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Flight Operations Mission and Overview
November 14, 2012

Aircraft fleet on Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility ramp in Palmdale CA -photographed on November 7, 2008. Aerial view of DC-8 and SOFIA 747 in front of Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., on November 7, 2008. (NASA Photo / Carla Thomas). Mission Statement

The Dryden Flight Operations Directorate fabricates, maintains, modifies, and instruments aircraft and flight test articles, ensures their airworthiness/flight readiness, and safely flies them in a precise manner to required test points in order to deliver the highest quality flight research, flight test, or science data to the customer in the most efficient manner possible. The Flight Operations Directorate also manages readiness for launch, on-orbit, landing, recovery, turnaround, and return ferry operations in support of impending Space Shuttle landings at Edwards AFB.


The Flight Operations Directorate manages and provides technical direction for all Dryden flight operations and flight support activities. There are five specialized disciplines that keep Dryden's crew and aircraft functioning safely and efficiently:

  • the Flight Crew Branch, which includes flight scheduling and aviation safety,
  • the Life Support Branch, which includes aircrew training and pressure suit maintenance,
  • the Operations Engineering Branch, which includes configuration control and drawing control,
  • the Maintenance Division, which includes flight line safety and maintenance operations, in addition to four branches: aircraft maintenance, airborne avionics, structural fabrication, and engineering support, and
  • Specialized service to space shuttle and flight operations support.

The sortie rate for the combined NASA/USAF operations is currently up to 20 sorties per hour and 50 to 70 sorties per day. The estimated capacity is 40 sorties per hour and 200 sorties per day, as long as they are evenly distributed throughout the day. Normal field operating hours are Monday through Sunday, 0600 to 2200. The field is closed every 3rd Sunday and on holidays.

Jim Smolka
Director for Flight Operations


Eric Becker
Deputy Director for Flight Operations


Mariaelena A. Nichols
Flight Operations Business Analyst


› Flight Operations Organization Chart

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Page Last Updated: August 20th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator