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Meet Felton Smith


Wind Tunnel Mechanic,
NASA Ames Research Center

Who I Am
I am a wind tunnel mechanic at the 40x80 and 80x120 feet wind tunnels. We put the models of planes, helicopters, etc., into the tunnels and we lift them up for testing. We provide assistance for placing all types of instrumentation to generate data for whatever is required by the customer.

For the Wright flier project, I have had the privilege of moving and setting up the Wright flier on the actual test band for the test that's going to be performed in the wind tunnel. Along with other assistants, I have been assembling and disassembling the different parts and setting them up for the fragile handling. I was the crane lift operator during the actual lift-in of the Wright flier when it was placed in the wind tunnel. I have handled many critical lifts in the past.

My Career Path
I never planned to be exactly where I am today. I kind of fell into it as life went on. First, I went into the military, and I became associated with aircraft, particularly helicopters. I stayed in the military for 10 years. Eight years of that time, I was associated with combat aircraft. After I left the military, I managed to work for the federal government in St. Louis. I got into the inspect and repair program for helicopters, working between Dallas and Ft. Worth. Mainly I was there to make airplanes safer and improved because we were still in the Vietnam war at the time. As time went on I managed to acquire a job here at NASA in 1986. My background made me well qualified for what I do here, although I did have to take some training in the different facets of wind tunnel installation. I also had to learn about the maintenance of the band drive systems that we make the wind with inside the tunnels.

Why I Like My Job
I like the variety of my job. We never just stay on the Wright flier, for instance, but we move on to new things all the time. Over the years, I've learned so many new things, my knowledge is like a growing tree.

Some of the challenges come when management makes a decision when I think there is a better way. I may think that I have a better idea, but at these times, it's important to try to see things from another point of view.

As A Child
I was always fascinated with airplanes. I can remember as a child that there would be planes flying over head, and my dad would tell me that many of them were going off to war. Later, I found a powerful electric fan in a nearby alley. I hooked this up to the foot of my bed, and I thought that this would make the bed fly. I nearly cut my toes off! I certainly never imagined at the time that I would work with fans as huge as the ones at NASA though!

If you're interested in my line of work, I would learn as much as I can about airplanes, helicopters, and flight - even kites and how they fly. Concepts like lift and thrust were interesting to me and important to my work.

In aerospace, the neat thing is that there is always something new to learn about. There are constantly new challenges, and there is no limit to the things to work on.

I make clocks in my free time, believe it or not! Everybody loves them, and I can't make enough of them. I also have a wife and two daughters who are both married and in the computer field.

Future Goals
I would love to make clocks more often after I finish working for NASA.


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