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Don Nolan-Proxmire

Headquarters, Washington, DC August 28, 1996
(Phone: 202/358-1983)

Kirsten Williams
Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
(Phone: 805/258-2662)

RELEASE: 96-174


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

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

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 44-
square 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



designers 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 X-
plane 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 X-
15, 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.


Computerized 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-swept-
wing 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 high-
speed 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 B-
52 "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 cost-
effectively 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.

Dryden 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 result-
oriented. Dryden has always been an independently-minded
place where individual innovation and creative problem-
solving were rewarded and formal procedures and paperwork
were kept to a minimum.



Dryden'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.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Still photography, video and a press kit are
available to support this release. Photos are also available
on the Internet under URL:

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 X-
ECN 506 Lunar Landing Research Vehicle
EC73 3468 F-8 Supercritical Wing research
EC73 3478 F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire research
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
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 propulsion-
controlled 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