Driving Forces
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C. Gordon Fullerton C. Gordon Fullerton
NASA Photo
C. Gordon Fullerton

C. Gordon Fullerton was a Dryden research pilot and a former NASA astronaut before his retirement in January 2008.

He served for 21 years as a research pilot on a number of high-profile projects. Fullerton also served later in his Dryden career as associate director of flight operations and as chief pilot. In addition, Fullerton logged 382 hours in space flight on two space shuttle missions while a member of the NASA astronaut corps from September 1969 until November 1986.

Fullerton was project pilot on the NB-52B aircraft, which included piloting the air launch of the "stack" that contained the Pegasus rocket booster and hypersonic X-43A testbed. He was project pilot on the Propulsion Controlled Aircraft project, in which he successfully landed in separate flights a modified F-15 and an MD-11 transport using only engine thrust modulation for control.

He also served as project pilot for a series of high-speed landing tests of space shuttle landing gear components installed on a modified jetliner.

Fullerton flew aircraft such as the F-111 Mission Adaptive Wing, X-29 vortex flow control and experiments on the F-18 Systems Research Aircraft. He also served as pilot-in-command of NASA's 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft on numerous ferry flights of space shuttles from Edwards to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

During Fullerton's assignment to Johnson Space Center, Houston, he served on the support crews for the Apollo 14, 15, 16 and 17 lunar missions. In 1977, Fullerton was assigned to one of two flight crews that piloted the Enterprise during the Approach and Landing Test program at Dryden. Fullerton was the pilot on the eight-day STS-3 space shuttle orbital flight test mission and commander of the STS-51F Spacelab 2 mission.

He piloted more than 135 different types of aircraft during his Air Force and NASA career, amassing more than 16,000 flight hours.

Fitzhugh L. Fulton Fitzhugh L. Fulton
NASA Photo
Fitzhugh L. Fulton

Fitzhugh L. Fulton was a research pilot and chief test pilot on several Dryden aircraft.

His 20-year Dryden career involved piloting research missions. As a research pilot his duties included planning, briefings, reviewing mission safety requirements, flying the missions, debriefing them and writing a report detailing mission accomplishments. As chief pilot, he supervised research pilots and other crewmembers. He also supervised technicians in the Flight Crew branch.

Fulton was assigned as primary pilot, or one of the primary pilots on aircraft such as the XB-70 high-speed research aircraft, the YF-12/SR-71 aerodynamic research project, the NASA 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft project, and the NASA B-52B aircraft used to air launch the X-15, lifting body aircraft and uninhabited aircraft.

Fulton was the project pilot on all early tests of the 747 SCA used to air launch the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise in the Approach and Landing Tests at Dryden in l977. During these flights, the SCA carried the unpowered Enterprise to an altitude of about 25,000 feet, where it was separated from the 747 and flown to a landing by the Shuttle test crew. Several uncrewed and crewed captive flights preceded the initial free-flights.

For his work in the ALT program, Fulton received NASA's Exceptional Service Medal. He also received the Exceptional Service Medal again in 1983 for flying the 747 SCA during the European tour of Enterprise. After orbital flights began in 1981, Fulton continued to fly the SCA during ferry missions returning Orbiters to the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

He also was the project pilot for the Boeing 707-720 Controlled Impact Demonstration. The aircraft was flown remotely from the ground and used to test a special fuel additive and survivability of the aircraft, which crashed under controlled conditions.

Fulton considers his greatest accomplishment to be more than 18,000 hours of flying during more than 50 years with the Air Force and NASA without having to eject from an aircraft and without a single serious crewmember injury.

Joseph Gera Joseph Gera
NASA Photo
Joseph Gera

Joseph Gera retired from Dryden in 1995 as chief of the Dynamics and Controls Branch and returned to work at the center for Analytical Services and Materials Inc. on the Eclipse and Active Aeroelastic Wing projects. Many of those at Dryden know him best for his work as a flight controls engineer.

Gera began his NASA career at Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., in 1962 and transferred to Dryden in 1979. He worked as flight controls lead on a spin-prevention system for the F-14B Aileron Rudder Interconnect, a joint Dryden/Langley project.

He worked on the Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology project flight controls system as lead engineer during an 18-month exchange assignment at Dryden. Gera returned to Langley and six months later, requested and received a permanent assignment here.

In that assignment, he worked with Ken Szalai on the F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire aircraft. He worked on flight control systems design and was a contributor on both the flight control system and aircraft simulator.

He also was lead engineer on the control system for the X-29 forward-swept-wing aircraft. In addition, Gera was a contributor to the X-31 flight control system. During the X-31 program he was promoted to chief of the Dynamics and Controls Branch. Prior to his retirement in 1995, he also served on the X-31 accident investigation board.

Gera also gained experience as a NASA representative working with international partners. He worked with Saab on the Gripen multi-role fighter for Sweden and assisted the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in evaluation of the Russian Wingship for civilian and military use.

He also assisted European countries in development of the Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role aircraft, independent of his work at NASA.

Kenneth W. Iliff Kenneth W. Iliff
NASA Photo
Kenneth W. Iliff

Kenneth W. Iliff had experience in writing computer programs to simulate the flight behavior of aircraft when he joined the Flight Research Center (now Dryden) in late 1962. To put those skills in perspective, flight data at that time still was recorded on film and measurements were made with a ruler. His skills were immediately put to use on study of the handling qualities of the X-15 and, later, on a heating study and analysis of proposed modifications. Iliff became Dryden's chief scientist in 1994, a position he held until his retirement in 2002.

Iliff also worked on the M2-F1's controls. He applied then state-of-the-art control analysis techniques of Bode plots and root locus and then used the FRC computer to do the calculations. Iliff's work sped up the process and demonstrated the advantages and pitfalls of the different control configurations. He worked on the M2-F2 heavyweight lifting body aircraft, before transferring to the XB-70 program - and also provided support on the HL-10 lifting body aircraft.

Iliff developed a technique to assess data called "maximum likelihood estimator." A revised version called the "modified maximum likelihood estimator" is used worldwide for analysis, test and research flight data.

Iliff also worked on the X-24A, M2-F3 and X-24B lifting body aircraft and participated in early studies of the space shuttle, including computer simulations of the re-entry and landing of various shuttle designs, and was instrumental in assembling the shuttle's Aerodynamic Data Book, a collection of aerodynamic data from wind tunnels and flight tests. The book was used in predicting the shuttle's flight characteristics, and once the shuttle was making orbital flights, Iliff analyzed the re-entry data. In addition, he worked on projects like the X-29 forward swept wing, the F-18 High Angle of Attack program, the F-15 Spin Research Vehicle, and with thrust-vectoring and super maneuverability.

He received NASA's highest scientific honor, the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award in 1976, followed by the Society of Flight Test Engineers Kelly Johnson Award in 1989. He has authored more than 100 technical papers.