The X-Press borrowed from popular culture to do something that the publications staff has not previously attempted: conduct a survey to identify some of the significant projects and personalities at Dryden that have made lasting impacts on NASA's mission, or that have the potential to do so in the future.
The idea of a survey and the ensuing project on which it was based is to generate conversation, while bringing attention to Dryden's contributions to NASA's mission as part of the agency's 50th anniversary. The 270 surveys returned, an excellent return rate, illustrate that the goal was achieved. People talked about Dryden.
The survey provided an opportunity for established Dryden employees and retirees to reflect on careers and projects full of the innovation, enthusiasm and excitement connected with a successful flight, simulation or engineering marvel. It also meant the chance to highlight some new faces that will carry on Dryden's rich heritage through breakthroughs and milestones.
Dryden, however, is more than the sum of its projects. In a sense it's a home, where a family works together to achieve great things. An example of this is how people at Dryden work tirelessly on complex challenges beyond the commitment of a traditional job. Many of them do so in an attempt to achieve something greater than themselves and without the promise of reward. For that reason it can be hard to identify some of the great talents. Those individuals - unsung heroes that make it possible for the center to achieve its accomplishments - often are humble about highly significant contributions.
Former Center Director Ken Szalai said it best in his responses on the survey. "I always believed that every single person who came through the gate was essential for Dryden's success," he wrote. "Every single one."
In formulating the survey, solicitations were sought from Dryden employees and retirees months before the first survey was developed, to identify key individuals and projects in an attempt to avoid inadvertently leaving someone out. Due to space limitations, we have focused on the 25 people most mentioned in the surveys and those who tied with them for a total of 61 profiles. Everyone who was nominated and not included elsewhere in this publication is listed on the back page.
An infusion of new employees during the past five years impacted the make-up of survey results of people and projects that have been part of the center's work since 1958, when Dryden began NASA's work. To balance the influence of more recent arrivals, a special mailing was sent weeks ahead of the voting process to the approximately 200 retirees who read the Special Delivery employee newsletter and other of the X-Press publications.
Several respondents noted that too few people are being recognized in the overall effort and that the vast majority of Dryden's family deserved recognition.
That's true. For that reason, an eight-page photo supplement accompanies this edition to illustrate some projects in greater depth and showcase current and former employees that may or may not be recognized on these pages.
Profiles of work with the early X-series of aircraft were not included because that part of Dryden's history took place under the banner of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, prior to NASA's inception. However, survey respondents consistently advocated for the inclusion of pilot A. Scott Crossfield in the results. Crossfield retired from the NACA in 1955 - three years before NASA was established. The reasoning was that although he retired from NACA, Crossfield's work in guiding the X-15 and making the first flights in 1959 qualified him.
The X-15 became one of the most successful flight research programs in history in no small part because of Crossfield's efforts to ensure that later pilots had a viable aircraft on which to complete vital research. Ironically, it was Bill Dana, the favorite of respondents and the number one choice in the Driving Forces category, who made the final X-15 flight.
Al Bowers was selected by survey respondents as the person with the most mentions in the Up-and-Coming category. This category also includes people who have been at the center for decades.
The following pages provide an at-a-glance guide for newcomers and capture precious memories for center employees who lived through the many projects and worked with those who made them possible.
Participants weren't shy about offering opinions about the roster of nominees. Many nominators looked to pilots for their selections in the Driving Forces section and survey respondents mentioned pilots on their surveys. One respondent, himself a nominee for his engineering accomplishments, offered an explanation as to why so many pilots were mentioned.
"I think pilots should have a primary and separate category purely on a risk basis," said Hubert "Jake" Drake.
Others commented that mechanics and technicians were not well represented. Anonymous respondents submitted these:
"Dryden's success depended and depends on the entire team. What is forgotten and ignored is the thousands of dedicated and committed ground crew, contractors, safety, human resource, payroll, finance, security and a number of other [staffing areas] without whose dedication and commitment, none of these people would have done anything!"
"They all deserve recognition, but as usual only managers, engineers and pilots get the rewards. Where are the grunts? The ones who got their hands dirty, had the planes ready to support the mission, like Ray White, Lunar Landing Research Vehicle crew chief; Jay King, support aircraft crew chief; Glenn Angle, inspector/quality insurance; Obie O'Brien, avionics; and so many others who gave 20 to 30 years or more to NASA and the government."
"We need to recognize the people who make the projects work. The crews on the vehicle were those who made the schedules work and the vehicles fly. These people put in long hours of overtime and had the vehicle operational on schedule. There were no people listed who made the vehicles work. The crew chiefs and ground crews worked long hours, through lunches, etc., to make the schedules. Such people were Larry Barnet, Bill Lapage, Gene Blizzard, Ray White, Charlie Baker, George Nichols, Mike Bondy and many other great maintenance personnel."
Others wrote to reaffirm why some selections were vital.
"[Paul] Bikle was the idea manager for a flight test organization. In the mid 1980s Bikle told me Fitz [Fulton] was the best test pilot he knew. [Ken] Illiff's work on parameter identification was [invaluable], while [Betty] Love was instrumental in preserving Dryden history and helping others to do so. [Dale] Reed was an innovative engineer who 'thought outside the box.' [Milt] Thomson was especially adaptable to new types of aircraft and [John] McTigue was a great manager who got things done due to his management style," retiree Bertha Ryan wrote on her survey.
Concerning the Top Contributions category at the heart of the survey, the top choices were the X-15, the lifting body aircraft and F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire. Thrust vectoring\high-alpha research category was fourth, with the X-43A rounding out the top five. In positions six through 10 were Approach and Landing Tests of Enterprise and space shuttle support; the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle; the NB-52B; missions at Mach 3; and supercritical wing/winglets research. The top 20 projects are listed.
As for Dryden's more recent contributions, Intelligent Flight Control Systems work edged out the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy by just eight mentions. Third, and just 17 mentions behind the number one choice, was the center's work on the Orion Flight Test Crew Module. The Blended Wing Body was fourth, with sonic boom research rounding out the top five. The top eight projects are listed elsewhere in this edition.
A proposed addition to the projects list was the series of shops that make up the Structural Fabrication Branch, which includes the weld, fluids, composites, machine and sheet metal shops. The work accomplished there impacts a number of Dryden projects. While it was not mentioned as often in the survey, a mention here is in order.
Similarly, the Flight Loads Laboratory also received mention from survey respondents for its work on a number of projects. Some of that work has included thermal/structural testing for the X-15, YF-12, space shuttle elevon seals, panels for the National Aerospace Plane, structural components and X-37 flapperon flight qualification.
It's not possible to contain all of the good work and good people who have made Dryden what it is today in a single publication, nor is that the intent. The value of this effort is to stir recollections, stimulate debate and to retell stories about the people and projects that have made - and that make - Dryden a place people want to be part of.