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Meet Bob Jacobsen

Photo of Bob Jacobsen

Director, Airspace Systems Program
NASA-Ames Research Center

"I believe that a fundamental quality of a good manager is also that of being an excellent listener."

Who I Am and What I Do
My job as NASA's Airspace Systems Program Director is to address the following challenges of today's air traffic control system:

• Accommodate projected growth in air traffic including safety as a priority.
• Allow airspace system users more flexibility and efficiency in the use of airports, airspace, and aircraft, while reducing delays.
• Support the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) researching new modes of operation and supporting its commitment to "Free Flight."
• Maintain pace with a continually evolving technical environment.

In order to accomplish these goals, I've worked to establish the Advanced Air Transportation Technology (AATT) Office, identifying the roles and responsibilities between the partners. The AATT project is a multi-year $400 million dollar activity whereby NASA works closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) promoting research aimed at maintaining the highest level of safety, flexibility, and efficiency in the National Air Space System. The AATT project is led by NASA-Ames, with participation by the Langley and Glenn Research Centers.

I also facilitated NASA's transition of the Terminal Area Productivity (TAP) project from Langley to Ames, establishing a roadmap, with clearly defined and measurable milestones and objectives against which to gauge our future success. The TAP project was a multi-year $110 million dollar agency-wide program where Ames and Langley acted as partners with the FAA, providing the research aimed at developing new technologies, which will allow for a 12-15% projected increase in capacity at the Nation's major airports.

[Based partly on "Who's Who in the NASA OAT" where you may find additional up-to-date information on NASA's Aerospace Technology.]

Growing Up
I was born on a farm in the Central Valley in California, the youngest of three. As a child, I grew up loving all things that fly. I went to a local school near Fresno, and helped my parents with the farm. We grew grapes to turn into raisins. In my free time, I enjoyed building and flying model planes and rockets, a hobby I still enjoy. When I was in high school, Sputnik I was launched on October 4, 1957 by the Soviet Union. The world's first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, weighing only 183 pounds, and no larger than a basketball, captured the imagination of many and inspired me and many young people to go on to careers in aerospace.

My father owned a small airplane, war surplus, which after the war wasn't either expensive or hard to come by. As a young child, I remember the joy of flying next to him. This experience no-doubt helped fire my love of flying. So, when the time came, I chose the field of aviation research. My father died when I was 8, and we all had to help our mother with the farm. It was expected that we would live our lives on the family farm, and when I announced my plans to attend the University of California in Berkeley, I did not get much encouragement or support.

But I was determined to pursue my dream. I was admitted to UC Berkeley, where I studied Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Aeronautical Sciences. I obtained a Bachelor of Science in 1965, and a Master's degree in 1967. I then continued to carry out graduate work at UC Berkeley and Stanford.

Career Path
I joined NASA Ames Research Center, located in Moffett Field in July 1967. Moffett Field is located in Mountain View, California, at the very heart of Silicon Valley, which wasn't then as developed as it is now. I joined Ames as an Aerospace Engineer, responsible for research in the areas of flight dynamics, aircraft controls and aircraft handling qualities as applied to Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft.

In 1979, I left Ames and joined Lear Fan, Ltd. where I spent 11 years in the corporate world participating in the development of an all-composite twin-turboprop business aircraft. I worked up to Chief Engineer for this project for its last three years. After five more years of consulting in various aircraft related industries, I returned to NASA-Ames in 1990 as Project Manager for the development of the RASCAL, a NASA/Army rotorcraft in-flight simulator (a research helicopter). In 1995, I assumed the management for the Terminal Area Productivity (TAP) project at Ames. I believe that to be a good manager in a technical field you must have gained the respect of your colleagues for your own technical knowledge and accomplishments. My work in flight dynamics, controls and aircraft systems, prepared me for the management positions I've held since. Some of my work has been published in over seventeen technical papers.

When asked what I like best about my current job, I can honestly say, it is the excitement of being in a position to truly make a difference. I enjoy the interactions with all kinds of people, from the engineers and managers at Ames to high level representatives of the FAA in Washington. I enjoy flying my small private plane from my home in Reno to a local airport near Moffett Field. I also enjoy traveling as a passenger in commercial airplanes. I find this kind of life stimulating and exciting!

The only difficult part has been that work often takes me away from my wife, Jennifer, who I met at age 13. Several years later we married and had two sons. I am grateful to Jennifer for her strength and support of my career goals. As a bonus, being a marriage and family therapist and an intelligent listener, she has over the years helped me to sort out in my own mind the complex situations that invariably arise in managing people. I believe that a fundamental quality of a good manager is also that of being an excellent listener.

My advice to young people thinking of career choices is to not be bashful about your capabilities, and don't feel constrained by what others may think. When you are willing to work hard, the possibilities are endless! In my own experience, there was also an important element outside of my family, my math teacher in high school, Mr. Gravatt. I am grateful to him for his clear explanations of his subject, and for awakening in me an interest in science and engineering. Mentors like him can make the whole difference in a young person's life.

Last Updated: November 29, 2001


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