NASA People

Center Snapshot: Greg Howland
11.06.09
Greg Howland. Image above: Greg Howland prepares a subscale plane for testing at Wallops Flight Facility. NASA/Sean Smith

By:
Denise Lineberry

Greg Howland did some time at a prison as a kindergarten student, as did the rest of his class. They weren’t criminals, but they did attend school at the Caledonia State Prison Farm.

The farm also had a playground and hosted sports tournaments and musical entertainment, along with dances, cookouts and other gatherings. “The prison farm was the place to be,” Howland said as he reflected on his childhood in Halifax County, N.C.

Howland’s father owned a post office building there and he would walk to work each day. It was a rural area, but Howland found a way to thrive in his environment.

Howland worked on a couple of farms in Halifax County. He became a master at fixing things. He learned to solve problems with whatever resources were available.

In his eight years at Langley, Howland has continuously worked on the Airborne Subscale Transport Aircraft Research (AirSTAR) project. He designs subscale flying testbeds in order to conduct experiments in support of NASA’s Aviation Safety Program.

His “MacGyver” techniques now come in handy as a mechanical engineer.

One example is when Howland and the AirSTAR team visited Wallops flight Facility to conduct research flights for the GTM-T2 plane. It broke down in the evening, but Howland used parts from a nearby trailer and from inside a fire station to repair the plane. “We stayed up late, but the plane was ready to go the next morning,” he said.

These skills also come in handy at home. The day his family moved into their new home their septic system backed up. Howland called on the professionals, but two years later, his family faced the same problem. He decided to take matters into his own hands. “I installed a new alternative septic system. I just read up on it and figured it out,” he said.

Turns out -- Howland was the professional.

And to make things easier for his the Aeronautics Systems Engineering Branch (ASEB), he studied online for six weeks and earned a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). That way, his branch didn’t need to hire a truck driver to transport the Mobile Operations Station (MOS) to testing sites. They had Howland.

He has a wide range of talents. He credits that to his curiosity.

In previous jobs, Howland has worked in steel construction, wind tunnel design, contact lens manufacturing, cabinetry, crop dusting, on a tobacco farm and in a chicken processing plant.

He helped to design Waterside Mall in Norfolk and the 12-foot pressure wind tunnel at NASA Ames Research Center.

Howland also restores old cars. “So far, about 15 or 20,” he said. Some recent cars include a ’66 Corvette, a ’69 Camaro and a '70 Pontiac GTO. He has been working on the Corvette the longest, 20 years. His next scheduled update for the Corvette is an “engine swap.”

Sometimes, he takes his cars to local shows, but he chooses not to enter them into competitions. And other times, he chooses to sell them. One of the cars sold on Ebay and was shipped to a man in the Netherlands.

Howland is also helping to recruit others to NASA Langley. He led the son of a friend from church into the technical co-op program. And he hopes that his son will be able to take advantage of a co-op or apprenticeship program at Langley.

In May, he gave away his daughters hand in marriage. Doing so was not too painful for him, since he views marriage in such a positive light. Howland and his wife, Susan, met at Lake Gaston and were married a few years out of college. They have been married for 21 years.

From his childhood in Halifax County to his adulthood in York County, Howland has acquired many talents, extended his family and developed an interesting and certainly, an impressive resume.

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