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Meet: Dale Satran

High Lift Research,
Ames Research Center

My Journals
Chat Archives

Who I Am, and my Career Journey

I am an aerospace engineer. I have a master's degree in aerospace engineering. I started my career with NASA 19 years ago at NASA Langley in Hampton, Virginia. I worked on low-speed aerodynamics for general aviation and military aircraft in the beginning. For this facility, the aerodynamicists were directly involved with the model design, fabrication, testing and analysis of a configuration. Testing was conducted on a two-shift, basis so I worked swing swift a number of times.

After about 5 years, I was transferred to work on wake vortex alleviation research. Instead of a standard wind tunnel, we used a modified tow tank without any water. The vehicle that pulled the model down the tunnel was a modified car with a high performance engine installed. One of my first assignments was to develop and install a modern data acquisition system in the facility. A laser was used to telemetry the data from the vehicle while the vehicle traveled the length of the tow tank. A 2-D scanning laser velocimeter was used to measure the strength of the vortices generated by the model. The data acquisition system acquired all of the data that was generated for a single run in less than one minute. I had never done a lot of programming before this job started, but the main program was over 10,000 lines of code.

In 1986, I was offered the opportunity to go to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, just days before I started, NASA experience the Challenger disaster. One of my first experiences was attending the memorial service led by Dr. Sally Ride in the National Air and Space Museum. While I was at NASA Headquarters, I was the program manager for the Numerical Aerodynamic Simulator (NAS), Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), and the CFD Validation programs. Working in program management was a very different experience from working in a wind tunnel facility as a researcher. I gained a lot of insight in how NASA’s budget process worked. I also gained a lot of experience with the computational side of NASA since the NAS and CFD programs were entirely computational. It was really neat riding in an elevator with one of the astronauts. Of course, you had to pretend that they were just like anyone else.

In 1989, I moved to NASA Ames in California to be a branch manager for an aerodynamics group. The fifth night at Ames, we had a strong earthquake. Then two months later, I experience the Loma Prieta earthquake. I managed a group of engineers that were working experimentally and computationally on high speed civil transport configurations. The group also studied unusual configurations such as the oblique all-flying wing. I found that the politics of a management position were too stressful and distracting.

The MD-11 test crew - the personnel required for a wind tunnel test (in this case the 4.7% full-span MD-11)

In 1993, I was given the responsibility for guiding the high lift research program at NASA Ames in conjunction with NASA Langley and industry. In addition to this role, I have also been the principal investigator on six wind tunnel tests in the 12-Foot Pressure Wind Tunnel. Our goal is to develop new tools for industry to use in designing high lift systems on commercial transports. The current configuration that we are using to develop these tools is the Boeing 777 aircraft. The models are very complicated and are scaled to match the flight vehicle as closely as possible.

During a wind tunnel test of a model, we measure the forces and moments that the model produces as well as the pressures acting on the wing and fuselage. Flow visualization using oil flows, china clay, mini-tufts, and other techniques are used to provide additional insights into the detailed flow phenomena that are occurring on the model. In this position, I have given up branch management responsibilities for program responsibilities but I am back in the wind tunnel testing models. I have had to travel a fair amount in this position and there has been a lot of working nights in the wind tunnel. I miss seeing my family when this occurs.

A photo of the 7.25% semi-span MD-11 model in the 12-ft wind tunnel

Personal Information

I have a wife and three children ( ages 3, 9, and 11). My children are involved in soccer and 4-H. I have been a soccer coach for the last five years and we have chickens and guinea pigs at home. When I am not working or doing something with my family, I like to spend time in my workshop making things. I have built numerous Christmas gifts and small pieces of furniture. I also enjoy sports. I have played volleyball and gone downhill skiing whenever I can. And even though I am a poor swimmer, I have learned to scuba dive and enjoy diving in the ocean to explore the undersea world. Although I have dived in local waters, my personal preference is to dive in warmer waters. Other recreations for me are playing bridge and computer games.

As a Child
When I was in elementary school, I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut. At that time, there was a very limited path to becoming an astronaut. I read lots of books on space and aircraft. When I decided that being an astronaut was not feasible, I was hooked on aerospace and decided that I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. I built numerous aircraft models as a child. I am currently building and launching rockets with my children.

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