An outside view of the DAOF is seen on a windy day. NASA Photo / Tom Tschida. The size of the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility is daunting from the outside and the expanse of hangar space is no less impressive inside.
The facility's open space - 210,000 square feet of hangar space and a like amount of office space on four floors on the building's north and south sides - was a key reason behind the Dryden expansion from its base at Edwards Air Force Base to nearby Palmdale, Calif.
"All of the hangars at Dryden would fit in Building 703. This facility represents a doubling of the hangar space we have available," said Steve Schmidt, the facility director. "The DAOF offers a new dimension to what Dryden offers and the location and facilities have the potential for partnerships and future projects that might not have existed without the Palmdale presence."
Intended to function as a NASA science mission one-stop shop for environmental, atmospheric and airborne astronomy research, the facility already includes a DC-8 flying laboratory that was relocated from Dryden's Edwards campus. It also includes the NASA 747SP Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft that is undergoing preparations that are expected to lead to missions that will redefine human knowledge of the heavens.
The DAOF hangar houses the SOFIA, DC-8, ER-2, and NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, the latter two "visiting" for the event. NASA Photo / Tom Tschida. "Putting all of these airborne platforms in one place offers significant cost savings, efficiencies, and effectiveness. It also provides advantages for visiting scientists to tap Dryden resources closer to Burbank and Los Angeles. It is easier access from the airports and reduces some of the complexities for our foreign visitors," Schmidt said.
Dryden can have the best of both worlds - gaining tremendous hangar space that would have been complex to obtain at Edwards and remain just five to 10 minutes away from the restricted airspace that is sometimes necessary for specific Dryden missions, he said. The DAOF also has easy access to the adjacent taxiways and runways at Air Force Plant 42.
While operations are mirrors of each other from NASA's main campus at Edwards Air Force Base and in Palmdale, the Palmdale facility offers some advantages to scientists and international partners, including closer access to hotels, restaurants and rental cars and shorter travel times, especially as they are preparing for a mission, Schmidt said.
In addition, more NASA science aircraft currently based at Dryden, including a G-III used as a research platform and two ER-2 high altitude aircraft, which are NASA variants of the U-2 spy planes used by the U.S. Air Force, will be based at the DAOF.
As the day nears when these science aircraft will be united under one roof, the potential for the DAOF and the work it can help NASA accomplish is exhibited by an aircraft temporarily located at the facility.
A NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft needs a flap modification that in the past would have required that it be shipped out for the work. However, because of the amenities at the DAOF - including an overhead crane - the work can be accomplished locally to save time, money and effort for the NASA Space Operations Mission Directorate.
"They can just send it over here and do it," Schmidt explained.
Alan Crocker works on a horizontal bandsaw at the DAOF Fabrication Shop, which in addition to machining also has capabilities for sheet-metal, composite and welding. NASA Photo / Tom Tschida. That can-do attitude displayed by Schmidt and the DAOF management team and staff is a key reason that in about 18 months after work began, the facility was ready for a dedication ceremony, Schmidt said.
While it is difficult to get an idea as large as the DAOF off the ground, that's what Dryden has historically accomplished for the agency. It was tough work, Schmidt admitted, but he added that blood, sweat, tears, spirited debates and tenacity have prevailed in creating not only a good environment for aircraft missions, but also for people.
Schmidt's management team includes Chuck Johnson, DAOF deputy director; Craig S. Griffith, facility manager; Robert Garcia, operations manager; Ralph Anton, safety manager; and Sandy Meske, business manager.
Schmidt added that having available infrastructure at the Palmdale site was a key to the rapid build-up of the facility. But the facility, although it is still in development, has been the base of operations for five DC-8 missions, major work to the SOFIA mirror and preparations for the aircraft to fly open-telescope-door flights later this year.
"It is an interesting challenge to build a house while moving the furniture at the same time," Schmidt said.
The DAOF management team includes, from left, Steve Schmidt, DAOF director; Ralph Anton, safety manager; Sandy Meske, business manager; Craig S. Griffith, facility manager and Robert Garcia, operations manager. Not present for the picture was Chuck Johnson, DAOF deputy director. NASA Photo / Tom Tschida. The task of preparing the DAOF for Dryden's use essentially has been one of converting and modifying a former production facility into an operational base for science missions. The work included addition of labs, shops and infrastructure. Because the facility had not been used since the departure of the previous tenant, aerospace company SR Technics, work on even the basics was needed - fire systems, power and water - when Dryden signed the lease with Los Angeles World Airports Board of Commissioners in October 2007.
"Nothing happens without partners" in an effort like this, Schmidt said. The Los Angeles World Airports, the City of Palmdale, Air Force Plant 42, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and a number of state and federal government representatives have contributed to the facility's development. Potential partnerships also are developing for sharing space and capabilities, Schmidt said.
An example of the partnerships is how City of Palmdale personnel were instrumental in helping Dryden officials secure the 20-year lease from LAWA, owner of the property on which the DAOF is located.
NASA leases Bldg. 703, one of the five major buildings on the site, and about 16.2 acres as an aircraft operations facility to support a number of airborne science programs and the SOFIA.
Another mutual benefit of the Palmdale facility is for Dryden to be more integrated within the Antelope Valley population centers and providing revenue and jobs to the area with the expansion of Dryden capabilities at the DAOF, Schmidt said.
NASA's investment exceeded $6.5 million in facility modifications and upgrades and will include about $1.4 million per year for the lease. LAWA invested about $4 million in improvements, including items such as re-roofing Bldg. 703 and installing a new central utility plant.
About 150 Dryden civil service and contractor staff are located at the DAOF and that number can more than double when visiting scientists from around the world are based at the site while experiments or missions are prepared or in progress.