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NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) became NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). On that day Will

William H. Dana

NASA Pilot

William H. Dana served NASA as a research test pilot and aerospace engineer for almost 40 years prior to his retirement in 1998. During his four decades of distinguished service, Dana conducted flight tests and evaluations on a number of specialized or modified research aircraft at NASA’s Flight Research Center (later named for Hugh L. Dryden and now Armstrong Flight Research Center).

Before retiring in 1998, Dana served as the center’s chief engineer for five years. Prior to that assignment, he was assistant chief of the Flight Operations Division, a position he assumed after serving since 1986 as chief pilot. He returned post-retirement to write monographs documenting several projects for the center’s History Office.

As a research pilot, Dana was involved in some of the most significant aeronautical programs carried out at the center. He was probably best known for his work as a project pilot on the hypersonic X-15 research aircraft. He flew the rocket-powered vehicle 16 times, reaching a top speed of 3,897 mph and a peak altitude of 307,000 feet (nearly 59 miles high), for which he was awarded civilian astronaut wings in 2005. He was the pilot on the 199th and final flight of the 10-year X-15 flight research program.

In the late 1960s and in the 1970s, Dana was a project pilot on the manned lifting body program, which flew several versions of the wingless vehicles and produced data that helped in development of the space shuttles. For his contributions to the lifting body program, Dana received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. In 1976, he received the Haley Space Flight Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for his research work on the M2-F3 lifting body control systems.

Dana flew the F-100 variable stability research aircraft and the F-16 Advanced Fighter Technology Integration aircraft as well as others. He was also a project pilot on the F-15 Highly Integrated Digital Electronic Control (HIDEC) research program and a co-project pilot on the F-18 High Angle-of-Attack research program.

Born in Pasadena, California, on Nov. 3, 1930, Dana received a Bachelor of Science from the U.S. Military Academy in 1952 and served four years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He joined NASA on Oct. 1, 1958, after receiving a Master of Science in aeronautical engineering from the University of Southern California earlier that year.

For his service as a flight research pilot, he received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1997. In 2000, he was awarded the Milton O. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award by the Dryden Flight Research Center.

A member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Dana authored several technical papers.

Dana died on May 6, 2014, at the age of 83 following a lengthy illness.