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Switching from throttle to paintbrush - NASA Pilot excels at art and flying

Dryden pilot Mark Pestana
Dryden research pilot and artist Mark Pestana. NASA photo by Tony Landis.

Story by Beth Hagenauer
Public Affairs, Dryden Flight Research Center

A NASA pilot's passion as an aviation artist has earned him national recognition. A painting by NASA research pilot and flight engineer Mark Pestana was recently recognized by Aviation Week and Space Technology in the magazine's annual aviation photography and art issue. Pestana's painting "First Flights" earned an honorable mention.

The competition was co-sponsored by the American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA). "First Flights" has been on display at the Hill Air Force Base Museum, Utah, as part of an annual exhibit sponsored by ASAA. The piece was painted for the cover of a book by Jill Rutan-Hoffman. Pestana's painting was composed to highlight some of the stories Rutan-Hoffman collected that convey the experiences of pilots and crewmembers. Proceeds from the book support Looking Skyward, a non-profit organization that provides Space Camp scholarships to underprivileged children. Pestana donated the cover artwork.

He attributes his interest in aviation and space art to his life as an Air Force "brat." His father's Air Force duty as a B-29 gunner and boom operator on tanker aircraft was a strong influence. Pestana was raised around airplanes and his interest in them was reflected in his love of drawing. His mother was an artist so it was only natural when, as a teenager, he began borrowing her paints to create aviation art. He prefers using acrylic on canvas, although some of Pestana's compositions have been painted with oils. His interest in the science of flight, however, moved him to pursue a flying career in the Air Force.

"First Flight" painting
"First Flight" award-winning painting by Pestana

Pestana is currently an Air Force Reserve colonel based at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Pestana subjects also include seascapes, landscapes and scenery from his small mountain community about 45 miles northwest of Edwards Base, Calif.

While employed by NASA at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, Pestana created eight Space Shuttle mission patches. As a flight crew operations engineer in the Astronaut Office, Pestana was approached by Shuttle crewmembers from STS-62, 59, 69, 83, 94, 86, 89 and 93 for help in designing their patches. They can be viewed at:

Pestana's art is also on permanent display at the Pentagon and the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Fla. His painting of the Sputnik I launch hangs in the Space Station Mission Control Center near Moscow. He earned first place in the 1990 U.S. Air Force Artist/Craftsman Competition. He received a Par Excellence Award in the 2001 Experimental Aircraft Association Sport Aviation Art Competition at Oshkosh, Wis.

Pestana is employed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., where he is a flight engineer on the DC-8 flying laboratory for the Airborne Science program. He is a pilot for the Beech King Air 200.