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Volume 46 | Issue 1 | January 2004


Photo: Rich Christiansen
Rich Christiansen
NASA Photo

Christiansen says course is set

Jay Levine
X-Press Editor

A flight plan developed over several years to steer Dryden through dynamic times is nearly complete as one of its main architects prepares to accept new duties elsewhere.

Rich Christiansen, Dryden's associate director for planning, led efforts in recent years to chart the Center's new business and strategic plan. With the initial effort complete, Center officials expect to begin a journey aimed at illustrating to the wider aerospace world the capabilities and services available at Dryden and solidifying a bedrock of future opportunities.

"Formulating an implementable strategy with measures takes two to three cycles - two years - to come up with something solid, where everyone understands their role and are ready to play complementary roles to move the Center in a common direction," Christiansen said.

"One certainty is that we will continue to serve the Agency and adapt and formulate our plans in line with NASA's strategic plan."

Christiansen has accepted the deputy director post at Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. But the initiative he headed is in capable hands, he says, and although he is leaving, he will continue to work with Dryden in his new role.

In a joint project scheduled for 2005, for example, plans call for Dryden to work with Glenn on the flight demonstration of the Ultra Efficient Engine Technology program. That program is an example of what Christiansen worked to create during his Dryden tenure - the cultivation of partnerships with other NASA centers as well as with other sectors of government and industry.

Another example of Christiansen's success is a joint project with Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., on new aerodynamic efficiency technology, which potentially could begin as early as fiscal year 2005. Several technologies are being considered for flight research at Dryden. Preliminary work is currently underway to determine which two of the three to four major projects will progress to the flight research stage.

In addition, Christiansen noted that Dryden has pitched five potential projects to the U.S. Department of Defense. In light of the country's current focus on domestic security, Christiansen said he anticipates that at least one or two of the ideas will lead to more work for the Center.

As the fruits of Christiansen's labors take flight, they will morph as conditions in the Agency change and evolve. In the meantime, several advocacy efforts have been successful and fit into early plans designed to take the Center to its twin destinations: long-term work to solidify the work force and funding to accomplish it.

The first of these was an effort made in keeping with the One NASA vision, seeking to maximize capabilities among numerous NASA centers. Partnered with Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., Dryden has made strides in intelligent flight controls work, future plans for which involve research with a Dryden F-15 and a C-17 on loan from the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

Dryden's continual leadership in the field of Uninhabited Air Vehicles, or UAVs, constitutes another successful research sortie.

"This is an area where I believe the Center needs to continue its leadership role," Christiansen said.

Dryden is well respected in the UAV community for its research on prototypes and early, groundbreaking flight research projects. That reputation was burnished during the Dryden-led ERAST program for working through airworthiness issues with one-of-a-kind autonomous, or remotely piloted, systems, Christiansen said. Dryden also is becoming more UAV-friendly through its work in systems integration (another aspect of the intelligent flight control systems effort), and through the Center's partnership with the Air Force.

  Dryden also has achieved success with a program centered on remotely operated aircraft (ROA) and high altitude, long endurance (HALE) aircraft. As a result of work with the Federal Aviation Administration, Dryden researchers are involved in a five-year effort with Ames Research Center, NASA Headquarters, the U.S. Department of Defense and industry partners called Access 5 in which FAA regulations will be developed to enable UAVs to fly in the national airspace, one of the last major roadblocks to full-scale commercial development of UAVs.

In fact, the UAV National Industry Team (UNITE), joining Dryden in that effort, is firmly rooted in the ERAST program. UNITE members   (AeroVironment, Aurora Flight Systems, The Boeing Company, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Scaled Composites), despite their competition for UAV business, share a need for a technological breakthrough in regenerative fuel cell technology and a common need to gain certification both for vehicles that will be built or developed and for the rules that will allow them to share national airspace with commercial, piloted aircraft.

One reason NASA leads the effort is the potentially significant role for UAVs in Earth science missions. Both Aerospace Technology and Earth Science enterprises are currently driving the effort that will ultimately result in a vehicle with system capabilities that foster new approaches to collection and monitoring of environmental data in ways that have previously been either impossible or dangerous. Researchers, for example, hope that weather observations will lead to better understanding of hurricane cycles by monitoring them from inception to end. Use of UAVs will facilitate such research safely, without risking loss of life.

UAV technology also could serve as a platform for telecommunications, disaster relief and remote sensing and imaging, and has applications for the U.S. Department of Defense, Christiansen said. And once the platform is readily available, researchers will likely find applications for its use not yet envisioned.

Forging a new flight plan for the Center is one concern that will continue to take precedence in order to reduce turbulence and allow the leadership to pilot a course leading eventually to clear skies.

"A big concern I have is that the Center has isolated itself, with very few forays outside of the Center," Christiansen said. "Where groups have tried to get out and have played roles in assisting new customers and old, the dynamics have changed for the better."

Unlike the days of Dryden's past, in which a slate of cutting-edge research projects crowded the hangars, projects today are much fewer and farther between.

"Things have changed with the 'lead Center' concept gone," he said, referring to a past NASA policy in which centers throughout the Agency were charged with focusing on specialized programs. Dryden was the lead center for flight research. "We have, to some degree, lost some of the skills and knowledge that we had and we've had to go out and hunt for business. In a lot of places you go, people are not aware of what the Center has done in the past - only by running into Dryden people in Dayton and Florida at events there, and other places, did I know of Dryden when I was at Headquarters.

"Plus, there were projects like the X-29 flying at Dryden in the 1980s. But turnover, retirements and workforce reductions have made it necessary to reintroduce Dryden to other Centers and to potential customers. People are amazed and anxious to hear more when we tell them about what we do here. Outreach and connection on a personal level will create more opportunities."