Meet: George Kidwell
Director for Research and Development Services,
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
Who I Am
The Research and Development (R & D) Services Directorate is a new organization
at Ames that combines wind tunnel operations, research facility engineering
and construction, and model and instrument manufacturing. Previously these
functions were managed in different directorates. My job primarily involves
directing the wind tunnel operations. There are three major national wind
tunnel complexes at Ames, and each involves many skilled people, very
large amounts of electrical power, a lot of high pressure and high speed
air, and the need to run as quickly as possible while still maintaining
safety and data accuracy. Every aircraft built in the United States has
been tested in these wind tunnels, and despite the increased use of computers
to predict aircraft aerodynamics forces during the design process, the
wind tunnel continues to be critical to the development of the aircraft
that actually get built and fly.
My Career Path
My long-time career interest was oceanography, and when I began college
I intended to become an ocean engineer. I attended Virginia Tech, where
the department combined aerospace and ocean engineering. I ultimately
took many more classes dealing with aircraft than with oceanography, and
found myself graduating as an aerospace engineer.
My first job was with the one of the Navy's research
laboratories. I was responsible for developing the design methods and
analyses for advanced seaplane-type aircraft. Later, I was assigned to
NASA Ames for a year to help investigate new concepts for vertical takeoff
aircraft. Fortunately for me, NASA was interested in having me stay and
I've been at Ames ever since! About ten years after joining NASA, I became
the Chief of the Systems Analysis Branch, which is responsible for investigating
aircraft designs and developing faster computer methods for aircraft designers.
It was really the best job an engineer could have. Six years later, I
became Associate Director of Aeronautics, and most recently Deputy Director.
What I Like About My Job
The best part of working for the federal government is performing research
for our country that has the opportunity to make a big difference. Leading
such a large organization as Aeronautics has lots of these opportunities.
And it's great working with such a dedicated team of very smart people
having a tremendous diversity in their technical expertise - from aerodynamicists
to computer scientists to research psychologists, as well as astrophysicists,
astrobiologists, and astronomers in other parts of the Center. Also, I
like being associated with the most advanced aerospace technology in the
world. We have the ability to pursue new and innovative technologies starting
from the ground floor, often that won't be flying for the next 15 to 20
years (if ever).
The only down side to that is that our products more
frequently are knowledge, data, and computer programs, rather than aircraft
or other hardware. Also, I am constantly being challenged to find ways
to get the best research done, and in maintaining continuity in our research
programs, with fewer and fewer people and dollars, although this is is
really no different than what most other managers must face in their organizations.
The Early Years
I was always interested in science and was pretty good at it, and I could
get through the math. I think it was Mrs. Abromowitz, my fourth grade
teacher, who made me an avid reader by forcing us to read a book a week.
Experiences like that can really have a lasting effect. My favorite book
series was Tom Swift. I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. I always loved
building things with blocks, Lincoln Logs, Legos, Erector Sets, and every
other type of building set. I also enjoyed sports, particularly football
My advice to young people, or really anyone for that matter, is that you
don't necessarily need to be the smartest or the most gifted to succeed
- you just have to work very hard to be able to achieve your potential.
I've judged candidates for several scholarships over the years, and have
interview some very bright kids. As a result, I have a certain perspective,
broader than my own experience. Hard work always beats intellect without
the hard work.
I have no plans to leave NASA any sooner than I have to, and in that time,
I intend to continue to strive to strengthen both Ames Research Center
and NASA. I expect to evolve some of our current research programs into
some new areas. But change is both inevitable and good. We will probably
continue to see change in some things we do over the years, but I am hopeful
it will always be for the best.