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Volume 46 | Issue 5 | June 2004

People & Places

photo: Larry Biscayart

Larry Biscayart shows off a model Space Shuttle he received on the occasion of his retirement.
NASA Photo / Tony Landis

Biscayart recalls 34-year Dryden career

By Jay Levine
X-Press Editor

Don't listen to any big fish stories Larry Biscayart might tell.

The recent retiree confessed - between fishing trips - that he hasn't had a bite. But there is one thing he said about life after Dryden that can be believed.

"I'm enjoying the heck out of (retirement)," he said, adding that he spends a lot of time with his grown children and grandchildren.

This spring Biscayart concluded his 34-year Dryden career. In June, he reflected on the unique events and projects with which he was associated during his tenure, including the large part of his career tied to Space Shuttle-related work and operations at Dryden.

When he came to Dryden to interview, "My mouth dropped as we walked through the hangars that were full of unique, one-of-a-kind aircraft that included lifting-body aircraft, the Blackbird (SR-71), and Firebee and F-15 drones. After that, I did all I could to get hired and I have been truly blessed with a fulfilling career," Biscayart reflected.

Not only did he get the job that day, his first project was the legendary F-8 Fly-By-Wire aircraft.

"I helped wire up the electrical portion of the flight control systems. It was a massive job, with 270 pin connectors," he recalled. "Then wires ran from the flight control computers to the cockpit flight control actuators and the numerous sensors and power sources located throughout the aircraft. It was a tremendously tight fit for the wiring and I'll never forget the plywood mock-up computers we had to use to fit check to. About 95 percent of the wires were run to the mock-up computers and it was daunting to consider how perfectly they had to be engineered and constructed. It was pretty tense until the pallet (containing the final hardware) was installed. Everything worked perfect. I'll never forget the tremendous pride and feeling of accomplishment the team shared when the aircraft returned from its first flight with no 'squawks' (complaints)."

Biscayart was promoted to avionics technician during the flight test phase of the project, on which he worked for an additional three years. He wired up the hardware-in-the-loop F-8 mock-up that validated new software added to the aircraft and gained experience with it before the aircraft took to the skies. He remembers many hours spent with aircraft inspector Ed Coyle, who guided him through often tough and unprecedented problem areas. The engineering team, which included Jim Phelps, Jim Craft and Wilt Lock as well as the technical team including Jim Hankins, Miller Webb and Bill Clark, were a skilled one, Biscayart said.

Near the end of the F-8 Fly-By-Wire project, Biscayart was asked to coordinate photography on the STS-1 mission with Johnson Space Center in Houston. Once mission images were ready, he provided national news wire services with specific photos and made film available to television stations. He repeated that role on several of the early Shuttle missions.

After STS-4, he was assigned as an inspector to the Dryden recovery team for landing operations. That entailed coordination with Rockwell Space Systems (now The Boeing Company) for landing and turnaround of the Shuttle aircraft, for its return to Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

"NASA crew chiefs, mechanics and me - as an inspector - were responsible for operation and maintenance of various ground support equipment. We were tasked to stand by and be on call from launch until landing in the event of an emergency landing at Edwards," he said.

And in that role, he didn't just have a working familiarity with Shuttle rules and procedures; he also helped write them during efforts at Dryden to upgrade all the Center's process specifications and instructions relating to Shuttle support and communications with Shuttle support contractors.

Biscayart served as a Quality Assurance backup for Shuttle Area A - which includes the hangar where the aircraft is stored, the mate-demate device and the annex housing the control room for Shuttle operations - and did that until being assigned as a Quality Assurance representative for Dryden landing operations. As the time approaches for a Shuttle landing, teams from Kennedy arrive at Dryden in force, with as many as 250 people coming temporarily to staff Shuttle activity. As a quality assurance specialist, Biscayart was tasked during the early years of the Shuttle program with participating in the mini-convoy in the event of a Shuttle landing prior to the arrival of the Kennedy team.

During his years in Quality Assurance he was assigned to a number of high-profile projects, including the X-38 and the earliest work on those vehicles at Houston. His last assignment before leaving the QA post was on the Eclipse program, where he provided safety and quality oversight for the hook-up of the F-106 that was towed by a C-141A. He left prior to first flight for a full-time position as a support specialist in the Dryden Shuttle Support Office.

As a quality assurance inspector, he also worked on the X-29, spending a lot of time at the Grumman plant in New York observing construction of the aircraft for which he assumed responsibilities during its flight test program at Dryden. He also worked on the Controlled Impact Demonstration, a structural load measurement test in which a fuel additive that was supposed to keep fuel from burning in a crash was tested with the help of instrumented dummies.

"It was bittersweet leaving the unpiloted aircraft for its last flight, knowing we were ready and waiting for a crash. The instrumented dummies and onboard instrumentation and cameras told the final story," he said.

Biscayart also was assigned to the remotely piloted air vehicles Perseus A and Perseus B, which were researched at Dryden.

In addition to all his project support, Biscayart also served as Dryden Exchange Council chairman for 10 years, helping to arrange picnics and employee outings like pizza nights and Christmas dances. Another initiative he spearheaded was the presentation of gold watches to Dryden retirees with more than 20 years service at the Center. Biscayart was especially pleased to receive one of those at his own retirement.

Prior to his employment at Dryden, Biscayart worked on Lockheed's L-1011 program at the company's Palmdale plant. On that project he did systems checkout - not a big stretch from his main comfort zone as a hydraulic and structural mechanic in the U.S. Navy. In the late 1960s, he served four years in Vietnam working as a flight deck troubleshooter for VF-143, an F-4 Phantom squadron based on an aircraft carrier Constellation in the Tonkin Gulf.

Biscayart was rewarded for his Space Shuttle work with a Silver Snoopy, an award given by NASA's Astronaut office at Johnson Space Center for outstanding Shuttle support and was selected as Dryden's Space Flight Awareness honoree for the Space Shuttle 25th anniversary celebration. He received eight superior achievement awards for his work at Dryden, nine Spotlight Awards (given to Dryden civil servants) and many letters of appreciation. He was an honoree in nine Group Achievement awards from such projects as the F-8 Fly-By-Wire, HIMAT, Space Shuttle launch and landing, X-29, JetStar Laminar Flow and supersonic propeller, CV-990 Space Shuttle brake tests, the Controlled Impact Demonstration, F-18 High Alpha Research Vehicle and the Eclipse program.