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August 28, 1996
Kirsten Williams Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA (Phone: 805/258-2662) RELEASE: 96-174 NASA DRYDEN: 50 YEARS OF DISCOVERY THROUGH NASA FLIGHT RESEARCH This September, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, will celebrate a half century of exploration, discovery, and contributions to the nation's aerospace industry. The occasion marks the 50th anniversary of Dryden's founding as a support unit for the X-1 rocket plane supersonic research flights. A place of unique resources and capabilities, Dryden has evolved over the years from a small desert outpost into the nation's premier flight research facility. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the "X-planes," specifically designed as flight research tools to provide data not available from wind tunnels or simulators. The X-plane tradition continues today with the X-36 Tailless Fighter Agility Research Aircraft, scheduled to fly this fall. Dryden History and Contributions The Center's origins date back to September 30, 1946, when a small group of engineers from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' (NACA) Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, VA, arrived in Muroc, CA, to research the so-called "sound barrier" with the X-1, a joint effort with Bell Aircraft and the U.S. Army Air Forces. The remote desert location was picked for several reasons. First, the Mojave Desert offered clear skies and almost unlimited visibility all but a few days a year. The desert landscape and sparse population in the surrounding area also made it an excellent choice for high-speed and classified operations. Moreover, the Army Airfield at Muroc had both a
10,000 foot runway and access to Rogers Dry Lake -- a 44square mile natural landing site that General Albert Boyd called "God's gift to the Air Force." Those resources became even more important as the nation moved rapidly into the supersonic age. These were the heady days of jet and rocket power, where speed and altitude records often stood only until the next flight. However, in an era where aircraft designers were moving so rapidly into new and unknown territory, the NACA station at Muroc provided an essential resource for -more-2designers trying to build aircraft to operate beyond the speed of sound. In an effort to better understand the dynamics of transonic (approaching and immediately surpassing the speed of sound) and supersonic flight, the X-1 was followed by other "X-series" research aircraft. Beyond simply expanding understanding of high speed flight, the early Xplane research offered manufacturers important insights into problems they were encountering with their production aircraft. The adjustable stabilizer on the X-1, for example, was incorporated in the F-86's all-moving horizontal tail, giving it great advantages over MIG fighters during the Korean conflict. And a potentially deadly problem with inertial coupling (a tendency to diverge from the flight path) on North American's F-100 Super Sabre fighter was solved with the help of NACA's X-3 research plane. The open skies, land and resources at Dryden soon proved their usefulness to the space effort, as well. The Mach-6 X15, whose pilots were labeled the first "space men" by the popular press of the day, researched and developed various technologies that were implemented in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. The X-15 also provided the pioneering work on a craft designed to go into space and then return to a horizontal landing on Earth -- a concept that would develop over the next two decades into the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle design also was influenced significantly by lifting body research conducted at Dryden in the 1960s. Lifting bodies were small, tubby, wingless vehicles that proved a craft designed for space flight could be landed safely without power. In addition, the Lunar Landing
Research/Training Vehicles (LLRV/LLTV), or "flying bedsteads," designed and researched at Dryden, became the trainers that taught the Apollo astronauts how to land on the Moon. The payoff came on the very first mission, when Neil Armstrong, who was a research pilot at Dryden before joining the space program, had to land the lunar module manually. The confidence to do that, Armstrong said later, came from his experience flying the Dryden-designed LLTVs. Yet even as the nation was reaching into space and to the Moon, aerospace manufacturers were trying to get improved performance out of conventional aircraft designs, especially as rising fuel prices in the early 1970s made fuel efficiency a much greater industry concern. Dryden provided invaluable assistance in this area by flight researching concepts such as the supercritical wing and winglets -- designs to improve a wing's aerodynamic efficiency that are now used by most airliners and corporate jet aircraft. Dryden also researched military applications of a supercritical wing with the Transonic Aircraft Technology (TACT) program and a variable camber wing concept called the Mission-Adaptive Wing (MAW), both flown on the F-111 aircraft. At the same time, the dawning computer age was opening a new horizon of possibilities in aircraft and engine design that were explored at Dryden. The Center flew the world's first purely digital fly-by-wire aircraft in 1972, for example, transferring both important technology components and a critical level of confidence in the concept to industry. That research contributed to the creation of McDonnell Douglas' F-18 Hornet, General Dynamics' F-16 C/D Falcon fighters, and even aircraft such as Boeing's new 777 digital fly-by-wire airliner. -more-3Computerized flight control systems and new composite materials made more maneuverable aircraft designs possible as well. To provide engineers and designers with more information about this new realm, Dryden conducted extensive flight research with advanced aircraft technology demonstrators, including the remotely controlled Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology vehicle, the forward-sweptwing X-29, and the thrust-vectored X-31.
Dryden researchers also helped manufacturers explore new engine designs and integrated engine and flight control systems made possible by computer technology. The Digital Electronic Engine Control flight research project at Dryden led Pratt & Whitney to commit to a digitally controlled production engine, which since then has been integrated into aircraft ranging from the McDonnell Douglas F-15 to the MD-11 and the Boeing 757. A more advanced concept, integrating digital flight and engine controls, showed the potential of a fighter aircraft having a "self-repairing" control system, in which the aircraft would automatically use engine power to compensate for damage to an engine or flight control surface. After reading about one of several crashes resulting from the loss of flight controls because of hydraulic failures, a Dryden researcher then adapted that integrated flight control and engine concept into a potential Propulsion Controlled Aircraft (PCA) system. A PCA system would provide a pilot with a computerized system to land an aircraft with only engine controls in the event of a catastrophic hydraulic system failure. Although the feat was considered impossible by many engineers, Dryden nevertheless completed successful automatic PCA landings with both a McDonnell Douglas F-15 fighter in 1993 and an MD-11 airliner in 1995. Along the way, Dryden also has proved a valuable support and trouble-shooting resource for a wide variety of commercial and government aerospace efforts. In addition to providing a testing and landing site for the Space Shuttle, for example, Dryden researchers discovered the cause and a cost-effective fix for a potentially dangerous Pilot Induced oscillation problem discovered on the Shuttle orbiter's final test flight before its first space mission. Dryden's highspeed research aircraft have proven capable testbeds for a variety of technologies, ranging from side-control sticks for the F-16 fighter to shuttle thermal protection tiles. Its B52 "mothership" has provided the launch platform to test everything from scale models and F-111 escape pod parachute systems to the commercially developed Pegasus rocket booster, designed to launch small payloads into orbit more costeffectively than traditional rocket systems. Dryden's Convair 990 researched ways to improve the
safety and performance of the Space Shuttle's landing gear, and the center's B-52 tested the drag chute now employed regularly on Shuttle landings. The center also has conducted a variety of research projects to improve safety in civil aviation, ranging from a general assessment of the handling qualities of small aircraft to a study of wake vortices to determine safe separation distances between airline and other traffic at commercial airports. In addition, the center has helped numerous aircraft manufacturers trouble-shoot design problems with production airplanes. The F-89, F-100, F-111, F-14, and F-15, among others, have benefited from Dryden's targeted research efforts. -more-4Dryden Today Much has changed since the initial NACA cadre of 13 engineers and support personnel arrived at Muroc in 1946. Yet in many ways, Dryden researchers today stand in the exact same place as their predecessors of 50 years ago -- still at the leading edge of what NASA understands, working to expand the boundaries into the abyss of the unknown. Technology has made great advances in the past half century. However, the problems have become more complex. Now, instead of simply trying to break through the speed of sound, America needs aircraft that can do that while still being highly maneuverable, "stealthy," or environmentally sensitive. Computers have made aircraft more capable, but they also have created new possibilities for problems. Software is now as critical to aircraft as the spars in their wings. Today, as Dryden faces the start of its second half century, it is continuing the tradition of diversified flight research in support of national goals and efforts. Its F-16XL supersonic laminar flow project aims to develop technology to help make a High Speed Civil Transport more aerodynamically, and therefore cost, efficient. Other projects, such as the F-15 Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles are looking to further improve the performance and maneuverability of aircraft and help industry capitalize on thrust-vectoring engine technology. The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program is attempting to develop remotely controlled aircraft capable of sustained, slow flight at high altitudes to gather currently unavailable
information about our atmosphere. And a Reusable Launch Vehicle research effort using the Lockheed Martin X-33 is exploring technologies designed to make access to space more efficient and economical. People, Partnerships, and "Technical Agility" Over its 50 year history, there have been several factors that have enabled Dryden to successfully accommodate a wide variety of challenges and changes while continuing to play a significant role in advancing the nation's state of the art in aeronautics and aerospace design. Since its inception, Dryden has been a specialty shop, concentrating on the unique discipline of flight research. It is a practical discipline, where researchers from a variety of fields must work as a team, focused on the very real problems posed by an operational aircraft. This daily experience in operating and trouble-shooting research aircraft contributed greatly to Dryden's ability to help manufacturers and other NASA centers solve problems with production aircraft and spacecraft designs. It also has helped create an organizational philosophy and management approach that was very pragmatic, flexible, and resultoriented. Dryden has always been an independently-minded place where individual innovation and creative problemsolving were rewarded and formal procedures and paperwork were kept to a minimum. -more-5Dryden's project-focused team approach and pragmatic, flexible operational style have translated into a capability best described as "technical agility" -- an ability to adjust resources and focus to meet constantly changing priorities and needs. This "technical agility" is, unquestionably, one of Dryden's greatest strengths. It is also the primary reason the Center has been able to accommodate so many different projects and make such a wide variety of contributions to the aeronautics and space communities over the years.
The requirements of flight research also have given Dryden a tradition of partnerships that date back to the first Army Air Force/Bell Aircraft/NACA team organized to conduct the X-1 research. The Center's very location on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base means that it shares resources with the Air Force on a daily basis. In addition, many of the ideas and concepts researched in flight at Dryden originated elsewhere, and partnerships have involved other NASA centers, the military, and numerous commercial manufacturers. These teams not only provide a broad spectrum of expertise and perspective, they also help immensely in transferring the results of the research to organizations that can apply the technology to an operational design. Dryden's Mission -- Today and Tomorrow Much has changed since 1946. NASA has learned a great deal about high speed and high altitude flight. America has gone to the moon, and now NASA flies back and forth from space on a regular basis. Computers have revolutionized aircraft design and made much more capable ground test and simulation possible. Yet for all that, the role of flight research is as critical as it ever was. Computers and simulators can only model what is known. The unknown is always inherently unpredictable. To push the boundaries beyond what is known, to see what lies beyond the current frontier, further exploration is necessary. For the past half century, the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center has been a unique place where flight research could occur; a place where people have been encouraged to question and look for the unexpected; to push, discovery by discovery, the limits of our knowledge and understanding about aeronautics. In the process, Dryden has contributed significantly to the strength and success of the nation's aerospace community. As the United States faces the 21st century with an increasingly global economy and rising foreign competition, the role Dryden plays during its second 50 years will become even more important. -endEDITOR'S NOTE: Still photography, video and a press kit are
available to support this release. Photos are also available on the Internet under URL: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/PhotoServer/photoServer.html
Photos available in support of this release: EC60 6204 X-1 rocket research aircraft EC96 43434-7 X-1E on a pedestal in front of Dryden Headquarters building EC95 43073-6 Williams Phillips' painting, "Mach 2 Dawn," portraying first Mach 2 flight, which NACA pilot Scott Crossfield achieved in the D-558-2 E 17348 X-3 "Flying Stiletto" EC94 42909-1 Artist Stan Stokes' concept of the rocket-powered X-15 EC66 1461 NASA Hangar 4802 in 1966 with lifting bodies (HL 10, M2 F2, M2 F1) F-4, F-5D, F 104, C-47, and X15s ECN 506 Lunar Landing Research Vehicle EC73 3468 F-8 Supercritical Wing research aircraft EC73 3478 F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire research aircraft EC 18899 F-15 equipped with digital electronic engine control ECN 14281 Highly Maneuverable Aircraft Technology research vehicle EC90 224 F-104 engaged in shuttle tile tests EC91 623-7 Perseus remotely piloted research aircraft EC94 42478-4 X-31 performing the Herbst maneuver EC94 42690-7 Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Pegasus launch vehicle under wing of B-52 EC94 42805-1 Propulsion Controlled Aircraft diagram on napkin EC95 43247-4 Milestone landing of propulsioncontrolled MD-11, performing the first transport aircraft landing using only engine power EC95 43273-4 F-15 (ACTIVE) Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles EC96 43493-1 Moonrise over the orbiter Atlantis EC96 43503-9 F/A 18 vertical tails