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Dryden management plans today with an eye on tomorrow
Feb. 2005
Projects on the scale of Apollo and the X-15 will be fewer in number in Dryden's future, but new tasks lie ahead in aeronautics. To meet the challenges presented by these new types of work and projects, Dryden has recalibrated its management and procedures to match redefined NASA mission and budget priorities.

Uninhabited air vehicles such as, clockwise from bottom left, the Global Hawk, Pathfinder Plus, Perseus B and Altair, center, could be selected for research leading to routine access to national airspace by high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft. NASA Illustration by Jaimie Baccus Image Right: Uninhabited air vehicles such as, clockwise from bottom left, the Global Hawk, Pathfinder Plus, Perseus B and Altair, center, could be selected for research leading to routine access to national airspace by high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft. NASA Illustration by Jaimie Baccus

Showcasing Center capabilities by partnering with the private sector and other governmental agencies are among the approaches Dryden's leadership will use to carve out the Center's share of new work on the horizon, especially work with uninhabited air vehicles, or UAVs. By maximizing the Center's capabilities and experience gathered during more than three decades, Dryden is positioned well to contribute in these new areas of opportunity.

Particularly during the past two years, Dryden management has sought ways to seek out customers and position the Center to continue making major contributions to NASA and to the country. As Dryden completes its reorganization (aimed at aligning with NASA Headquarters), streamlines operations and becomes more agile in seeking out new business, each Center employee also has new responsibilities.

This new Dryden features a different kind of workforce molded in the image of a managerial model known as a High Performance Organization. In other words, workers tasked in the past only with the technical aspects of their jobs now have an additional responsibility to display leadership and management skills when opportunities require it. In this team environment, each employee should have knowledge of the Center's strategies and project objectives; if an element of project work could be better managed, or an individual sees ways to better achieve strategies, the individual should step up and help. When the situation requires someone to step forward and take a leadership role to see a task completed, the individual should do so.

The bottom line: If you have something to contribute, step forward and contribute.

As the Center's work structure is aligned more closely with that of a business model, we're working to streamline and improve other processes. For example, we're currently working toward a project-approval process through which managers can identify and advocate for new work, the sole caveat being that new projects must mesh with established Center strategy. Another example is the Integrated Financial Management Project, or IFMP, a financial management program consisting of different modules that encompass a range of NASA financial and administrative areas. Through these and similar improvements, all the business systems and tools should be in place to assess the operational efficiency of the Center and its individual units.

The first X-45A technology demonstrator completes its sixth research flight on Dec. 19, 2002. NASA Photo by Jim Ross These new systems and tools will be elements of a sort of "scorecard." The scorecard will use metrics to measure progress against defined strategies, much the way an airplane's instrument panel keeps a pilot apprised of flight progress.

Image Right: The first X-45A technology demonstrator completes its sixth research flight on Dec. 19, 2002. NASA Photo by Jim Ross

On an airplane, a pilot scans instrumentation not only for altitude and airspeed information, but also to see whether a warning light appears. If something is wrong it's important for the pilot to focus attention on that. Flying cross-country in an airplane, the primary functions are communication and navigation; but if, as you're scanning your instruments, you notice oil pressure is down and oil temperature is going up, you might have an indication of an engine problem. Now your focus becomes getting on the ground as soon as possible, and not so much navigating to your destination.

In much the same way, then, the scorecard is intended to measure what's happening at the Center and reflect it in a balanced sense, so if something is getting out of whack, it can be dealt with before it becomes an emergency.

If we're to build upon our rich past, we'll have to use the same kind of creativity and innovative thinking in these new lines of business that are hallmarks of the Center's reputation, as well as becoming more businesslike and improving our value to customers. As we become more successful, we'll find these efforts will likely result in a cluster of meaningful, although perhaps different projects than the Center and the Agency may have considered before.

For example, in the last decade the Center has seen significantly more UAV work than it saw in previous decades. This new reality is changing us because it requires different competencies than those of work with piloted vehicles. One impact is a separate organization within the Center dedicated exclusively to UAVs. UAV work at Dryden has increased from 24 percent in fiscal 2004 to more than double that in the current fiscal year and is expected to increase further, to about 60 percent of the Center's total work budget, by the end of the decade.

Another effort tied directly to Center involvement with UAVs is one aimed at incorporating UAVs routinely and safely into the national airspace. The project, called High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Remotely Operated Aircraft in the National Airspace, is a partnership with industry and Federal Aviation Administration representatives that begins with high-altitude UAVs and will eventually develop technology and recommend procedures for operating UAVs in ways similar to piloted aircraft.

This partnership and many others Dryden is working to create will support civilian and government science missions that could include use of UAVs to study global warming, hurricanes, ozone depletion and the diminishing thickness of Antarctic ice sheets. In fact, where one state or federal agency might be unable to undertake a project alone, the needs of many organizations could be key to funding a larger program benefiting each partner. A single UAV, for example, could be modified to meet the needs of multiple agencies - another area in which Dryden is working to capitalize on its UAV experience.

What's inside an aircraft also could become a focus of Dryden's contributions to areas such as propulsion health monitoring systems, like those researched recently at Dryden using an Air Force C-17 and designed to monitor and diagnose jet engine status. There also is research being done with the F-15 Damage Adaptive Control System, aimed at designing a flight control system capable of compensating for loss of an aircraft's flight control surfaces. Those programs have implications for both civilian and military aircraft.

Additionally, NASA has tasked the Center with assuming a different role in becoming integrators of technology.

In the past, customers came to the Center with a requirement to fly a research aircraft. In Dryden's new role, it's expected we'll see the kinds of technologies required for the aircraft of the future, and will seek partnerships with other NASA centers working with those technologies, putting them together into integrated systems. The aeronautics directorate within NASA is operating differently than in the past as a result of new requirements that technology development be connected to a future flying experiment, either as part of an integrated system on an experimental aircraft or as a flight experiment on a Dryden flight test fixture or testbed.

And as part of ongoing work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force and the Navy, Dryden is seeking a role in the Joint Unmanned Combat Aircraft program, or J-UCAS, after research on the X-45A UAV is complete. Dryden researchers are poised to remain a part of the program aimed at developing a common J-UCAS operating system for the Boeing X-45 and Northrop Grumman X-47.

Dryden also is working with the Exploration Systems mission directorate to review Dryden capabilities that can support the Agency's exploration vision. In the past, Dryden has supported space activities in many ways, among them development of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, Solid Rocket Booster recovery system testing, Orbiter landing chute testing, thermal protection system testing and many other activities.

Realigning Center leadership, streamlining processes and developing partnerships are tools Dryden will use to be successful in a new era in aeronautics now beginning. As in the past, Dryden will be ready for the future and will continue to show why its reputation as NASA's premiere flight research center is well earned. We need the help of everyone at the Center to be successful.

Future "expansion" articles will appear in the X-Press to examine additional details of subjects mentioned in this article, such as Center strategies, the "scorecard" and new business opportunities.

+ View Volume 47, Issue 1, February 2005 Dryden X-Press

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Bob Meyer
Dryden Associate Director of Programs