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Wright Flyer Data Entry

by Anne Corwin

October 29, 1998

Since July, I have been developing a wind tunnel test planning program in FileMaker Pro-- a database application that allows you to create a graphical interface powered from behind the scenes by instructions, called "scripts". I am nearly done with the actual physical construction of my database-- right now, I am testing it to see if it can accept, store, and organize information in the way it was intended to. Testing my program involves entering the data for an actual wind tunnel test; in this case, I am using the test plan for the Wright Flyer as the source of my information. The test plan contains the objectives of the test ( Why is this model being tested? What are the primary goals of the test? ), descriptions of the model and the materials of which it was constructed, the dimensions of the model (wing span, length, etc. ), and numerous other pieces of information that test personnel will need to have access to in order to configure and run the test.

I must admit, entering test data is turning out to be more difficult than it sounded. It's not just a matter of copying and pasting information from one document to another--the information must first be reorganized, and each portion of data must be placed into the appropriate category. In order for me to be able to do this correctly, I must learn EVERYTHING about the test, right down to the smallest piece of technical jargon. If I don't know what something means, I'll have no idea where to put it! This task has been humbling at times...for instance, in going through the test plan document, I kept encountering the word "canard". I had no idea what one was, except for the fact that the word meant "duck" in French! Being that it was unlikely that the Wright Flyer possessed a duck as part of its hardware, I figured I'd better find out what "canard" really meant in this context. It tuned out to be one of the smaller wings that is attached to a bigger wing...something that helps stabilize and control the direction of the airplane. Pretty basic, but not exactly common knowledge to those who don't work in the aerospace industry (or, as one person from my building put it, those that haven't spent their life building model airplanes! ). Another term with which I was unfamiliar was "actuator"--it sounded like something that activates something else, but I didn't want to make any assumptions. When I asked a co-worker about actuators, I ended up being treated to a full, 10-minute dissertation on model control and signal transmission complete with whiteboard diagrams! That's one of the greatest things about working at NASA; there are people everywhere with volumes and volumes of information in their heads about anything I could possibly want to know about what I'm working on. Asking one simple question can allow you to learn ten times more than you expected to.

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