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NASA Dryden Center Director Biography: Kenneth J. Szalai

Kenneth J. Szalai

Former Armstrong Center Director

Kenneth J. Szalai was director of the NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, until July 31, 1998. He was named center director in January 1994 and assumed the position effective March 1, 1994. He retired from NASA at the end of July to join IBP Aerospace Group Inc., as the company’s new president and chief operating officer.

As NASA’s primary installation for flight research for more than half a century, Dryden is chartered to conceive and conduct experimental flight research for integrated flight and propulsion controls; advanced optical sensors and controls; viscous drag reduction; advanced configurations; high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft; remotely piloted vehicle technology; hypersonic vehicle experiments; high-speed research for civil transportation; atmospheric tests of advanced rocket and air breathing propulsion concepts; instrumentation systems; and flight loads predictions. In carrying out this mission, Dryden operates some of the most advanced research aircraft in the nation.

Szalai was director and also held the position of Ames Deputy Director for Dryden from December 1990 until assuming his current position, when Dryden was administratively a part of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

From 1982 until December 1990, Szalai directed the Dryden Research Engineering Division. He served as Associate Director of the Ames Research Center in 1989. Prior to that he was chief of the Division’s Dynamics and Control Branch, and chief of the Flight Control Section.

Szalai began his NASA career at Dryden in 1964 following graduation from the University of Wisconsin, where he attended the Milwaukee and Madison campuses. His Bachelor of Science is in electrical engineering. He also received a Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970.

Early in his NASA career, Szalai was principal investigator on the F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire program, which successfully flew the first aircraft equipped with a digital electronic flight control system without any mechanical reversion capability. Szalai also held research and systems engineering positions on several research aircraft programs investigating flying qualities, integrated flight controls, and fault tolerant-flight critical systems. He was also flight test engineer and principal investigator on the NASA Airborne Simulator before assuming management positions within the Research Engineering Division.

Szalai has authored more than 25 papers and reports and has been a lecturer for the NATO Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development (AGARD). He has served on various technical committees and subcommittees for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Szalai, a Fellow of the AIAA, also served on the National Academy of Science’s “Aeronautics-2000” study.

Among the awards Szalai has received are NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Presidential Meritorious Rank Award.