Meet: Craig Hange
Ames Research Center
Who I Am
I work in the Low-Speed Aerodynamics Branch at NASA Ames as an aerospace
engineer. In the past, our branch served as the research teams for tests
conducted in the National Full-scale Aerodynamics Facility. This is
the 40-by-80 Foot Wind Tunnel, and the 80-by-120 Foot Wind Tunnel, the
largest wind tunnel in the world. We can test large models or even real
aircraft up to the size of a 737 in these tunnels. Lately, our role
has been more diverse, and we have been involved with programs going
on at other facilities at other centers or in industry.
The group I work in has 4 people in it. We are currently
working with the Joint Strike Fighter Program being conducted by the Department
of Defense. The JSF program is looking to produce a fighter-attack aircraft
for three of the branches of the military (Air Force, Navy, Marines) as
a replacement for current fighters like the F-16, F-18, and AV-8B. Our
particular interest at NASA is the Marine aircraft, since it will be able
to take off and land vertically, in a similar manner as the AV-8B Harrier
The four of us have a variety of activities to do
supporting the JSF. We conduct some of the wind tunnel tests here at Ames,
using models of the fighter that use high-pressure air to simulated jet
thrust. Because of the downblast of the jets, the flowfield around the
aircraft becomes very complicated, and causes the aircraft to fly erratically.
(One Harrier pilot has said that it is like balancing a broom handle on
the palm of your hand, and keeping it from falling over.) Our tests measure
the forces acting on the model in the hover and low speed flight regime.
With this data, the aircraft can be re-designed to be more stable.
I am also working on the Wright Flyer Test. The Los
Angeles Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
built and exact replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the first machine to
fly carrying a man. They hope to test it in the 80' x 120' wind tunnel
at Ames and then to use the data they obtain to build a more stable near
replica which can be flown with confidence. The Wright Flyer test is a
little different, because it is more of a "fun" activity. There is no
pressing need (in the sense of national or commercial interest) for the
Wright Flyer data, so we get to step outside of our normal roles a little
bit. For this test, I am putting together the data acquisition system
that will gather and store information into the computer about how the
aircraft flies, and the forces acting on it. I am also looking forward
to comparing this data to some small-scale tests that have been done in
the past, and also to some of the data the Wright Brothers collected for
various wing shapes in their wind tunnel. This test will definitely have
an archeological flavor to it, which is very unusual in the aerospace
My Career Path
I became interested in aerospace engineering when I was about 10 or 11
years old. I had always liked airplanes and spacecraft, and had thoughts
of being a pilot when I was even younger, but this is the age were I realized
I could be involved in actually building one.
I must admitted that I like my job enough that I sometimes have a hard
time distinguishing between what is work, and what is goofing off, or
just having fun. That can be very important if you plan to stay at any
one job for very long.
Because of the severe budget tightening that has
gone on at NASA, we have been forced to scale back activities and research
a lot. Sometimes a program gets cut so much that it doesn't seem like
we're getting good data or results. We also have to do a lot of political
fighting to get our programs noticed and funding. That is something I
really wish I didn't need to do.
As A Child
I built a lot of model airplanes (still do). I read a lot of books about
airplanes and flying. I also read books about World War 2, and how the
airplane was further developed during that time. Learning history is almost
as important as learning the math and science. It allows you to understand
why we build airplanes. (Or why we build anything, for that matter.)
Of course, you'll need to study math and science to get the background
to design and test aircraft, and become an engineer. History is also important,
for the reasons stated earlier. It's also important to learn about, and
understand human behavior and political thinking. Not only is this important
in selling your program to the government, but it is also critical to
getting people to work together to build and test your airplane. It's
like playing football; some players need to block while another carries
the ball. It is a team effort. Playing on a football, baseball or basketball
team helps develop that sense of mutual effort. It can also be accomplished
by working on a big project such as a play or a community service project.
I would also recommend learning a foreign language.
Future efforts in the aerospace industry are probably going to be global
efforts. And if you can speak another language fluently, your boss might
just send you overseas to conduct a test, because he(she) doesn't know
I was fortunate that everyone around me was encouraging and supportive
of my interests. I particularly remember one elderly woman who went to
our church, Mildred James. She collected and cherished books. One Sunday
after church, she came up to me, and gave me a rather large book, and
told me she wanted me to have it. It was called "The Lore of Flight".
She told me that she thought I would enjoy having it, and that I might
find it useful. I did, and still do. It was so nice of her to think of
me, and give me that book.
I'm not sure I can visualize myself doing anything else. I do see more
of involvement in program planning and less in testing. Testing is becoming
more expensive so more up front work is needed to make it more efficient.
For the next few years, I'll still be working the JSF Program. I'm hoping
that I'll get to be involved with the flight testing too. I would like
to get closer to the actual flying, even if it is to watch it from the
ground. I wouldn't mind taking a crack at flight simulation as well.
Archived QuestChats with Craig