Meet George Tucker
Research Test Pilot
Who I Am
My "job" as a NASA research test pilot is to provide pilot expertise
to a wide variety of flight and manned simulation projects at Ames Research
Center. Over the years we have had an incredible array of aircraft to
fly and projects to get involved with. In most cases being a research
pilot requires more than just flying the aircraft. More often than not
the project team relies on the research pilot to assist in setting up
the projects in such a way that the experiment has the highest probability
of getting the data that is intended from the simulation or flight experiment.
There are frequent opportunities to work with industry, other government
agencies, and the military, as well as flight research organizations in
other countries. You are also encouraged to propose and lead research
projects that you as a pilot identify as being useful or necessary to
a better understanding of how humans interact with the flying machines
that we choose to build for one purpose or another.
My Career Path
Becoming a NASA research test pilot was truly one of those life events
where I happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the
right credentials, and the willingness to drop what I was doing to make
a change. At the time, I was a Marine Corps helicopter pilot teaching
an aerodynamics class at the Naval Postgraduate School. I visited NASA
Ames Research Center to get material for an aerodynamics course that I
was teaching and ended up with a job offer from the Flight Ops chief at
Ames. It was just too good an opportunity to pass up! In the grand scheme
of things it all unfolded for a single decision to go to the U.S. Naval
Academy when I was graduating from high school. The path was from the
Academy, to the Marine Corps, to flight school, to Viet Nam, to test pilot
school and the Navy's Test Center, and finally to NASA. In today's one
would probably have to follow much the same path, minus the part about
going to war.
Why I Like my Job
The best thing about the job is that you get to work with a lot of great
people, both young and old. Aeronautics has been a part of NASA for a
long, long time, so there are scientists around who have seen several
generations of airplane and technology come and go. The most fun part
is, without a doubt, getting to fly lots of different kinds of aircraft.
Ever so often something really novel pops up and the new project manager
needs someone to go fly something to gain some basic experience to help
start the project. It's great time to be around the office when your boss
gets that call!
As a Child
I grew up having a strong interest in space before there was such a thing
as an U.S. Space Program. The concept of climbing aboard a rocket ship
and traveling to "outer space" was very appealing and resulted in lots
of trips to the library for both fiction and how-to books on rockets and
such. My dad once offered, when I was very young (4-5 year old) that he
and I might get a chance to fly in friend's Piper Cub airplane from a
dirt strip on this fellow's farm. The flight never materialized but the
image of flying in that yellow Piper Cub never faded. I can still recall
it quite vividly!
The best path to a job with NASA as a test pilot or (astronaut, for that
matter) is via a military test pilot school (Navy or Air Force) and at
least one tour of duty as a military "engineering test pilot" (Marine
Corps, Navy, Air Force, Army and the Coast Guard, too). However, to be
considered for test pilot school, one has to have served at least two
tours of duty as a pilot in fleet squadrons and have built up a prerequisite
amount of "operational time". In the military it is your operational background
that provides you with the perspective required to accomplish the engineering
flight test work that your particular branch of the service needs accomplished.
Each new test pilot class is made up of both men and women pilots--equal
My Commanding Officer (Marine Corps helicopter squadron) in country,
in Viet Nam, had attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and served
a tour of duty at the Navy's Flight Test Center. He was a strong proponent
of the flight test career path and pitched it in his Welcome Aboard to
every young pilot checking into his squadron. As luck would have it he
became Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment at the Navy's Test
Center as I was graduating from the same Test Pilot school 5 years later!
His Welcome Aboard was the spark that put me on this very interesting
and rewarding path.
I have been at the flight test game for 25 years now and am nearing the
end of what would be a "normal" career. I'll probably step aside sometime
in the not too distant future and let someone younger and smarter take
my job. (Any takers out there?!!) When that happens I would like to get
more involved in science education in the local grade schools. I have
a daughter in the 4th grade and can see the need for more volunteer help
from outside the school. I enjoy astronomy greatly and joined Project
ASTRO last year to teach astronomy to 4th and 5th graders. My family lives
on the coast where I get a chance to sail and boogie board with my daughter.
We have a house full of pets: two dogs, one cat, one rat and three gold
fish-many mouths to feed!