Jethawks Honor Dana
It was Aerospace Appreciation Night Aug. 9 at the Lancaster JetHawks nest at Clear Channel Stadium and Dryden legend Bill Dana was the featured honoree. It's always family night at the ballpark and on this occasion it was especially so for the Dana family.
For years Dana has been recognized for his many accomplishments as a pilot and engineer, but it isn't often that the family has had the opportunity to see a large crowd's reaction to the family patriarch, said Matt Dana, Bill's son and an F-16 pilot.
Growing up was "pretty normal" in the Dana household, Matt said, and the elder Dana coached Matt's Little League team. He described his father and Bill's friends as "normal guys who just hung out."
That's not to say the elder Dana wasn't an important influence. Matt thought about flying jets as early as grade school and by the time he was a high school junior, he knew that he wanted to fly.
Bill Dana is most widely known for piloting 16 flights of the rocket-powered X-15, including the Oct. 24, 1968, final flight, number 199 in the program. He was given his astronaut wings in a belated ceremony held Aug. 23, 2005, for the two X-15 flights that took him to altitudes higher than 50 miles.
He also is known for his work with lifting body aircraft flown at Dryden during the 1960s sand 1970s, in which radical designs for unpowered re-entry to Earth's atmosphere were researched. The elder Dana approaches his past achievements with characteristic humility.
"He will try to minimize honors, but this is something that means a lot to Mom," son Matt said of the Aug. 9 event. "I will never forget this. Mom will never forget this. It was the first time we got to see a crowd's reaction to him."
The ride in the car with his father around the baseball field prior to the start of the game and hearing the crowd's reaction was the brightest moment of an afternoon full of bright moments, he added.
Also in attendance were Dana's youngest daughter, Leslie Kirby of Phoenix, and her daughters Kayla, 8, and Jenna, 6.
Kayla, enjoying a pretzel with cheese sauce, looked up and said of the night to honor her grandfather, "I like it."
Judy Dana, Bill Dana's wife, said he was just three weeks removed from back surgery, but was able to attend the event.
"I think he's enjoying meeting his old friends," she said.
Many of Dana's fellow retired Dryden research pilots came to wish him well.
"He was a model for all the rest of us. He told us the right way to get things done," said retiree Tom McMurtry.
"He taught us many things. He told me to always take the job seriously, but never take yourself seriously," said Rogers Smith, another former pilot.
Jim Stewart, who served as project manager on several programs on which Dana flew, called Bill "a valued member of the team."
"He came back with information about the flight that we would not have without him. It was beyond what the meters showed in the cockpit or control room. He was great at that," Stewart said.
Center Director Kevin L. Petersen said Dana has made tremendous contributions at NASA Dryden over the years and it was an excellent event to recognize him.
"We hope he enjoyed his night and we wish him well," Petersen said.
Away from the crowd, two presentations were made to Dana during the evening.
Artist Randy Barnicki presented Dana with a limited-edition print of his painting named "The Hypersonic X-15." The inscription on the back reads: "For all of your accomplishments and long-time friendship, the Barnicki Family."
Barnicki's father, retiree Roger Barnicki, was a life support technician who frequently worked with Dana.
The second presentation was by long-time Antelope Valley resident Lyle Talbot, who gave Bill a framed copy of an article about him from the Antelope Valley Press previewing the JetHawks Aerospace Appreciation Night.
While Bill Dana might not seek recognition for his numerous achievements as a NASA research pilot and engineer, at least for one night, his family enjoyed the moment.
Dryden Flight Research Center