the Gulfstream Quiet Spike flight experiment aimed at reducing noise associated with sonic booms that was flown on NASA Dryden's F-15B research aircraft.
Dickerson has also served on the flight integration product team for a NASA-industry initiative to formulate recommendations to the FAA for developing rules and procedures to allow safe operation of UAVs in the national airspace.
Dickerson retired from the Air Force after a 25-year flying career, amassing more than 4,500 hours of flying time in the F-4 Phantom, T-38 Talon, F-16 Falcon, F-18 Hornet, F-15 Eagle and more than 35 other aircraft. He is a 1985 graduate and former deputy commandant of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards. He also had several assignments at the Pentagon, including a stint in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1999, Dickerson continued to train test pilots at Edwards as a civilian contractor until 2002, using F-16s and Learjets to simulate and diagnose problems that new test pilots might encounter in flight.
In line with his personal mission statement, he teaches financial management courses at his church and is an adjunct faculty member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He also is an associate fellow and former board member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Dickerson earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering physics from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., a Master of Science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Stanford University, and a Master of Business Administration from Regis University. He is a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and serves on the AIAA Flight Test Technical Committee. Written by Jay Levine / Tybrin Corp. NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
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