NASA People

Center Snapshot: Dale Bowser
01.12.09
Dale Bowser. Image above: Dale Bowser is the crew chief of the B200 which resides in the Hangar. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Dale Bowser recalls advice a NASA test pilot once gave his son, Stephen.

"He said, 'if you really enjoy doing something, make that your job,' " said Bowser at his desk in the hangar at NASA Langley. "He also said, 'if you really enjoy two things, make one of them your job and the other your hobby.' "

It's advice that has guided Bowser for 31 years, 22 at Langley. He is crew chief of a King Air B200 airplane, largely because he always wanted to work on aircraft.

"I was always a tinkerer," Bowser said.

That's why he joined the Air Force after being guaranteed he could learn to tinker with aircraft, and why he was crew chief, having charge of a squadron commander's F-106 when he was 20 years old.

It's perhaps an unusual vocation for someone who grew up in Accident, Md.

Since then, he has worked on everything from Air Force and Navy jets to a Russian Yak to NASA's 757, which formerly occupied the hangar at Langley. Bowser's work with the B200, though, could be his most enjoyable, mostly because of the atmospheric testing that the aircraft is doing.

It's a radical departure from days of testing aeronautics systems in NASA planes.

"I really enjoy working with the atmospheric scientists," Bowser said. "When you look at the big picture, knowing that you have a part in their studies to determine the causes of global warming is important. It's something that affects everyone in the world."

In the past year, he has gone with the plane to the Caribbean, to Canada and Alaska for tests that have involved more than 300 hours of flight time.

And yet, "I've never done anything on a plane by myself," Bowser said. "It's always done with a team.

"It's one of the things I really enjoy about the job. I like being a part of a team. … And at NASA, everybody is at the same level: the chief pilot, myself, others working on the airplane."

It's a lesson he and wife Lauren have tried to impart to son Stephen, who works for James City County, and daughter Kelsey, a 16-year-old student at Gloucester High School. Bowser added to that knowledge by coaching Kelsey's softball teams over the years.

Lessons taught by the airplanes are another story.

"They're like people," Bowser said of aircraft. "They've got quirks, things they like and don't like."

Bowser gets reinforcement in that assessment annually when he and others in the hangar host a Christmas party in which they invite back former NASA pilots, maintenance people and support staff. They gather to tell stories, and he listens, much as he listens to a group that gather every Saturday at a convenience store near his Gloucester Point home.

"You ever read Tom Brokaw's book?" he asks. "They really are 'The Greatest Generation.' Look at all of the things they've accomplished. And they've lived their lives by concentrating on family, faith and friends."

The Christmas gatherings and weekly coffee klatches help keep Bowser grounded. It's just taking that lesson his son learned from the pilot to another level.

Bowser loves airplanes and listening to stories. He works at one and the other is a hobby.