Golden Era of Aeronautics, Part Two
Posted on Nov 30, 2012 10:11:51 AM | Kevin J Rohrer
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
I left off begging a question in my last
blog: despite 60 years of modernity that include six trips to the moon and
back, the advent of the internet, and in the field of medicine things like magnetic
resonance imaging and nano technology, not to mention Voyager leaving our solar system, we are still flying at virtually
the same speed and altitude as did passengers on the first commercial jet
service in 1952. Why? Has aeronautical technology peaked? Is aerospace a
“mature technology” the same way that dirigibles are? Are there no more
questions to ask in this field? Or are we on the cusp of the next golden era of
When the Germans asked General Anthony
McAuliffe to surrender at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, he reportedly said:
“Nuts!” That’s my answer to the rhetorical question I posed.
First of all, there are plenty of
aeronautical questions left to ask and answer, which is why, after more than 60
years, we’re still here at the same desert outpost those 13 people came to in
Here’s some questions: can we make
aircraft fly supersonically—over land—and suppress the shock wave that goes with
it enough so that the noise is acceptable to the people on the ground? Can we
do this and also improve the fuel efficiency of the same aircraft?
Here’s another question: can we actually
reduce the cost of putting a pound of something—anything—into space? It’s run
close to $10,000 per pound since I’ve been alive, and since I’ve been alive the
quest has been to reduce that figure. There have been different plans, and
Dryden has been involved in several of them, and we’re involved in another as I
write this now. This is especially relevant since NASA’s mission has shifted
from delivering goods to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to exploring deep space; now the
delivery job is going to private industry and our job—NASA’s job—is to nurture
industry in this new venture. Finding ways to reduce the cost of access to
space is serious business, not pie-in-the-sky stuff. These are questions that
Meanwhile, we at Dryden haven’t been sitting
still these past 60 years, even if it might seem that way because we’re still
traveling at the same speed as the folks who flew on Yoke Peter. While there are more of us in an airliner fuselage then
ever, the range of the aircraft has increased dramatically and fuel consumption
improved. That’s because the engines have become more efficient. They are also
far quieter than before. If you don’t believe me, go find a Boeing 737-200 and
get close to it when it takes off; when--and if--your hearing comes back we’ll go
find a Boeing 737-800 and compare its takeoff noise level. On top of that, you
can watch the -200 for a long, long time after it flies away because of its
exhaust plume; the current crop of jet engines operate more efficiently and
leave far less pollution in the atmosphere than did the previous generation.
These are improvements most people tend not to notice—they’re qualitative not
quantitative jumps—but NASA has had a hand in all this. Every time passengers
get on an airliner that has winglets they should think two things: better fuel
efficiency and NASA. (Think: Whitcomb and a KC-135 flown here at Dryden)
The seats passengers sit in, the way they
are anchored to the floor, the fabric the seats are made of, the lighting on
the floor that leads to an exit--these things and more are safety features that
NASA Dryden has directly affected but which passengers are completely unaware
of while they sip their sodas at 35,000 feet—they can’t even get snacks anymore—and
don’t think about messing with your electronic device on the runway!! (Remember
the Boeing 720 and the Controlled Impact Demonstration?) Life is better because
of the continued questions we ask here.
There was a brief moment when it looked like
we were all going to fly a bit faster as airline passengers. In 1972 engineers
at Dryden began flying a Vought F-8 Crusader with a new wing on it. Designed by
Richard Whitcomb of NASA Langley, the Supercritical Wing was expected to delay
the onset of pre-Mach buffet and the dramatic jump in drag that accompanies an
aircraft as it approaches Mach. Whitcomb’s radical new wing design did both,
and the airlines were keen on getting planes with the new airfoil so they could
fly faster. It would take a while for the manufacturers to get a plane to the
market—it always does, but the airlines would be ready; and then the first gas
peacetime gas crisis in American history hit (ca. 1974-). After that the
airlines still wanted the supercritical wing—and they got them—but they never
flew any faster then they ever did.
We continue to make incremental improvements
in all classes of aircraft from micro-UAVS through general aviation,
commercial, and high performance. But we still seem to be living in the shadow
of the last golden age of aeronautics development.
So when you look around and say “we aren’t
going any faster,” you could be saying “we are going the same as we did but
doing it so much more cleanly, so much more quietly, so much more efficiently,
so much more safely, at far less risk than ever before, and NASA and Dryden has
had an enormous role in all of this, every step of the way!”
I’ll finish one more question, “What is
going to trigger the next golden era of aeronautics?”
Golden Era of Aeronautics, Part One
Posted on Sep 01, 2012 10:08:35 AM | Kevin J Rohrer
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
On May 2, 1952—virtually 60 years ago—36 people boarded BOAC’s De Havilland Comet DH 106, known as “Yoke Peter” to its crew for last letters of its registration G-ALYP, took their seats and readied for a long journey. These were the first paying passengers of the modern jet age, departing London for a 7,000-mile trip to Johannesburg, South Africa. Powered by four Ghost jet engines (also made by De Havilland) and with a cruise speed listed at about 500 mph, the passengers rode in pressurized comfort. About the only significant difference between that day and now was the legroom and the ratio of passengers to fight attendants. But if we pay too much attention to the similarities we’ll miss what is remarkable about the span of time involved. It’s been 60 years since the first passengers rode on a jet airliner and we’re still flying at the same speeds and the same altitudes.
There was a brief interval during which the wealthy could travel at Mach 2 on the Concorde (slightly faster if they wanted to fly the Soviet Tu-144), but neither airplane was ever a commercial success: both were just items of national prestige.
If it seems as though little has changed in the last 60 years—I said seems—consider how much changed between 1903 and 1952: call it the first 50 years of flight. It was on a wintry day in 1903 that two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, succeeded where no one else had, on the sand dunes of Kill Devil, North Carolina. Wilbur and Orville Wright were hardly the only ones trying to figure out flight at that time; there were quite a few in the US and in Europe, and most were further along than the two brothers. Even worse for the brothers, their competitors seemed to be better educated or better funded, as in the case of Samuel P. Langley of the Smithsonian Institution, or at least further along in the quest.
The brothers made up for this with an intellect that the made their lack of a high school diplomas irrelevant. They learned the value of a wind tunnel by building their own, and they were smart enough to figure out that everyone before them had been wrong about the relationship of lift, wing area, and velocity, to say nothing of airfoils shapes. They had that rarest of talents, what Eugene Ferguson called “engineering in the mind’s eye,” the ability to move back and forth between the abstract and the concrete when trying to solve an engineering problem. They recognized propellers as rotating wings in the process. They understood wing warping and, more importantly, figured out the vertical stabilizer as the solution to adverse yaw, which they encountered on their glider, and they managed to do so largely because of how they mingled the abstract and the concrete. With Charlie Taylor, they put together a 180 pound, 12 horsepower engine with a good enough thrust to weight ratio to fly. It was an ungainly airplane, unstable in all axes, and I’m certain that only the hours of practice with the gliders gave them the skills needed to control the airplane. Then again, the same goes for riding a bicycle: it too, is unstable and takes time to learn how to ride, but you are then rewarded with a contraption that is nimble as can be, as opposed to a four-wheeled wagon. Progress came quickly. Although canard configurations have returned, the Wright’s pursued their original aircraft configuration until 1909, when they added an elevator and larger vertical tails. The 1910 Wright Model B had no canard and engines with 28-42 hp (with a production run of about 100 airplanes).
Their competitors settled into the more conventional wing/rudder/elevator configurations and everywhere advancements in capabilities and performance quickly followed (ditching wing warping in favor of ailerons was a way to control the airplane and try and avoid the Wright’s patent). Aircraft manufacturers proliferated across Europe and the United States. Although we think of this as the era of the biplanes (and triplanes), monoplanes like the Nieuport 2 were being built by 1910! The Loughead Brothers (later Lockheed) formed their first aircraft company in 1912 in Santa Barbara. The first aviation meet in America was held in Los Angeles (Dominguez Hills) January 1910 and airplanes were still so relatively new enough that dirigibles were a huge draw even then.
The speed with which aeronautical technology developed is astonishing and I consider this first decade one of the golden eras of aeronautics. We made big steps from the first ‘practicable’ airplane to modern aircraft. War had much to do with this, as it often does--in this case it was WWI. That war brought the first monococque fuselage, the interrupter gear, vastly improved flight instruments, the first UAV (the Kettering Aerial Torpedo, whose flight was made possible by Lawrence Sperry’s autopilot of 1914), the first all metal aircraft (Junkers J1, J2, and finally, the truly functional J4), just to name a few. The rapidity of the developments and their dramatic appearances likely makes us think war is the prime driver in such changes. But if we look at the bigger picture, this seems to be less the case.
After all, the Wrights achieved flight in a period of peace and were themselves not driven by any war, even if their first customer was the US Army Signal Corps. The first four-engine aircraft, Igor Sikorsky’s Ilya Mourometz appeared in 1914 in Russia, before The War. It was during the interwar years, the period between WWI and WWII, that NASA’s predecessor agency, the NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) developed or assisted in developing some of the most fundamental changes to aeronautics, including retractable landing gear, the variable pitch propeller, deicing boots, engine cowlings, and the world famous NACA airfoils. It was in this same era that the first superchargers were developed to allow piston engines to gain higher altitudes (and speeds), and we saw the first genuine pressurized fuselages. It was in 1928—long before WWII began—that Englishman Frank Whittle conceived of the turbojet, and still before WWII that German Hans von Ohain succeeded in flying the world’s first turbojet, developed independently of Whittle. And while people first paid to travel by air before the War, it was in the interwar years that commercial aviation actually took off, so to speak.
WWII drove more aeronautical developments, of course, one of the subtler ones being the abandonment of seaplanes as the preferred way to carry passengers on long routes. The war resulted in plenty of new runways all over the world as well as an abundance of multi-engine aircraft with long range, making the big seaplanes a dying breed. It also helped that long-range navigation and radar approaches were improved and created, respectively, because of WWII. Piston engine/propeller aircraft had been having trouble with the transonic realm before WWII; figuring out supersonic flight was the next big challenge, and while folks in the Army Air Corps and the NACA expected it to be a big challenge, I don’t think they realized just how big the leap into the unknown would be. Getting to Mach 1 could be done with a turbojet engine, but if you were in a hurry to do it—and the AAF was—you were going to need a rocket plane. Jet engines of the era simply weren’t powerful or reliable enough to do the job-yet. This led to the Bell X-1, two X-1s actually, and the quest for supersonic flight. This was dawn of the golden age of flight research and X-planes, of almost infinite questions and purpose-designed aircraft like the X-3, the X-4, and the X-5.
Change came fast.
In 1961 TWA introduced in-flight movies on its Boeing 707s. By 1964 we had gone Mach 3 in a jet powered aircraft (A-12/SR-71), faster in rocket planes; we’d been to space and back in capsules and a space plane (the X-15), and supersonic flight was routine, at least for the military. In 1970 Boeing introduced first the “jumbo” airliner, the 747, and we’ve been packing in more and more passengers ever since. Yet we’re still flying at virtually the same speed and altitude as those 36 passengers on “Yoke Peter” in 1952. Have things really not changed? Are we in the doldrums, and if so, why?
Aerodynamic Trucks Make Me Smile
Posted on Apr 18, 2012 02:14:55 PM | Kevin J Rohrer
By David McBride
Director, NASA Dryden
Flight Research Center
Over the last several
months, I have read many news stories and web accounts about rising and falling fuel prices
and how some companies are rediscovering efficiencies by making trucks more aerodynamically efficient. These make
me smile as it reminds me of the early aerodynamic truck studies conducted
almost 40 years ago at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air
Force Base. Fuel efficiency in long haul trucks was never much of an issue
until the first peacetime gas crisis, in the early 1970s. In 1973 an
aeronautical engineer at NASA Dryden began musing over ways to cut the
aerodynamic drag of over-the-road trucks. He led a small team of researchers
whose results had an extraordinary, if little recognized, impact.
The center’s first
experiment involved a passenger van modified into a driving laboratory. We
attached an aluminum rectangular box to the vehicle—hence the nickname
Shoebox—and over successive experiments, changed elements of the box.
We rounded the vertical and horizontal corners, sealed the entire
underbody including the wheel wells, and even added a "boat tail" to
the rear of the vehicle, finding out what benefits each had on the overall
aerodynamic drag. Road tests of the Shoebox, with rounded vertical and
horizontal corners front and back, lowered the vehicle's aerodynamic drag by 54
percent. Sealing the van’s underbody and wheel wells reduced drag another 15
percent. Road test showed a mileage increase of between 15 and 25%. Mileage may
vary, of course, depending on conditions and styles, which is why Dryden's
engineers were fond of testing outside of wind tunnels.
Image at right: 1970s van fitted with square corners, top image, and round corners bottom. Tufts of yarn attached to the sides of the van indicate air flow around the vehicle.
Our second experiment was
conducted on a cab-over-engine tractor-trailer, again modified by rounding all
of its front corners and edges. In addition, technicians attached sheet metal
fairings over the cab's roof and sides, reaching as far back as the trailer;
this completely closed the open space between the cab and trailer. While still
looking like a tractor-trailer, it was a radical departure from anything on the
road in the 1970s. Researchers found that in highway driving at 55 miles per
hour, these changes resulted in 20 to 24 percent lower fuel consumption over an
identical but unmodified tractor-trailer they tested against it.
At the time of NASA
Dryden’s research, which extended off-and-on until 1982, the majority of
long-haul tractors were cab-overs. This was because the Federal Aid Highway Act
of 1956 – formally known as the National System of Interstate and Defense
Highways Act – placed a limit on the length on the total vehicle.
Image to the left: As depicted by this 1975 image, sheet metal is attached to a heavy haul truck rounding the front corners of the truck and adding a fairing between the cab and the trailer of the truck.
The Surface Transportation
Assistance Act (1982), which came primarily in response to the impact of the
gas crisis on the trucking industry, required states to permit trucks with
trailers as long as 48 feet on both interstate and intrastate highways, and
effectively ignored the tractor altogether. This small detail of the bill was
responsible for the shift from cab-overs to conventional engine-in-front
tractors, a much more fuel-efficient design because of its shape.
In 1985 Kenworth
introduced the T600, the first tractor manufactured with factory-built fairings
that reflected the empirical research done at NASA Dryden. It is encouraging to
see the continuing improvements to the shapes of both tractors and trailers
today, all of which reflect research conducted at Dryden at the time or
performed at three universities under Dryden’s guidance.
Hence, when you see fairings
that narrow the gap between tractor and trailer, side skirts on the trailer, or
boat tails on the back of trailers, you’re looking at the results, in part, of
NASA and NASA-sponsored empirical research whose benefits have a tangible
impact on our daily lives. It is especially gratifying when I think of the very
real increases in fuel efficiency these trucks have realized, and the benefits
we all derive as a result
Spring Means Unpredictability and Budgets
Posted on Apr 14, 2012 01:27:23 PM | Kevin J Rohrer
By Patrick C. Stoliker
Deputy Director of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center
It’s springtime again at Dryden. You can
tell by the wild fluctuations in weather: cold and dreary, gale force winds, or
sunny and balmy - sometimes all in one
day! The wild flowers start blooming, sometimes spectacularly; but this year
not so much. I was at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, west of
Lancaster, two weeks ago and the poppies were few and far between.
Another principal indicator of springtime is
the leap into the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) cycle
for the Agency's budget. For those not familiar with the process, let me
We start off with PPBE guidance trickling
out of Washington (stamped Draft, of course). This is followed by Strategic
Program Guidance (SPG) – Draft 2. These documents provide the ground rules for
each of the Centers and the Agency Mission Directorates to input their budget
information into various databases. The budget information includes workforce numbers, procurement expenses
and travel. It provides a top-level description of the Agency's activities for
the next five years. Why is this important? Because it helps set the strategic
direction and constraints in which we must complete our research priorities.
This is followed by the Program and Resource
Guidance (PRG) from each Mission Directorate. The PRG is a more detailed
description of the work the Mission Directorates plan to accomplish. We spend
the rest of early spring revising inputs based on project plans, getting
revised instructions, and revising timelines.
In reality this is a critical effort. What are
the staffing and resource requirements for the Center to successfully operate
the SOFIA aircraft for 1,000 hours of science flights? What are the
implementation plans for the Aeronautics Research Directorate and how do we
utilize our workforce to accomplish them? What is the schedule and what are the
appropriate resources to support launch abort system testing for MPCV? Working
with all the organizations at the Center, we will develop our best answers to
these questions, and effectively use the resources to execute these missions.
All the while we are using a very blurry
crystal ball to extend this guidance five years into the future. So these are
the things keeping us busy: building spreadsheets, attending Budget Control
Boards, and chasing shifting time lines every spring.
For me, one of the best parts of spring is
driving onto the Center at sunrise after the time change and Hangar 4802 is lit
up and lined with airplanes. That sight never disappoints me.
Two days ago it started bright and sunny, a
week ago I shoveled a foot of snow off my driveway, and another storm is coming
in this weekend. I’m certain it is going to snow, my apple trees all started
blooming this week…it’s springtime at Dryden again.
With Help From the Angel on the Christmas Tree
Posted on Oct 21, 2011 04:17:49 PM | Kevin J Rohrer
By Joseph Lapierre
Former Dryden Engineer
I worked at Dryden back in the sixties. For a while I was research project engineer on X-15-3. As I was looking through the Dryden Web pages the other day for a way to contact a test pilot, I got distracted by the research aircraft photo gallery. I searched through it to find aircraft I remembered and found a T-33 in the list. When I looked at the cockpit view I noticed a small white ball in the upper right corner of the instrument panel. I was shocked! I remember why that ball was there - because I'm the one who put it there.
Back in 1962, [Dryden engineer] Roger Winblade was touring the country on a hiring tour. He stopped at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, where I was about to graduate. I first found out he was there when a classmate told me Roger wanted to see me in the cafeteria. Roger explained to me he had found out from the dean of the physics department that I had been a pilot and wanted to hire me. He was head of the display section in the research division. He had a problem convincing test pilots to accept heads-up displays. He anticipated that, my being a pilot, I could help him get through to them.
When I arrived at the test center he quickly introduced me to Joe Walker. And Joe quickly let it be known he wasn't too pleased, but he told me, "'See that big guy sitting at that desk over there?' I said, 'yes.' 'Well, he can't fly a straight final [approach] in an F-104 to save his ass.' He told me that if I could come up with something to straighten out his final approaches, then I would be hired. I borrowed the Styrofoam head off of our Christmas tree angel, ran fishing string through it then ran the string through holes in the air-conditioning tubing around the top of the panel and to the back seat. I expected to be able to fly the back seat and work the ball from side to side as the pilot flew the final. Regs being regs, I did have to get checked out in the altitude chamber first.
When the ball was full right, it meant the pilot was flying 5 knots too fast on the approach, and full left meant 5 knots too slow. By the third final, Jack McKay was flying a straight final. I ran up to Joe's office to give him the news, but he already knew because he was watching us from the roof with binoculars.
So, I was hired. I had a great relationship with Joe, Jack, Milt [Thompson] and the others. Fred Haise took me on a F-104 ride. He let me fly through Mach 1 then demonstrated a zero-G profile but overshot the altitude to 66,000 feet - with us wearing only flight coveralls!** I also changed the color of the X-15 panel from black to a pale green - but that's another great story.
**above 50,000 feet, full-pressure suits were ordinarily required
Birds, TEDx, and the Mind's Boxes
Posted on Sep 07, 2011 04:19:02 PM | Kevin J Rohrer
Watch Al's TEDxNASA presentation, "Toward More Bird-Like Flight: Thinking Outside the Box," here.
By Al Bowers
Associate Director for Research
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
It's been a couple of weeks since the TEDxNASA@SiliconValley event now. I've had a little time to decompress and reflect. I have some thoughts to share...
An incredible amount of work was done by the NASA Ames folks putting on their first TEDx event, and the NASA Langley TEDx crew did an equally incredible amount of work in support of the event, helping out and getting everything spooled up. There were a number of NASA Dryden folks helping out as well; many kudos and thanks to everyone who was doing a lot more than pulling their own share.
Image left: Al Bowers takes the stage for his 8 minutes of fame at the recent TEDxNASA event in San Francisco. Image courtesy Michael Porterfield.
Wow, TEDxNASA. What an event. In the lecture/conference world, the TED name (stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design) has huge gravitas. And it is well deserved. Some of the most mind-blowing ideas have been presented in a public forum at TED, and to put all those great ideas together in one place like TED does is simply amazing beyond words. TEDx is the way TED shares their ideas worth spreading with a broader audience. Bravo!
So I knew what TED was before I was asked to be a TEDxNASA speaker. And when the question came up of who should speak for NASA Dryden, the fact that my name got mentioned was a huge compliment and honor. To be honest, I view myself as a pretty regular person. Not very noteworthy, and having little to add to a thought or conversation. But once in a great while, a few times in my life, I've had these glimpses of incredible insight. I could see connections between GREAT ideas from the great thinkers that I've read about, and thought about their ideas. And suddenly I can see how these amazing ideas work in the vision of my mind.
So TEDxNASA was an opportunity to share one of the really big ideas that I was able to grasp. I chose the last paper by Ludwig Prandtl on the spanload of wings. Prandtl was the founding father of the science of aeronautics. His formulas were the first practical tools by which we could calculate lift, induced drag, and spanload - the distribution of load across a wingspan. John Anderson, the great professor of aeronautics and noted historian, speaks of how Prandtl should have won the Nobel Prize for Physics because of his contributions to aeronautics. And I completely agree. Prandtl's last paper on spanload and induced drag has languished, almost completely unnoticed, and would be not even a footnote were it not for two brothers who used his idea to build a few wooden gliders and sailplanes. These two brothers, Reimar and Walter Horten, built some of the most beautiful man-made aircraft to ever fly - pure flying wings. The Hortens had to integrate all the components of flight into a single unit, and eliminate everything that did not contribute to their singular idea. Prandtl's last paper on spanload was the germ of that idea.
Image right: The Horten H VI sailplane, built by Reimar Horten.
Image courtesy Doug Bullard.
Many years ago, I had the great honor to listen to Bob Hoey, the retired Edwards Air Force Base engineer. Bob had been studying the flight of birds. And Bob was talking about the spanload of birds and how, if you got it wrong, nothing worked, but if you got it right, everything worked. Bob didn't know about Prandtl's last paper, or details of the Hortens' work. But I did. And suddenly I connected the dots between them, realizing how Prandtl's idea could solve the three great problems of aircraft in a single integrated solution: maximum performance (that is, minimum drag for maximum efficiency), minimum structure (if you're limited in structure, what is the wing that is optimum?), and controlled coordinated flight (minimizing the added clutter of control surfaces we take for granted). And I could see the connection between Prandtl with his ideas, the Hortens with their sailplanes, and Hoey with his birds, and everything came together.
Graphic at left: The elliptical spanload (dashed line) and the bell spanload (solid line), with the centerline at the left and the wingtip at the right. At the top are the spanloads, and at the bottom are the induced drag curves (note the bell spanload induced drag goes negative at the wingtip).
TEDxNASA gave me only a few minutes to get my idea across. Normally, it takes me a full 40 minutes to develop the background of how we got to where we are (mostly developed by the Wright brothers and Prandtl), but this was unacceptable for TEDxNASA. Enter the person who could distill the entire talk to what it needed to be, Hayley Foster. Hayley is a Langley person, and her job is speech coach. I've never had a speech coach before. Man, was she good, and wow, did I need it! Hayley was not exactly an aero person (she knew some of the jargon and the background), and she could see the germ of the idea I had. And when she edited my first draft, I think there was more red than there was white left on the page! There were seven complete rewrites, and many dozens of edits in there. But it came out. And it fit in the time slot. Hayley is a miracle worker; thank God for her...
TEDxNASA@SiliconValley was in San Francisco, near Moscone Center. It was tagged on the end of the IT Summit, so there was a certain amount of teardown activity for the summit and buildup for TEDxNASA going on. We had our pre-meeting for the speakers, and that was our first walk-through of the venue and familiarization with where the Green Room was, when we needed to be where, the final details on the schedule, and the real indoctrination of what it means to be a TEDx speaker. All the folks doing the prep were running around in these cool black TEDxNASA shirts. All of us speakers were sort of milling around in the middle of this huge hubbub of people running to make things happen. And then, it started.
The first few speakers gave their talks. Things were going pretty well. We had the usual GLITCHes (GLITCH = gremlins living in the computer hardware), but the presentation was moving very well. It was time for me to get ready. Now, I have a confession to make. The worst time for me, for any talk I give, is the last five minutes before I walk out to start talking. I am a total nervous breakdown, train-wreck of stomach-churning, introverted, hands-shaking nerves. I know none of you believe that of me, but it's true. And then I walk out on stage, and I start, and suddenly...the moment flows. I can connect with people; I can open their mind's eye to new ideas, to concepts that are really the secret truths of the universe. For a moment, this frail, failing, human mind of mine can do that with others.
"Assumptions are a fact of life..." I begin to share what I have learned. The boxes our minds live inside of...the flight of birds...the Wrights and their success...Prandtl thinking the great thoughts...explaining induced drag...Horten figuring out the implementation...and my stumbling into the implementation (with help!)...my disbelief of the analysis, and Mike Allen's unwavering belief that it MUST work...how much we could reduce the carbon footprint of aircraft (about 40%). All of this because of the flight of birds. I glanced at the clock twice, right at the last quarter of my talk (1:24 to go), and again just before the summation with 0:24. "When we distill an idea down to its minimum, it is simple and elegant. Prandtl had to rethink his assumptions to find superior solutions. We, too, must rethink our assumptions to solve the problems of today. And I believe this is an idea worth spreading. Thank you."
Wow. It's over. Is it really over? Did I get all my ideas in? Was it okay? Faces are coming up to me to shake my hand and congratulate me. Friends are giving me the thumbs-up, slapping me on the back and saying how great I did. Really? Did I do that? Everyone smiles at me. I sit down again and listen to the other speakers. Ilan Kroo (Stanford professor) comes up, says I need to present the derivation to his graduate students. (Wow! Really?) My wife walks me back to our hotel room. I'm in too much of a daze to do anything; it's a good thing I didn't have to drive.
The days pass. Life returns to "normal." The video is posted now. The talk is not perfect (not by a long shot). But it's good. I'm glad the idea - Prandtl's idea - is being talked about.
Yesterday afternoon I was working out in the yard, clearing some branches. The sun was hot, and the afternoon breeze was blowing. I watched a raven slope, soaring as he flew by. His tip feathers stretched out against the afternoon's azure sky...
Friendly Solano Skies - and Crowds
Posted on Aug 15, 2011 05:21:36 PM | Kevin J Rohrer
By Mark Pestana
NASA Research Pilot
Against a backdrop of blustery winds from the San Francisco Bay area and beautiful, cloudless skies, an estimated daily crowd of 100,000 gathered at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to see the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds put on their trademark spectacular air shows at the “Skies Over Solano” Air Power Expo July 30-31.
Fellow NASA research pilot Hernan Posada and I were invited to represent NASA at the event, near Fairfield, Calif. We flew one of Dryden's Beechcraft B-200 Super King Airs on a route that led us from our home base at Edwards over the snow-covered Sierra Nevada range and into California’s agriculture-rich Sacramento/San Joaquin valleys. Upon arrival Friday afternoon, the ramp was filling with a wide assortment of civilian and military aircraft, classic and current, as we met other pilots and aircrews from around the country.
Our hosts, the 60th Air Mobility Wing, commanded by Col. James Vechery, held an evening BBQ mixer for performers and exhibiters at the wing’s air museum. Along with the terrific welcome – and appropriate safety advisories – Col. Vechery advised us that the proper response to hearing someone mention “Team Travis” was a loud, unanimous cry of “air power!!!” The 60th AMW operates three different types of aircraft: cargo-carrying C-5s and C-17s as well as KC-10 aerial refueling tankers.
Image: Dryden pilots Hernan Posada, left, and Mark Pestana took the
center's Beechcraft B-200 to Travis Air Force Base for a meet-and-greet
with thousands of show-goers, many of whom the pair found were avid NASA
The next two days were filled with awesome exhibitions of aerial skills, ranging from gut-wrenching civilian aerobatics to ear-splitting military aircraft fly-bys. Even the U.S. Air Force Academy Parachute Team managed to maneuver to pinpoint landings in the gusty winds.
Personally, our greatest thrills came from the visiting public, who eagerly greeted us with enthusiasm and excitement over the fact that NASA was there. Initial questions from the public centered mainly on the future of human space exploration. We reminded most that humans are living in space as we speak, and will continue to do so as we expect further developments in space exploration in the coming years. We also mentioned the proliferation of robotic planetary exploration that is continuing. Of course, our primary messages were about that first “A” in NASA, and how we’re heavily engaged in using aircraft for two primary NASA missions: research in aeronautics and in Earth science. In particular, our B200 display board showed how these aircraft are used for vital research, from testing a cave-detection sensor destined for a Mars orbiter to wildfire location missions.
The most rewarding part of all of this was that 100% of the public’s response is that they are diehard NASA fans and want to see more and greater accomplishments in the future. Oh yeah – and handing out those NASA stickers and pins is always a crowd pleaser, too!