New Dryden Director: Administrator Bolden Selects David McBride
When David McBride answered the phone on Jan. 3, he received some welcome news. On the other end of the line was NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, who informed McBride that he was Dryden's new director.
"David has done a terrific job as the acting Dryden director, and I am pleased he will be continuing as director. David's expertise, leadership and flight research acumen will benefit NASA and the entire aerospace community," Bolden said in a NASA news release issued later in the week.
McBride credits his varied experiences and work at Dryden for preparing him to be center director. He has worked as an electrical engineer, on instrumentation, flight systems and verification and validations, facilities, range, programs and business development.
"It helps to have an understanding of how everything works from the shops to engineering, to budget and finance. One of my strengths is having a broad exposure to the various aspects of running a NASA center," he said.
Experiences at NASA Headquarters during his Senior Executive Service career development also showed him how NASA senior management works and interacts, he added.
As he begins his tenure as Dryden director, he sees the biggest challenge to Dryden is one that is old as its very beginnings as the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics Muroc Unit/High Speed Flight Station in 1946.
"We have to operate in a safe and effective manner. Safety has to be our first priority. Everyone needs to go home to his or her family at night. We have to be stewards of the taxpayer's money and have responsibility for our equipment and our people," McBride said.
Dryden is well positioned for the future with a diversified portfolio of work that is divided almost evenly among the Aeronautics Research, Exploration Systems and the Science mission directorates. That is in comparison to the recent past, where about 75 to 80 percent of Dryden's business and budget came from NASA's aeronautics research.
In addition, there are other external government customers that use Dryden's services and pay for them in what is called reimbursable work. The diversification of work gives Dryden a more stable outlook for the future, and allows the center to focus on another historic capability - the ability to be flexible, McBride said.
"We need to be ready to respond to work opportunities that match our mission to advance technology and science through flight." McBride said.
For example, no one envisioned 20 years ago that one-third of Dryden's work would be in airborne science, or exploration, he said. Having a flexible workforce has enabled the center to evolve into what it is today and that will be important in the future, McBride added.
Although the fiscal year 2011 ARMD budget has not been unveiled yet, there is a recognition from the office of the president, Congress and federal budgeting offices that aeronautics is a key component of the national economy and needs to be strengthened, he said.
An early indication that there will be changes in aeronautics research was the 2009 announcement that the Integrated Systems Research Program would start and would be budgeted for $60 million per year for five years. The effort marks the first new NASA aeronautics program in more than a decade. Dryden has a key role in the program's first project, which is called Environmentally Responsible Aviation.
With F-15 no. 837 retired, work is gearing up to move capabilities to F/A-18 no. 853. The effort involves investigation of health monitoring, where software can tell maintainers when and where an aircraft is needing repair, and adaptive controls, which can help an aircraft fly even in the event a control surface fails or is damaged in flight.
"Maturation of modern aircraft will rely on improvements to flight control systems and integration that will continue to be a strength of ours. Systems, subsystems, and verification and validation of those systems are what we do. You see the skin of the airplane, but one of our major contributions was with F-8 digital fly-by-wire. You can't 'see' the huge improvement of aircraft - but it's there and it is a part of nearly every military, commercial and civilian aircraft," McBride said.
When pushing the limits of flight research, there will be failures, he explained. However, value can also be extracted from those failures. For example, the Controlled Impact Demonstration conducted at Dryden in the 1980s resulted in a remotely piloted B-720 erupting into a fireball on a planned crash landing. However, the research saved airlines billions on a fire suppression fuel additive that was not supposed to be able to catch fire, but the research proved it did.
Dryden also is preparing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico for a flight test of the Orion crew module launch abort system. The module was built at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., with test instrumentation integrated at Dryden.
"No matter what direction the nation goes [with a future space vehicle], astronaut safety is a key component. That's where we fit in with the launch abort system. We will continue to support that activity. We have heard that the administration supports commercial launch systems. We are in a perfect place in Southern California, close to a lot of the players and we can provide engineering support, safety and oversight for some of the activities," he said.
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy will add to Dryden's science platforms. The door covering enormous cavity in the 747SP that houses the infrared telescope was successfully opened for the first time in flight in December, giving more confidence that the program will reach its next major milestone - beginning to gather science.
"It is a challenge. You always have to deliver; whether aeronautics program activity or science or SOFIA, or things done with our science aircraft, we have to continue to deliver efficient, effective products and do it in a safe manner," he said.
Science Mission Directorate work also is expected to grow, especially with the dedication of the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale in April 2009.
"On the Earth science side, there is a recognition that we need to take better care of the planet and have a better understanding of the dynamics of the Earth and the Earth's climate. We expect to see an increase in flight tempo for our airborne science platforms, primarily because of the good work we have done. For example, the recent DC-8 mission Operation Ice Bridge in Chile was a raving success. We over-achieved the science objectives and everybody came back happy with the efficiency of operation and instrument functionality," McBride said.
Global Hawk also is expected to begin its first NASA science mission later this year and science integration teams - including more than 60 scientists - are beginning to work on integrating their instruments.
Inspiring the next generation of explorers is another NASA focus.
"[Administrator Bolden] is passionate about energizing the next generation. If there is one reason he took the job in the first place, it was that the president charged him with increasing NASA involvement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. I support that. He also is a strong supporter of student programs as a pipeline for future engineers and NASA leadership," said McBride, who was a cooperative education student at Dryden in 1982.
The future looks bright for NASA and Dryden, McBride said. A way to continue that momentum is to continue to tell people about what the center's employees do.
"The way to keep people engaged is to tell them what we do here," he said.
And at the present, Dryden employees have much to do.
By Jay Levine