Part of NASA's mission is to inspire the next generation of explorers and Dryden helped support that goal on Sept. 26 at the 17th Annual Salute to Youth in Palmdale.
More than 2,500 Antelope Valley high school students were bused to an aircraft hangar across from the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility at Air Force Plant 42. They were introduced to a variety of educational and career possibilities, including those at NASA, local aerospace companies, banks, colleges, businesses, military branches and other government employers.
The event was sponsored by the Regional Occupational Program of the Antelope Valley Union High School district and hosted by the Los Angeles World Airports/Palmdale Regional Airport. Other participants included the U.S. Air Force, the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster and numerous Antelope Valley and Southern California-based businesses, government agencies and community service organizations.
"I learned that there are jobs at NASA other than just engineers," said Phylicia Bias, a Quartz Hill High School senior.
That's what the event was all about from Dryden's perspective - offering students a look at potential careers with NASA, said Dryden public affairs specialist Leslie Williams.
"We wanted to help students understand that they too could work for NASA one day - as a pilot, or in different fields of work at the agency ranging from engineering to management," she said.
To those ends, a number of people in different positions at the center were on hand to meet and talk with students. Among them were structures engineer Kia Davidson; operations engineers Michael Holtz and Ryan Lefkofsky; life-support technician Jim Sokolik; test information engineer Jessica Lux; flight surgeon Gregg Bendrick; videographer Lori Losey and photographer Carla Thomas. Students also learned about programs available through which they can find out first-hand about employment at NASA.
The event was about new experiences and broadening students' thinking about their potential futures. In that respect, the Dryden exhibit was a hit for Boron High School junior Eric Sigman, who had never flown an aircraft simulator.
"It was awesome. Landing was the hardest part and taking off and flying over areas I'm familiar with was the most fun," said Sigman, adding that he doesn't know whether he will seek an aerospace career, but he does know that NASA interests him.
Dryden's Nelson Brown, an aerospace engineer, helped coordinate and develop the F-16XL simulator facsimile Sigman flew from salvaged surplus equipment and a commercially available flight simulator software program. He wanted students to have an experience they could take with them from the exhibit.
"It's reasonably easy to learn and manage the F-16XL [simulator]. I like to do this kind of stuff; it gets me excited about my job," Brown said, admitting he also likes to fly the sim. "It gives people a feel for what it's like to sit in an aircraft."
Also on display was the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft, the X-45A, which was flown at Dryden, and an F/A-18 aircraft used to chase flight research missions.
For Lorna Lizotte, director of operations for the AERO - Aerospace Education Research and Operations - Institute, the idea was showing students they could find challenging careers close to home.
"We wanted to offer exposure to aerospace careers and operations in the Antelope Valley we could tap into to build a workforce," she said. "We're interested in getting kids engaged and keeping them here."
Regardless of what students choose as a future career, the experience at the Salute to Youth event presented possibilities they might not have considered before attending the event.
By Jay Levine