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Dryden's Partners Pay a Visit:
Palmdale Mayor and City Contingent Visit New Facility
Mayor Jim Ledford and representatives of the City of Palmdale visited the Dryden Operations Aircraft Facility Feb. 19 to learn more about their new NASA neighbors. Center Director Kevin L. Petersen and Deputy Director Steven Schmidt welcomed the Palmdale officials and accompanied them on their tour.

City of Palmdale personnel were instrumental in helping Dryden officials secure a 20-year lease from Los Angeles World Airports, owner of the property on which the new facility is located.

Representatives of the City of Palmdale recently toured Drydens new Aircraft Operations Facility adjacent to Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale. Image right: Representatives of the City of Palmdale recently toured Dryden's new Aircraft Operations Facility adjacent to Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale. The group looks into the open telescope door of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. NASA photo / Tom Tschida.

Establishment of the aircraft operations center at Palmdale provides a permanent home for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. In addition to the SOFIA and the DC-8 flying laboratory that already are housed at the new facility, Dryden's two ER-2 aircraft and the Gulfstream III testbed aircraft are to be there by the end of the year, Schmidt said.

An important aspect of the new facility is its vast open space - 210,000 square feet of hangar space and a like amount of office space. That amount of hangar space is equal to the entire square footage of hangars available at Dryden's facilities at Edwards, Schmidt said. City officials also noted the hangar's immensity.

"The awesome size of the hangar is impressive," Ledford said. "Then when you see something like a 747 and a DC-8 being dwarfed by it, it shows me the potential of this building for meeting Dryden's need for space for these projects and others.

"We've seen B-1Bs. We've seen 'The Terminal,' 'The Flood' and 'The Pirates of the Caribbean' filmed here. We've seen the X-33 being assembled across the way. I think the best is yet to happen."

Palmdale City Councilman Tom Lackey agreed, calling the facility "amazing." "What really impresses me is, these flights for worldwide science are originating from Palmdale. It's eye-opening and inspiring. The technology is coming from here, and the NASA facility is going to be here for the long haul," he said.

Bob Meyer, SOFIA program manager, and Bob Curry, Dryden Science mission director gave the visitors details about the two resident aircraft and the work completed on board each one. Petersen explained that the SOFIA is considered to be an observatory in the same class as the Hubble Space Telescope.

SOFIA Program Manager Bob Meyer, at left, explains details of the flying infrared observatory. Image left: SOFIA Program Manager Bob Meyer, at left, explains details of the flying infrared observatory. From right are Bob Curry, Dryden Science mission directorate; Center Director Kevin L. Petersen; Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford; City of Palmdale Aviation and Aerospace Commission Chairman Vauneld Adams; and Palmdale Councilman Tom Lackey. NASA photo / Tom Tschida.

The SOFIA has distinct advantages for infrared observation, Meyer said, because it flies above water vapor in the atmosphere, which obscures the infrared spectrum, and it is mobile. Mobility is a key feature, allowing the observatory to be deployed anywhere in the world for study of celestial bodies and events not easily studied in detail with Earth-bound or space-based infrared telescopes.

As the group walked around the aircraft and toured its interior, Meyer explained that integration work continues on the SOFIA to prepare the aircraft for its next flight series. The infrared telescope's mirror is being removed so it can be prepared for transport to Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., where it will be coated. As part of routine maintenance to ensure optimum telescope performance, it will be periodically resurfaced. A resurfacing capability will be added at the Palmdale facility in the future, Schmidt said.

Further along the facility's concrete floor, the Palmdale contingent was invited to walk aboard the recently returned DC-8 flying laboratory. Activity was brisk within the facility's walls, where about 100 scientists are beginning to arrive for an upcoming DC-8 mission scheduled to depart from Palmdale for Fairbanks, Alaska, in April. Curry said the international science mission is to comprise 21 science teams that will focus on Arctic climate issues as part of the International Polar Year.

Although Schmidt said significant challenges remain in configuring the facility for Dryden's needs, acquiring it was "a good option," he said, and frees up space at the center's Edwards complex. In addition, the Palmdale facility's location offers conveniences in transportation and lodging for visiting scientists and guests.

"It's challenging, but it's fun," Schmidt said.

The task of preparing the DAOF for Dryden's use essentially has been one of converting and modifying a former production facility into an operational base for science missions. The work included addition of labs, shops and infrastructure. Because the facility had not been used since the departure of the previous tenant, aerospace company SR Technics, work on even the basics was needed - fire systems, power and water -- when Dryden signed the lease with LAWA last October.

Schmidt acknowledged that preparing a facility while the aircraft it houses are preparing for missions did complicate things, but he said the integrated team "is up to the task." There was actually a benefit to the dual task of modifying and upgrading a facility while preparing to run operational missions, he added, because, "It's real, it's tangible and there's a sense of urgency to get it done."

Jay Levine
X-Press Editor
Dryden Flight Research Center