Driving Forces
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Griffin Corpening Griffin Corpening
NASA Photo
Griffin Corpening

Griffin Corpening was Dryden's X-43A chief engineer for flights one and two and senior project advisor for the final flight.

Corpening had worked on the X-43A project since its 1997 inception at Dryden. The opportunity to work on the hypersonic aircraft was a key reason Corpening said he came to NASA. As Dryden's chief engineer on the X-43A, he oversaw technical operations and research objectives for the vehicles. He also coordinated activity with project team counterparts at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., and industry partners ATK-GASL, Orbital Sciences Corp., and The Boeing Company's Phantom Works.

Project engineers' biggest obstacle was figuring out how to separate the research vehicle from the adapter-booster combination while the pair was flying at Mach 7. The engineering feat had never been accomplished and the test bed's irregular shape added to the challenges.

Corpening and the team examined options for the separation and the one that made the most sense was pushing the two vehicles away from each other at the highest possible rate of speed. The X-43A hypersonic vehicles also had unique systems that required testing and integration, presenting yet another set of challenges.

After a first flight failure, all elements of the launch and research vehicles were reexamined. A Mishap Board made recommendations and a return-to-flight plan was developed leading to successful second and third X-43A research flights.

Corpening worked on a number of programs in addition to X-43A at Dryden, but all were related to hypersonic vehicles and their propulsion systems. Among these are the Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment, or LASRE, in which a scale model of an X-33 propulsion system was flight-tested; HYFLITE, a proposed hypersonic flight experiment associated with the National AeroSpace Plane program; and the proposed SR-71 External Burning Experiment.

A. Scott Crossfield A. Scott Crossfield
NASA Photo
A. Scott Crossfield

A. Scott Crossfield tallied the most experimental aircraft rocket flights of any test pilot in history. He joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at the High Speed Flight Research Station (the predecessors to NASA and Dryden) as a research pilot in June 1950. He flew the X-1, X-4, X-5, XF-92A, D-558-I and the D-555-II, which included 87 rocket flights in the X-1 and D-558-II.

He made aeronautical history on Nov. 20, 1953, when he reached Mach 2, or more than 1,320 miles per hour in the D-558-II Skyrocket. Taken aloft in the supersonic, swept-wing research aircraft by a Boeing P2B-1S (the Navy designation of the B-29) mothership, he was dropped clear of the bomber at 32,000 feet and climbed to 72,000 feet before diving to 62,000 feet, where he became the first pilot to fly more than twice the speed of sound. Crossfield left the NACA in 1955 to join North American Aviation as contractor pilot for the X-15. In this role and as a result of his extensive rocket plane experience, he was responsible for many of the operational and safety features incorporated into the X-15 and was intimately involved in the aircraft's design.

He piloted its first free flight in 1959 and subsequently qualified the first two X-15s for flight before North American delivered them to NASA and the U.S. Air Force. He completed 16 captive-carry (mated to the B-52 launch aircraft), one glide and 13 powered flights in the X-15, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 2.97 (1,960 mph) and a maximum altitude of 88,116 feet.

Crossfield also was system director responsible for systems test, reliability engineering and quality assurance for North American Aviation on the Paraglider vehicle, the Apollo Command and Service Module and the Saturn V rocket second stage.

From 1977 until his retirement in 1993, he served as technical consultant to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, advising members on civil aviation. Crossfield died on April 19, 2006, when his private plane crashed near Ranger, Ga.

Joseph D'Agostino Joseph D'Agostino
NASA Photo
Joseph D'Agostino

Joseph D'Agostino retired in 2007 as Dryden's space shuttle manager. In fact, a majority of his work since starting at Dryden in 1976 involved space shuttle operations.

He was a security officer for the approach and landing tests of the space shuttle prototype Enterprise. His tasks included developing and enforcing security in a place where there were no gates, badging was frowned upon and the culture was not suited to following protocol, he recalls. D'Agostino drew from previous experience when overseeing security for an event that included former President Lyndon B. Johnson when President Ronald Reagan attended Columbia's landing at Edwards Air Force Base on July 4, 1982.

His jobs at Dryden have included communications officer, center deputy director, transportation officer, facilities chief, and head of photography, video and security. In his post as communications officer, he wrote the proposal for the first digital phone system at Dryden. The system also was used at other NASA centers. As transportation officer, he was able to replace a fleet of vehicles that averaged 15 years of age with a fleet that averaged about five years in age.

A highlight of his career was moving the first two orbiters from the production site at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, down 10th Street East - now Challenger Way - to Edwards. He also won numerous peer and NASA awards for his space shuttle work. He also assisted with the space shuttle's return to flight following the Columbia accident. That shuttle landed at Dryden. D'Agostino retired in February 2007.

Many of his management philosophies originated with legendary astronaut Deke Slayton, who D'Agostino worked for early in his NASA career. A key component of that is to exercise scenarios about known challenges. "If there are 10 major problems, but you've had a chance to practice eight of them, that means you can spend your best efforts on the two you have to worry about. But every situation is different, and the unexpected always happens," D'Agostino said.

William H. Dana William H. Dana
NASA Photo
William H. Dana

Garnering the most mentions of any nominee is William H. "Bill" Dana, who started work at Dryden on the day the NACA began business as NASA, Oct. 1, 1958.

His most recognized work came as a project pilot on the X-15 research aircraft, which he flew 16 times, reaching a top speed of 3,897 mph and a peak altitude of 307,000 feet (nearly 59 miles).

He also was the pilot on the final (199th) flight of the program. He was awarded his astronaut wings in 2005 for his X-15 altitude flights.

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Dana was a project pilot on the manned lifting body program, in which he flew the M2-F1, the M2-F3 and the HL-10. He also made the last flight in a rocket-powered X-24B.

Dana retired as Dryden's chief engineer following an almost 40-year career. Before his assignment as chief engineer, he was assistant chief of the Flight Operations division, a position he accepted after serving since 1986 as chief pilot.

During his career, Dana also flew the F-100 variable stability research aircraft and the Advanced Fighter Technology Integration F-16 aircraft. He also was the project pilot on the F-15 Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control research program, and co-project pilot on the F-18 High Angle of Attack Research Vehicle.

Dana has been recognized for his involvement in some of the most significant aeronautical programs carried out at Dryden. For his service as a flight research pilot, he received NASA's Distinguished Service Medal in 1997. In 2000, Dryden officials awarded him with the Milton O. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award.

For his contributions to the lifting body program, Dana received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. In 1976 he received the Haley Space Flight Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for his research work on the M2-F3 lifting body control systems.

"Dana is approachable, humble and one of the living legends of Dryden lore," a nominator wrote. "His career behind the stick speaks volumes of the pilot Dana was and he still evokes awe and wonder in us all."