Social media learned about NASA's Ikhana, which is a Predator B aircraft, as part of Dryden's first NASA Social. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
About 50 followers of NASA's social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ attended Dryden's first NASA Social May 4, an all-day behind-the-scenes look at the center's planes, people and projects.
More than 390 people applied on the NASA social media website to attend the Dryden NASA Social and the finalists were randomly selected. In addition, eight mainstream media representatives attended. The Dryden Social Media site notched 930,000 impressions during the event. That's up from a daily average that ranges from 8,000 to 30,000 impressions. Impression is a Twitter term about how many people were likely to have received sent messages.
Mark Skoog, second from right, explains an experiment on the Dryden Remotely Operated Integrated Drone, or DROID aircraft. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)
› View larger image Lisa Mattox, who organized Dryden's NASA Social, said the feedback has been really good.
"We had an enthusiastic group attend our social from all over the United States," she said. "They soaked up all the information we provided for them through staff presentations and a walk through some of our facilities. They then used social media to help us reach new audiences with what we do at Dryden and the value that NASA adds to people's lives."
NASA social media followers, who came from as far away as New York and Florida, were briefed on the center's history and role within NASA, as well as several of the center's current research projects and missions.
Participants, who represented a wide cross section of the population such as government scientist, filmmaker and a city clerk, also had the chance to speak with Dryden engineers, pilots and technicians. The social media group also was offered a closer look at research and mission-support aircraft during a tour of Dryden's facilities, including an opportunity to sit in the cockpit of an F/A-18 aircraft.
Among research projects and programs highlighted at the social were Automatic Collision Avoidance Technology, or ACAT, the Flight Opportunities Program, Airborne Science, Environmentally Responsible Aviation, and sonic boom analysis and mitigation.
Social media learned about the Global Hawks during the NASA Social. (NASA photo by Tom Tschida)
› View larger image Dryden chief historian Christian Gelzer told attendees that while many people might be familiar with aerodynamic innovations proved at Dryden to benefit military, commercial and private aviation, some of that same technology is also on cars. For example, technology developed with the 1972 F-8 Digital Fly-by-Wire aircraft resulted in no mechanical connection between the cockpit controls and the flight control surfaces of the aircraft. Newer model cars are tapping the same technology for braking systems, cruise control and the gas pedal. Weight reduction and fuel efficiency are some of the benefits.
Dryden researched the shape of additional aerodynamic fairings in the 1970s, which resulted in a revolution in semi truck design to achieve improved fuel economy, Gelzer explained.
"The thing that impresses me the most is the research at Dryden that benefits so many people," commented Craig Fifer, one of the NASA Social attendees. "A lot of the time research seems abstract, but we saw the connection about what NASA does that applies to everyday life."
Early on, participants were told about supersonic flight and reducing the loud booms produced when an aircraft pierces the sound barrier from Dryden's expert, NASA aerospace engineer Ed Haering. Following his presentation, attendees were able to see and feel a sonic boom for themselves outside by the Bell X-1E rocket plane, one of the first aircraft to penetrate the sound barrier. Jim Less created the boom in a Dryden F/A-18 during a scheduled support flight for the DC-8 and also treated the crowd to a flyby so they could see the aircraft in flight.
"The work we do here enables the work NASA does," Dryden center director David McBride said in opening remarks.
As an example, McBride told attendees that Dryden is continuing to develop technology that benefits everyone even though the concepts are researched on high performance aircraft. For example, an F-16 at Dryden researched ways to avoid the single biggest cause of aircraft accidents and deaths - ground collisions. The systems developed may one day make a potential accident no more than, "a gentle maneuver that doesn't even spill your coffee."
Mark Skoog, ACAT project manager, later explained the system from the F-16 was modified as an application from a smart phone that was researched on a small Dryden aircraft called the Dryden Remotely Operated Integrated Drone, or DROID. The DROID has a 10-foot wingspan and weighs about 60 pounds. The system worked and can be modified to fly on other aircraft, Skoog added.
The system is ready for a test on NASA's Ikhana Predator B next, Skoog said. The key to the development of the smart phone application was a compression algorithm, or mathematical equation, that condensed the 300 gigs, best-available-terrain map into 180 mb, he said.
Concerning ideas and vehicles a little further off the ground, Dryden's Flight Opportunities Program manager, John Kelly, explained some of that program's goals. Maturing technology for commercial space, encouraging and facilitating industry growth and developing technology needed for getting the payloads to space are some of the key goals.
Other goals include assisting in the development of commercial space platforms to permit frequent flight operations. A recent call for payloads has been released and capability enhancements are underway, such as a Draper Laboratory control system recently used to control a flight of Masten Space Systems' Xombie aircraft.
Several specialized Dryden facilities were featured, including Phillip Wellner, Aircrew Life Support technician, who represented the Life Support branch; Larry Hudson, chief test engineer detailing work in the Flight Loads Laboratory; and Ed Swan, Structural Fabrication Branch chief, who explained elements of the Experimental Fabrication Laboratory.
Presentations also included Dryden's Jim Ross, multimedia supervisor discussing aerial photography, and Lori Losey, senior video producer/director, explaining some of the intricacies of aerial videography required to support the center's flight research mission.
The event also featured a look at the autonomously operated Global Hawk unmanned Earth science aircraft offered by Phil Hall, a NOAA pilot and Global Hawk operations engineer Matt Graham. NASA pilots Mark Pestana and Hernan Posada explained some elements of the Ikhana/Predator B unmanned aircraft system and NASA engineers Ethan Baumann and Natalie Spivey discussed a Gulfstream-III business jet undergoing modifications for laminar airflow research.
Dryden historian Peter W. Merlin gave a brief explanation of the X-1E, the M2F1 aircraft and the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle prior to attendees having the opportunity to see the actual aircraft.
Doug Abney, a guest at the NASA Social, said he wanted to see the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle while he was at Dryden and it was part of the plan. He recalled flying with former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a helicopter and Aldrin explaining how the LLRV flew.
"He mentioned helicopter training mimicked the Lunar Lander on descent to the moon. Then he mentioned the test vehicles. This is the first time I have seen a Lunar Landing Research Vehicle up close. It is impressive to see these machines that helped train astronauts to land on the moon," Abney said.
Acting chief pilot Nils Larson told attendees that he has "an awesome job" and Dryden is a "place where it all comes together." Larson and six other pilots and flight crew signed autographs for the NASA Social attendees including Less, Troy Asher, Mark Pestana, Posada, Kate Pavlock and Ashley Parham.
Jackie Silver, a New York resident, said she saw NASA 747 No. 905 with the Enterprise on top at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as her airplane was taxiing out for the flight to California for the Dryden event.
Seeing the Enterprise and coming to Dryden to learn about NASA's work here were "dreams come true," said Silver, who is an author.
NASA social media followers can track the center's activities on its Twitter account, @NASADryden and on its Facebook page.
Dryden's social media also is available from its main website at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/home/index.html
What Tweeters Said About NASA Social at Dryden
The following are some selected tweets from May 4 Dryden Social.
Craig Fifer @CraigFifer
One of the biggest take aways from the Dryden Social is that NASA stands for aeronautics as much as for space.
Tim Scott @ImDuta
They can sonic boom over my place anytime!
Kim Luu @moneyandrisk
Thank you NASA Dryden for an amazing visit. You were the perfect hosts.
Camryn Prevóst @CamrynPrevost
Flight Opportunities Program strives to make space accessible.
Just took a picture with a NASA test pilot!
James Gomez @GomezJames
Here's to bigger brains! :) Best thing about Dryden Social was everything. My brain feels like it grew 150 percent today. This is the first time the public has seen X-48C Hybrid Wing Body.
I'd take that gig! Nils Larson, chief test pilot, on working at Dryden: "It's like getting paid to eat ice cream."
Annie Wynn @acwynn
Look at the wing the next time you fly. Look at that upturned end. It's a winglet for more efficient flight from NASA.
Ard (Janice) Collier @ardaniel
Drive-by-wire systems in modern autos came from 1972s F-8 Digital Fly-by-wire test bed.
Mike McHargue @mikemchargue
Dryden is laying the groundwork for efficient and quieter commercial supersonic flight.
I'm curled up in a ball having Dryden Social withdrawal symptoms! It was so amazing yesterday!
Camilla Corona (assisted by Heather Archuletta) @Camilla_SDO
Trying the sloppy joe from a tube! Well, it isn't birdseed, but it isn't bad.
Rachel Lena Esterline @RachelsLadder
Visiting the Dryden Social has proved my theory of real community within the workplace. I am so thankful for this experience.
Scott Davis @munciegadgetguy
Dryden has created a cell phone app that brings the F-16 collision-avoidance system to other planes.
Damon Young @dayfornight
Question: What's your most interesting customization? Answer: Cutting a CV-990 in half. A CV-990 is a jet airplane.