NASA Headquarters Oral
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright & Sandra Johnson
Edwards, California – 13 June 2001
is June 13, 2001. This interview with Sheryll Goecke Powers is being
conducted as part of the NASA Headquarters History Office Herstory
Project. The interview is being conducted at the [NASA] Dryden Flight
Research Center by Rebecca Wright and Sandra Johnson.
Thank you again for taking the time to meet with us to discuss your
experiences while employed with the NASA Flight Research Center in
California, and we'd like to begin today by gathering some background
information about you. Can you share with us where you're originally
I was born and raised in Iowa, the central part of Iowa.
how did your travels bring you here?
went to college at the Iowa State University and they had a co-op
program at that time with Dryden. Well, it wasn't Dryden at that time,
but they had a co-op program with what is now Dryden, and I signed
up for that. Eight of us came out that first year.
were you all females, or were some males and females?
of us were females. Emma and I roomed together. Emma Jaycox and I
roomed together. The guys, some of them roomed together. I'm not sure
how they split up, but they had friends that they stayed with, too.
At the time, I was at the end of the freshman year and there were
three of us who started out in aerospace engineering at Iowa State,
and Emma and I were the ones that came out here. The other girl, and
I don't remember her name at all, dropped out of the aerospace program
the first year and Emma dropped out after we went back.
They always told you, when you had your freshman orientation—I
don't know if you had that or not in yours—but in the freshman
orientation for engineering, we're all sitting there, we're all wide-eyed,
and they say, "Okay, now look to your left and look to your right,"
and we're sort of bobbing our heads back and forth, and they say,
"Now, when you graduate, only one of you is going to be in the
class," and that was about right. So there was about one-third
of the people who started in the freshman year graduated.
you came as part of your co-op program, what year was that?
that time, aerospace engineering, was that a relatively new field?
it was more the aeronautical, but Iowa State had gone for the aerospace
made you interested in that field?
couldn't really decide what I wanted to do, and there was an article
in the Des Moines Register Sunday paper about a woman who'd gone into
engineering, and it sounded interesting and I liked planes. I thought
that would be fun to do, and so that was why I focused on aerospace
this your first time away from Iowa to come to some place as exciting
as the NASA Flight Research Center?
yes. Yes, it was the first time. Three of us flew out together, literally,
in a small—it was Piper Tri-Pacer. Emma knew a guy who was willing
to fly us out, basically for the cost of the gas. So it was myself
and Emma and Jim, whose name escapes me right at the minute. Anyhow,
we all flew out together, and we left from Marshalltown is little
airport and he flew in there.
Not realizing the size of the airplanes, I'd already packed my bags.
I knew they were somewhat weight-restricted, but I figured, well,
I weigh less than they do, so I can pack more than they do. But there
isn't that much room in a Piper Tri-Pacer, so my mother shipped it
out to me on a Greyhound bus.
Jim Cooper was the guy I came out with. He and I were in the back
seat because it was Emma's friend, so she got to ride in the front
seat. We flew into Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Airport. The significance
of that is, I was doing great until that time, so we got off and I
wasn't feeling really good, so I just had 7-Up. I remember that I
had 7-Up to drink. The rest of the flight wasn't pleasant for anybody
else, me included. I didn't feel good, but luckily he had a coffee
can. Poor Jim, he sat in the back seat with me. I'm busy barfing away
in my coffee can, and they're sitting in the front seat. It wasn't
a very pleasant trip for them, either.
you got there.
got there. Of course, my mother, she was—and my father was there,
too. There were tears in their eyes as they watched me take off, especially
in this little tiny airplane. I don't know if you've ever seen a Piper
Tri-Pacer, but they aren't very big.
your parents involved in engineering in any way?
this was a new field for them as well.
My brother had gone to college. He majored in probably something to
do with zoology because he worked for the Conservation Commission.
But no, my mother had gone to college, actually, which was rare for
her age. She was born in 1905. I was the youngest by a lot in the
family. She went to college. She actually went to Iowa State, only
it was Iowa State College at that time, I think, is what it was called
at that time. She only went for two years. She and her sister went,
but her sister didn't want to continue, and my mother didn't want
to go on by herself, and she didn't want to teach. So then she went
to a business college.
My dad didn't graduate from high school. They were farmers and his
father said, "I need you on the field. I don't need you in school,"
so he never graduated from high school, even.
can understand why they had tears in their eyes then, as you fly off
in a plane and then off to a land of California.
yes, because it was the desert. It was going to be warm and really
nice. So I didn't bring any heavy coats. I came out in the end of
May. I started right after Memorial Day. And of course, as you know,
from being here in the desert, it gets pretty hot in the summer, but
the nights get really cool, or they can get really cool, and I wasn't
expecting that. And then the winters get cold as well.
I didn't go back. I was out here for six months at that time, so I
went back in, oh, it would have been right around Christmas. November.
It must have been around November. Yes, it was right around Thanksgiving.
didn't go back the same way you came, though, right?
no. Well, the first time on the co-op program, the first and last
time, you have to pay for your own transportation. The other advantage
of going out with Emma and with Jim was that there was a group of
us, and it turned out we lucked out with the guy because none of us
were old enough to rent a car, so he was able to rent a car and we
got a place to stay before he flew back. We never even thought about
that, but you can't rent a car at nineteen.
I think even till today you can't do that.
right. I think you have to be—
think it's twenty-five.
think so. I think somebody else was talking about that.
you land close by?
yes. We landed at Fox Field [General William J. Fox Airfield]. You'll
see a sign for it when you go back to Lancaster [California].
kind of had a bird's-eye view of where you were going to be.
we stayed in Las Vegas [Nevada]. We made it to Las Vegas the first
day. By the time I got there I was really hungry, and the guy was
really worried because I was eating a lot. I'd lost, kind of barfed
everything out on the plane. And then we flew into Lancaster. It was
dark when we flew in, naturally. It was quite a trip. I think actually
it was worse for the other people. I mean, I was sick, but they had
to listen and watch me, so they had a much worse time of it than I
made it, and your roommate stayed with you.
We roomed together that year.
you in town in Lancaster, or were you out here on—
we were in town. Earlier, they did have places for people to stay
on the base, but by the time, by 1963, they didn't really have any
places on the base that people could stay long term, so Emma and I
stayed in a trailer court. We had our own trailer. We lucked out.
We were right across from the restroom. They had a restroom area there.
Because the woman told us when we rented the trailer, "Don't
flush the stool in your trailer. It's slow-flushing." Oh, okay.
So we never did that.
we were close to where they had the restroom in the trailer court,
so we could just run over there, so that worked out really good.
how did you get back and forth to the Center?
some of the other guys had a car. Actually, probably a couple of them
had cars, so we carpooled with them. There was also a bus, but the
bus didn't go by our street, so we were in the carpool.
us your first impressions of the Center as you came here those first
don't really remember much about that. I think everything was just
so new. The trip and everything had just been so new that—obviously,
it was considerably different than Iowa, as far as the green went,
as far as the humidity went. It was quite a bit different.
The first group I worked with—at that time, the groups were
more in just rooms. We didn't have the individual cubicles. So I went
in this first group and all the desks are really close together because
that's how they got so many people in there. So your desk would face
somebody else's. It was just a lot of different people to meet. It
was a fun time.
They were adding on to the building at that time. The '63 addition
everybody refers to, and of course, they had this sign up, "Keep
Out" so we all checked it out to see what was going on in the
building. But it was a good group of people I worked with then.
a lot of them co-ops or were a lot of them other?
I was the only co-op in our group most of the time. Well, there were
actually two co-ops. He wasn't really in the co-op program. He was
in a different program, so there were two students in there. He was
an older student, actually, too. How many people were there in there?
Well, Al Covington was my immediate supervisor. Then there was Lovic
Thomas and Jack [L] Ehernberger, Dean Webb, Harold Washington, Bob
Barron, Gene Matranga, and Don [R.] Bellman. I think that was most
of them. And then Frank Beverly was the other guy.
So the first year I was here the group was working a lot on what they
called LLRV, the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle. Don Bellman was one
of the big drivers of that. He was pushing that, and they didn't have
a current model of it, so they gave me a pile of sticks—they
had little wooden dowels—and the drawing, and you just cut the
little dowels out and you made a model of it.
So I made a model of the LLRV. You may have seen it on your tour.
I don't know if you did or not. They call it the flying bedstead.
It's a very unusual shape. Don had made the little engine shapes.
I don't think he made the actual engine himself. He may have had somebody
else do it. But he made the little jet rocket things that we glued
on there. It was interesting. I had never built a model before in
my life and here I am getting a pile of sticks and a knife and a bunch
of glue and you put something together.
that was something that would basically go down as a training vehicle
for a monumental time in history.
right. And they had a big box. It was a good-sized model. They had
a big box built for it and they hauled it around to show to people.
They'd actually pull it out and say, "This is how it's going
to work," and the engine would gimbal like it was supposed to
gimbal, and making sure where all the little rockets were. So that
was different. Like I said, I had never built anything like that before.
Never built a model.
that model around still somewhere?
don't know what happened to it. I don't know. It was big. It had a
big box. It was probably about two, at least two feet, maybe three
feet long, and at least a foot wide, maybe eighteen inches wide. The
model itself stood up—how high would that be? About eighteen
inches. So it was a good-sized model. It was too big to really keep
under your desk, and I don't know what happened to it. Nobody can
figure out what happened.
Somebody gave me an earlier version, an earlier model, that was built.
It was much smaller. I don't know where it was, but they found it,
and they knew I'd built one so they brought it to me and I kept it
for a while and I finally gave it to Dill [Hunley – Dryden Flight
Research Center Historian] when they started collecting their historical
models. But mine was bigger. I don't know. I've asked everybody who
was involved with it and they have never been able to figure out what
happened to the model.
that the primary focus then of the group that you were in for the
That's what I remember most about them working on. They also did a
lot of the airspeed work. Terry Larson was also in that group. They
did a lot of the airspeed work and he did a lot of plotting. Most
people don't do the plotting anymore. We'd have dreams about these
little points after a while, we did so much plotting of them. It was
very tedious work, very time-consuming, very meticulous.
Basically, you'd take a sheet of paper and it had many little columns
on it, many rows, and we'd fill it all up with numbers and we'd plot
all those numbers on a piece of paper. So you got really familiar
with your data.
it many days of your time during those weeks?
That and building the model, yes.
you have any expectations of what you would be doing during your co-op
term, or were these something totally different than what you expected?
Well, I suppose the model, because you'd never done that.
don't think I knew what I was going to be doing. I was kind of naive
in that respect. I didn't really have any expectations. I just was
coming out here to work, and I didn't know what was going to be involved
with it. We had only had the first of—you hadn't even gotten
into your aerospace engineering courses the first year, it's just
your general curriculum, where they weed out most of the people. And
then you get into the second year where you start getting into the
courses, so I didn't really have a feel for what was going to be involved.
sounded like you were ready for any surprises that came your way then.
Well, Jim Cooper worked here, but we were the only two co-ops that
came back after college to work at Dryden, of the original eight that
started. The others all went elsewhere.
that the first time that Dryden had had a co-op program as well?
just happened to be your group?
happened to be my group. I think it was the first one with Iowa State.
There were other people out here who had been to Iowa State, and graduated
from Iowa State, but I think it was the first co-op program at Iowa
State. It continued for a few years, but then the co-op program at
Iowa State was canceled because they didn't think that Iowa State
had enough minorities in their school.
glad you got here when you did. You were here for six months, was
that your term, that you said?
There were three, six months, and then the last one you had to go
back for your full senior year of school, so it was only like three
months. I should say, Iowa State dropped out of the co-op program,
too, because they kept cutting down how many they could send, and
pretty soon it got to where the numbers were so small that they couldn't
justify rearranging their schedule for them. But the main reason Iowa
State got out was because NASA didn't feel they had enough minority
too bad. When you went back that November, did you have any thoughts
of staying back in Iowa, or were you looking forward to coming back
I got into the program, so I was looking forward to coming back. I
expected to come back and I was looking forward to it. I'd made friends
you returned, did your duties change?
overall duties remained the same. The projects would change. But basically,
we didn't have the computers yet so you were doing just a lot of hand
labor. Used the slide rules. Not the calculators, mechanical calculators
so much. Of course, when the hand calculators came in, the hand computers
came in, that was a big deal. Everybody had to have one of those.
You could use those a lot, but you still were transcribing everything
on paper because you didn't have anything.
Then when they started getting the printed ones, ones you could actually
print stuff out, that really changed. They started getting to the
mainframes, the big computers. A lot of it, for a long time, until
the personal computers really started to get on the individual's desk,
you still did a lot of hand work. You don't do much of that anymore.
Everybody has their own programs that they run instead.
were some of the first projects that you worked on, other than that?
I worked on that. The LLRV continued on for quite a while, and then
I worked on the B-70, XB-70 and the X-15 were the first ones.
LLRV, the first summer, and you built the model and that was your
group, and then when you returned, were you able to watch the progression
of this vehicle, and could you share some of the evolution of that
the next time I came back, they'd gotten to where they were actually—I
think they had some of it built already so now you had to have your
configuration control and your drawings to keep everybody updated
on that, and I was involved with that at that time. I can't remember
when they started flying it. They may have flown it when I was back
at school the first time. I don't remember that. I don't remember
being involved with the flights on that.
you didn't get to see it fly?
don't remember seeing it fly. I remember seeing it on the videotape,
but I don't remember seeing it fly. The X-15, obviously—well,
you may not be familiar with that, but they were starting their control
rooms at that time. I'm not sure when they actually started the control
rooms, but you could go up and they'd have a few strip charts they
could watch for the X-15 flights. But then when it landed, everybody
would go out either on the roof or on the lake bed so you see it come
in, and that was always fun.
was your part of the X-15? You mentioned that you had worked on that.
worked on the base drag area. I wrote a report about the base drag
on the X-15.
you give us some details of how you collected that data, and how long
it took? Kind of the process of how that came about.
identify—well, actually, you didn't identify points, you just
took whatever points you could get on that one, but the data was all
recorded on film, so you needed to decide what kind of range you needed
for your [pressure measurement instrument] so they could calibrate
it so you'd get the best spread in your data. [What you wanted to
see was the change in your data with changing flight conditions. For
example, you were expecting a pressure change in the range of 0-2
psi. If the range of the instrument measuring the pressure was too
large, say 0-10 psi, than your data line on the film would be insensitive
to small changes in pressure, the resulting data line would be almost
constant and you could only determine gross changes. However, if the
range of your pressure instrument was too small, say 0-1 psi, than
you would lose all the data over 1 psi. The data line would disappear
off the edge of the film when the pressure was greater than 1 and
not reappear until the pressure was again less than 1. The same loss
of data would occur for pressures less than zero if you had assumed
the pressures were positive and they actually included negative as
well as positive values. The chances of negative pressure values were
very likely because the pressures for most experiments were usually
a differential pressure from a reference pressure. In other words,
the difference between the pressure at the chosen location of your
experiment compared to another pressure (referred to as a reference
pressure). Maintaining and measuring a reference pressure also required
skill and expertise. Using a reference pressure meant that you also
needed to have a feel for how this pressure varied during the flight
so you could estimate how the differential pressure would vary from
the reference pressure during the flight. You could usually determine
a good estimate for the required range in differential pressure. The
first flight of your experiment showed how good your estimate was.]
So you'd do that and then they would fly the airplane and it would
be recorded on the film.
They'd get the film back and they'd develop it and then you'd—you
could either have them read all the traces off, or you could read
the traces off, but before they would give it to you, they'd indicate
where the traces were and they'd start the time for you, so you knew
what the time was. So then you could look at the film and you could
read the deflection from your reference line.
Then you go to your calibration sheet, which showed you what that
was in terms of pressure, and then you'd put that value in, so that
would give you the deflection from your reference, and you know what
your reference pressure was, so you could add that on there so then
you could come up with pressure, the information, you had the base
And then you kept track of the times, because when they came out with
their final charts—this is where the airspeed group came in—they
would do a master chart that would plot the altitude, the mach number,
the dynamic pressure. I think they had the angle of attack on there,
probably the angle of sideslip as well.
So then you would take your time, go to the plots, and get the values
from there for your mach number and they had velocity on there as
well, or your dynamic pressure, to use in your calculations to calculate
your base pressure. It was fairly time-consuming. And you got to look
at a lot of little tiny lines, but you got pretty good at estimating
where it was within a square because you could work with your—I
don't even know what they call it anymore [we called it plotting paper,
but I suspect that wasn’t the name on the box]—but the
ones that had the English units on it [main gridlines each half inch,
with 10 lighter gridlines in each half inch, or in other words, 10
by 10 per half inch] because they had bigger squares on it. You went
into metrics [main gridlines each centimeter with 10 lighter gridlines
in each centimeter, or in other words, 10 by 10 per centimeter] and
they had smaller squares.
So depending on how long your plot was, you could either go to the
one that had big squares you could see pretty easy or go into little
squares and you could get longer scales on those. And then you always
could go to the eleven by seventeen sheets of paper in case you couldn't
get it on the eight-and-a-half by ten sheets.
But the plots you were working with for the airspeed were not the
original ones, obviously. They would make what they called ozalid
copies of those, and depending on how good the machine was, sometimes
you had to kind of draw your little scales in because they didn't
always reproduce that well. The ozalid ones are blue and white. You
could make ozalid of copies of the ones you'd made too.
If you wanted to do that, then it was best if you put this orange
paper behind it, so then when you made your lines and your symbols,
you'd have little orange stuff on the back of your paper, then that
made a better copy than when you ran it through the ozalid machine.
So usually you wound up making more than one plot because the first
plot was usually more just looking at the data, making sure it was
good, making sure there wasn't a problem with your sensors. Then you
could come up with your more formal plot, which had the points on
it you wanted that you thought were good points and that you wanted
to do, and then you'd make your orange stuff on the back of it.
You had your little symbol-makers you could make your symbols with.
Some people got really excited about the size of symbols that you
use because that's supposed to indicate how sure you were about your
data points. If they were little symbols, obviously, you were positive
that was where it was. If they were bigger then it might mean, well,
somewhere within that little circle.
The co-ops got tired of making your symbols. They looked like they
were kind of—how would you put it? —the little dots weren't
in the center of the circle. The little circles would be together
like the guy was looking cross-eyed or something.
person who wanted the plot, he didn't think that was very funny because
that wasn't what he wanted. It looked kind of funny on the plot.
there a lot of pressure to get this done in a specific amount of time?
depended on what group you were in. No. Obviously, the airspeed group
was under a lot of pressure because everybody was dependent on their
plots to finish their data, calculate their data, so they had a lot
of pressure on them. On something like the base pressure, there wasn't
near that kind of emphasis on getting it out because it wasn't as
important to continuing anything.
So if it was the first flight of anything, then there was usually
a lot of pressure to get something out because you wanted to see what
the airplane was doing. But after a few flights, then it was more
just filling in the points that you didn't have, and making sure that
your trends were still the same. Especially if you had some points
that were a little funny-looking, you wanted to make sure that you
got repeatable data.
technical report that you mentioned, the information that was contained
in it, was it released before you actually published the report, or
is the report more of a formalized release of your information?
report was a formalized releasing of the information. Anything that
went out before, well, certainly under a lot of pressure, would have
"preliminary" on it. Usually nothing went out of the Center
that didn't have a report attached to it, or it was given as a paper
somewhere. That was usually the only way the data went out of the
about among the working members of the team, were you able to pass
information informally to inform the other team members?
yes. There's a lot of discussion. Yes. Your supervisor would always
check to see what was going on, but you'd keep him informed. But yes,
there would be a lot of discussion among the people.
you part of the discussion groups early on with your career here,
or was there a certain level that you became more and more involved
in that aspect?
it depended on importance, how big the question was. The supervisor
would usually do a lot of the discussions. If the project team got
together, it would depend on what level we wanted to present it at.
If it was going to be just an overview, then often the supervisor
would give it. If they wanted to get down into more detail, then the
people who were actually working on it would often get the information.
So it varied. Kind of like it is now. If you've got somebody coming
in from headquarters, usually it's a supervisor that's going to give
it. If you've got the team getting together to talk about what they're
doing, then it's usually the individuals that give it. It hasn't changed
technical report that you mentioned, is that the first one that you
had published, or when was the first one that you had done?
was XB-70, I believe, was the first one.
you the primary author?
I was second. The supervisor was the first author on that.
you've had several that you've published?
Yes, I have.
some as the primary author on?
lot of them were as the primary author.
you like that aspect of compiling information and releasing it?
it's kind of a closure. You've thought about the experiment, you've
decided what you want to do, you get the information, you compile
it all together, and you report on it. It makes a nice closure of
what you're doing. Although the report writing itself can be kind
of miserable. It's a case of everybody has ideas about how words should
be written down, and if you happen to kind of go along the same path
as the people who are reviewing it, then it's okay. If you get somebody
who doesn't quite think the same way you do, then you wind up doing
a lot of rewriting.
had both experiences?
I've been fairly lucky most of the time. I haven't had to do that
much rewriting. Some people, have had more problems with that. They
just don't happen to think the way somebody else does, and sometimes
you get the controversial reports and they kind of toss it back and
forth. "Well, we don't really want to say this" and the
next guy, "Oh, yes. We do want to talk about this." And
so the poor author gets kind of stuck in the middle about who's going
to do what. But most of the time it goes fairly smooth.
that process changed much since your first days here, to where you
changed in the way you think about writing. Back in the days of the
typewriter, you did handwriting on it. You did a lot of handwriting,
because most of us couldn't type that well. So you were more conscious
about your words. You did a lot of literally cutting and pasting of
the words because you just got tired of rewriting it, and then you'd
give it to somebody else to type, and then they would have to try
and decipher what you'd written, so they could type it.
But then because they just had the plain—as you know, when you
first started out, you just had the plain manual typewriter. I remember
one of the senior guys telling me, "Well, we want to make sure
we change these words that it comes out to the same number of words
on this page, so they don't have to retype the pages after that."
It was that kind of thing.
Actually, when you got the report down close to the final stages,
that's the thing you started think about, because if you had like,
you know, even a ten-page report, if you changed something on the
first page, the reports people were very concerned about how it looked,
that it should look a certain way. So if you took out a paragraph
on the first page, then you'd have to retype the whole report because
it would look really funny to have this—it wouldn't matter if
it was the second page, but the first page would be more significant,
because now you're looking at retyping all the pages. Whereas if it's
the last page, you're just retyping the last page.
And so the senior guy's saying, "Okay, we've got to be sure you
get the same number of words in here so you don't have to retype the
rest of it." And then one of them, he was saying, "You've
got to be careful when you think of the titles. Minimize the words
so they don't have to type so many of these words." It was a
different way of thinking then, because it was just a lot of—it
was labor-intensive to do this, whereas now, when you type on a computer,
you just type whatever you want and then you just drag it all over
the place, and you change your sentences, you change your spelling,
So it's changed the way you think. People don't think as hard about
how they're going to write stuff now because you don't have to. The
same way with programming. With a mainframe, you have your box of
cards, so you run down there and you leave off your box of cards.
Well, you might get, if you were lucky, two or three runs a day because
there were other people coming down with their box of cards to have
a run-through as well.
So when you had an error on your program, you'd come back and you'd
fix that one, but then you'd go through the whole program to see if
there were any mistakes in there because you knew you were only going
to get probably maybe one, and if you were lucky, two more runs that
day, so you did a lot more analyzing at your desk of your program.
Whereas now, you just make the change and run it again. Okay, if there's
another mistake, I'll make another change.
It's a different way of thinking. It's not necessarily better or worse,
it's just a different way of thinking. And that's the same way with
the writing. Everything was so labor-intensive when you were doing
it manually that you thought differently about how you did it.
else has technology changed your job since you first came here?
travel. As you know, we have all these ways of communicating with
people, but there's more travel now. I remember, trips used to be
a big deal. If somebody went on a trip, there was a lot of planning
that went into it. You didn't see them go very often and so when they'd
come back, especially if they went, well, overseas one in particular,
but when they went anywhere, there was a lot of effort that went into
the trip, and now you just kind of, "I'm going on a trip,"
and in two weeks you're gone. So it's just a lot more travel.
Telephones. You used to have like one or two numbers for the whole
office. Now everybody has their phone. That's changed. People didn't
spend much time on the phone because you had everybody else looking
at you, because somebody might be trying to get in touch with them
and somebody might be trying to get in touch with the boss because
they were sitting all close together there, so you didn't spend much
time on the phone. So that's changed. Now everybody has their own
telephone and there's not that worry about it.
Copy machines. Of course, you have to be careful what you copy in
your copy machine, but you'd go down and you'd hand them the sheet.
This was just to make copies. This wasn't doing anything special,
but you had to hand it to somebody to make the copy. And sometimes
you'd get, you know, if you really knew the guys, they'd let you in
and you could run your own copies. You didn't have to wait for them.
But as was then and is now, people tended to copy things that weren't
necessarily—I mean, you probably really didn't need to copy.
But they wouldn't let you do it, and if they caught you then they'd
run you out of the room and they wouldn't let you back in for a while.
But you didn't just go down the hallway and copy anything. When the
Xerox machines came out, that was a big deal. Still you'd hand it
to them and they'd copy it for you, and they'd hand it back to you.
about your actual data processing that you had to do, or your plotting,
the technology that affected some of those tasks?
the film was what you would call an analog system because it was continuous,
so you have to look at the data, you could look at your line on the
film, and you'd have a feel for what's increasing here, what's decreasing
there. You had a really good feel for it. If you'd see a blip on there,
you look and see, well, everything's got a blip here, it's probably
just some weird thing on the plane. We'll just ignore those points.
But then when you went to the computers and the digital systems, you
had so much more data. It was physically not impossible but close
to it to look at it. So then you started putting in the filtering
programs. Well, if the point exceeds this by so and so, we won't consider
that and we'll just skip those. So you got away from your data. You
got more data and you got it at a higher speed, but you weren't as
close to it because there was just too much there. So it was kind
of a mixed field there.
In some respects, you've got more data now than you could ever think
of. I mean, some horrendous amounts of data that you couldn't possibly
look at, but on the other hand, you don't really have a feel for what's
happening as well. You aren't as close to it. Whatever number comes
out of the computer.
And this is the problem with if you aren't familiar with what's supposed
to happen, how the data is supposed to be looking. It's coming out
of the computer and my program, I know, is working right. There's
a tendency to think that, well, it's got to be right. Well, maybe
it is and maybe it isn't, but you don't have as good a feel for it,
especially the younger people.
The older people, a lot of them would still run a few hand calculations
to make sure that everything was okay. And of course, a lot of them,
they just had a feel for it. They'd look at and they could say, "Oh,
that's squirrelly. That's not right. We've got to back and check that
out." So in some respects we know a lot more, but we don't really
know as much either.
you have a situation or were you part of a situation where that happened,
where some computer data came out and you just knew there was something
squirrelly with it and felt like something needed to be checked again?
time I saw points that didn't agree with what I thought or what I
was expecting, yes, I would go back and check them out. And sometimes
it would turn out to be just an electrical blip in a plane or while
the plane was flying, there was just a blip, yes. So I always checked
The other thing is, people do averaging of the numbers. And again,
it's about all you can do when you've got so much data, but it's really
easy to average in values that really aren't the ones you want there.
It makes it more difficult to analyze what you've got, because there's
just so much data out there.
The X-15 flight would last maybe ten minutes at the most, so yes,
you had a lot of points to plot out, but you're only looking at ten
minutes and you could read it—I can't remember how close you
can read it. Probably a tenth [of a second]. I don't know. Well, the
lines, they weren't that far apart, but you had to find that number
of points you could look at. Whereas with the digital stuff, you've
got a lot of stuff there and you just have to be more careful with
what you're saying, it seems like there's such an emphasis on each
person making sure that their work was done so exact because it affected
so many other parts of the project. Well, the X-15, like you mentioned,
was somewhat of an exciting project for you to work on as well. Were
you on that project a while?
while, yes. It was fun to work on that. Again, I hadn't even heard
of an X-15, and then I got here—well, I think I may have heard
of it, but then I discovered there were three of them. I didn't realize.
A lot of the stuff, I really didn't know that much about. I hadn't
followed the aviation like some of the people had. I don't know if
any of our group were that really involved with aviation. We were
just kind of a general interest at that time.
know that you mentioned you were one of few females that arrived here
as part of your co-op program. Were there very many females that were
on the Center, working at the Center, when you arrived, in an engineering
or professional capacity?
Bertha [M.] Ryan was here, and Harriet [J. DeVries Stephenson Smith],
and Elsie [B.] McGowan would have been here. Connie [Eaton Harney],
I think, came a little after the—I don't think she was here
when I first came. Elsie was within a few months, within a year or
so of when I came. Connie was a little bit later than that, so she
wasn't here when I first came.
Beverly [Strickland] Klein was here at that time, I think. No, I don't
think she was. I think she came later, too. But for sure, when I came
it was Bertha and Harriet and Roxanah [Yancey] and Mary Little [Kuhl]
and Katherine, Katherine [H.] Armistead.
Roxanah had a group of people who worked as computers, but that was
not going to be your role. Did people sometimes confuse that?
the computers were off in their own room. By the time I came, they
were all in one room, so there really wasn't any confusion in that
respect. Not really. Co-ops always complain about getting all the
tedious work, but that's about all you can give to them and they expected
co-op program lasted several years, but then, of course, you came
on as full time. Did your role change, and how did it change once
you took the full-time employment?
one you had to be a little bit careful of, and it was the same way
for the boys as the girls, the men and women in the program, because
people tended to remember what you had been, so it was a little bit
of a transition there. Not real hard, but you just had to be aware
of it, that people still remembered you as the co-op, and I can understand
that. As I get older, the years, they go by pretty fast. It's hard
to keep these people straight and equal.
So that was a concern, but everybody had that problem who was a co-op.
You just had to remember that you were no longer the co-op, you were
actually the engineer now.
you work with co-ops then that were part of your group?
Yes, I did.
sure they were somewhat grateful to know that you understood what
they were going through. Sometimes that helps.
it does. Yes, it does help.
you got here, even as a co-op, and for sure as a full-time person,
did you find someone that kind of helped you learn more about the
Center, someone that maybe might have served as your mentor, or just
someone that you could talk with sometimes when you had questions?
were more just friends. I wouldn't say they were really mentors. They
were more just friends I did things with.
atmosphere of Dryden, from what we read, it was more of family, close-knit.
those early days. Did you find that when you arrived as well?
everybody knew everybody. They had a picnic. Most of the people would
go and they all knew each other. They knew their families, they knew
their kids. I noticed that. You'd say, "I'm working for so and
so," and they'd say, "Oh, yes. I know them" or "We
did this together" or something. So yes, it was still that way
at that time.
social activities. You mentioned that you lived in Lancaster and worked
out here. Did people socialize as well after work, other than organized
they did some socializing. They had their softball teams and there
would be quite a few of—the NASA people would be on it. They
also had the basketball teams. That's about the main things. And they
had people who hiked together and they fished together. So there was
some of that.
Hiking was a big thing for the group I was in. The particular people
I was around, they really liked the hiking so they were always talking
about their hiking trips and they'd go on their long hiking trips
and they'd go fishing and they'd do things like that. That was about
all they did.
Bike-riding wasn't really a big thing then. You didn't have the ten-speeds
yet so that wasn't as big a thing. Some of them had motorcycles, but
usually they rode by themselves. They didn't really have those groups
yet. There were some activities but you were pretty much on your own.
You made your own friends and did your own things. It wasn't a formal
activity type thing.
often did your projects change? You mentioned you were on the X-15
for a while. Did you get other ones as you were on the X-15, or were
you finished with one and they moved you to another?
tended to finish a project at that time and gradually, maybe you would
be phasing in as the other was phasing out, but you tended to be more
one project, unless you were in like the airspeed group because then
they would do the airspeed for all the projects, so if you were in
a group that was a discipline function, then you would likely be on
more than one. But there were enough people in the group that usually
you just wound up working on one. They might be working on something
different, but you would usually be working on the one project, primarily.
what group were you—
was in the vehicle aerodynamics group. That was its name at one time.
Like now, the names keep changing but that was the name for a while.
after the X-15, where did you move to?
see, where did I go to then? That would have been the SR-71. I worked
on that. That was fun.
us about that. Why was that one fun?
it was a relatively new airplane at that time, and of course it was
secret. This got everybody all excited. We've got a secret project.
So everybody always enjoyed that. And it's just a nice-looking airplane.
It's a really slick—I don't know what expression I want to use,
but it's a very exciting airplane to look at. It looks like it can
go fast, and it could, so that was—it was exciting to work on
something like that. It was new, relatively new. It was called the
YF-12 at that time, because it was a prototype. So that's what made
The XB-70 was interesting, but it was kind of a big lumbering-looking
airplane. It wasn't nearly as trim and sleek-looking as the SR-71s
are. Well, you've probably seen an SR-71. They're a pretty slick-looking
airplane. And YF-12s looked just like them, basically.
your duties and responsibilities while you were on that project stay
the same, or did they change?
stayed somewhat the same. You had more responsibility or worked more
independently. The supervisor knew that you could handle it so they
didn't follow you as close. It was more just checking up to see how
things were going than what you actually were doing, so that worked
out pretty good.
it more and more of a one-on-one tag-up with your supervisors?
they have team meetings of everyone within your group to trade information,
or did you need to know what other people in your group were doing?
usually. They were usually on a different project, so you didn't really
need to know. If anything came up you thought was important that everybody
should know about, then you'd share that, but most of the time you
didn't. Some of the groups, I didn't wind up in one of those, you'd
actually be the whole project. They had a YF-12 project office, but
the people in our group didn't actually sit in that office. We were
more of the piggy-back experiments, and so we didn't sit in with them.
They were more the primary experiments. The piggy-back experiment,
you didn't have to come up with as much money because, after all,
I'm going along for the ride, so I don't have to pay for as much.
And so our office tended to do more of that at that time.
were you located physically on the Center, what building?
4800 was the only building. Well, no, they had the heat facility.
What is it called now? Something else. Structures Thermal Lab or something
or other now. They'd call it the heat facility and everybody referred
to it as heat facility. Of course, I thought, being from Iowa, that
it was the building that generated all the heat that was sent around.
It took me a while to figure out that that wasn't really what they
meant by the heat facility. But that was my first—when they
said "heat," I thought, "Oh, yeah, I know what a heat
facility is. We've got one of those up at school."
So there were the two primary buildings then, the heat facility and
4800, with the hangars on each side. The hangars were there. All the
other stuff came. We had the '63 addition. They even built the ISF
[Integrated Support Facility]. They've added a lot of buildings on
you were working on the X-15 and the SR-71, did you have any idea
what—because you mentioned that it was secret, so did you have
any idea what other people were working on? I mean, did you know about
the other projects that were going on at the Center at the time?
they weren't secret, you would know what they were working on. If
they were secret, you'd have speculation about what they were working
on. You might not know exactly what they were doing, but you could
figure out, oh, they're working on that. Usually you had an idea at
least what the plane was. You may not know what they were doing but
you would try to figure out. You'd listen closely to see what they
said. Same way it is now. If somebody knows something you don't know,
you try and figure out what they're doing.
it was kind of a unique time for the country, because it was the Cold
War time, but yet we were starting to get so much involved with the
human space flight area, and the projects seemed to be somewhat diverse.
should add that even though you wanted to know what everybody else
was working on, you didn't really care to know too much because then
you didn't have to worry about slipping and letting it out. We weren't
involved with the space stuff as much. The lifting bodies came along,
but that was—I wasn't involved with those very much at all.
Other people worked on those.
The first one was, a lot of it was an in-house effort. It was about
that time that—the lifting bodies were going is about the time
that Bertha [M. Ryan] left, and part of the reason—Paul [F.]
Bickle was the Center director at that time, but he didn't—you
know, women were okay, but you couldn't really trust them. I shouldn't
really say he said that but he didn't give them positions of authority,
and his secretary didn't have much authority, like the secretaries
you would expect for a Center director's secretary to have.
She didn't have that kind of authority. She kept his schedule, she
answered his phones, and relayed the messages. Whereas a lot of the
secretaries now, you know, they have a little more authority than
that. So he wasn't really sure he wanted women in these positions
that required authority and responsibility. [His attitude about women
in positions of authority began changing when his daughter entered
the workforce. That was a year or two before he retired.]
you see that change through the years since you've been here?
Yes, it's changed. It's more now that for the women, you know, true
equality, I read it somewhere and I don't know who I read it from,
but true equality is when the people of equal ability get to have
the same chance for the job. And for women and I suspect for a lot
of minorities, it's not equal ability. You have to be vastly superior
before you can be considered for the job, and there's still a lot
of that. It's not equal ability, so you have to be more capable than
your competition. If you're equally capable, then chances are you're
not going to get it.
you had opportunities for advancement since you've been here. Surely,
hopefully, they don't still see you as the co-op?
they don't see me as the co-op. Yes, I've had some opportunities.
Most of the women that have advanced, it helps if you're more aggressive.
You don't have to be but it helps a lot.
still mainly men at Dryden, or are the numbers starting to shift to
where there are more women?
still mainly men. There's a few women, but it's still primarily men.
The women who are at the, what would be considered more the senior
management level, are definitely more aggressive than a lot of women
are. It's not to say there's anything bad about it, their personalities
are just much more aggressive than most of the other women are.
about the engineering field? Do you have more colleagues that are
females now than you've had before, or do you see that number increasing?
more. I haven't worked in that area for a while. Right now I'm in
the—well, you probably don't know I'm in the management systems
support office. I've been helping the Center get certified for ISO
[International Organization for Standardization], so I've been a little
out of the engineering field as such. But there are more women. I
see more of them. I see some of them leaving as well. They're quicker
to leave, I think, than they used to be, or maybe they're leaving
about the same rate. I'm not sure.
They look at it and they see what's happening and they say, "Well,
it's not the best place for me to be here. Maybe I might as well move
on to another spot." And I expect to see some more of them leaving,
the younger ones, because a lot of the people in the branch-level
management now are getting to be—well, they're younger. Like
younger, they're probably in their forties.
But they're at the age where, if you're coming up, you're looking
at these people and you realize, they're going to be here a long time,
and if I want to advance in any of these positions, I need to do some
serious thinking because it's not likely these people are going to
change. So I expect to see some of the women leaving.
you've been here long enough to know that the turnover route is such—does
the turnover affect the projects, because of the way that the teams
work together, or is it sometimes good to have new people coming in?
with new people coming in you have the new ideas, the fresh perspectives.
That's always good. You're losing some of the memories, some of the
corporate memories, and what was done. I think all of NASA right now
is in a state of turmoil as to what's going to be happening, and it's
reflected here in Dryden now. There's a lot of unease.
We're unsure what is really going to be happening, what kind of projects
are going to be worked on, and what's going happen. We don't really
have a flying project as such right now, so the people who are interested
in working on airplanes, they're looking at this and they realize
that if you actually want to work on an airplane that's flying, you
have to do some hard thinking because it's not clear what's going
to be happening here, which way we're going to go.
And that's just part of—that's all of NASA right now. NASA's
having a big problem right now about what they're going to do with
getting the funds for the [International] Space Station, what's going
to be cut, what isn't going to be cut. I know Kennedy [Space Center]
and JSC [Johnson Space Center] have been going through more turmoil,
I think, than Dryden even. The flight programs are getting few and
far between because the money is going towards the space side, and
so if the people want to be involved with a flight program, they've
got to think about it.
valuable is a corporate memory when you're working on flight testing
and flight analysis? You know, the years that you've been here and
you mentioned that long ago, that some of the people that have been
here know what to look for, and if you could share some of the information
or share just your feelings on how valuable it is to have that memory
to build on and to share.
goes both ways. Certainly when you have the corporate memory, people
who are really good at it can look at a shape or at a particular design
and say, "This is what I expect is going to happen. This is what
we have to worry about." The down side to the corporate memory
is that, this is the way we've always done it and it's worked in the
past and that's the way we're going to do it now.
So you have the younger people coming in, and I've heard some of them
talking about it, and they're all fired up. They've got all these
new ideas they want to try, these new ways they want to approach it,
and they run into the people who've been here a while and they say,
"We're not going to do it that way. This is the way we've always
done it. This is the way we're going to do it."
And it's very hard on them, because their ideas aren't bad. In fact,
a lot of them should be accepted and used, but it's not going to happen,
not while you have some of the corporate memory here. I know one of
the younger guys. It's been a few years ago. Basically, that's what
it was. He had this way he wanted to do something, and it had to do
with computers, but the person he was working with at that time, and
the guy has since retired, wouldn't let him do it. He was getting
very frustrated, because he wanted to try these new things, he wanted
to do these new things, but you simply can't do it. So the down side
of the corporate memory is that you don't get the new ideas in, so
the trick is somehow to get the two to merge, and that's hard.
I don't know the best way to do that. Somehow, the people with the
corporate memory have to be open to letting them try new ideas, and
maybe even making a few mistakes along the way, so they can see why
you want to do it a particular way, or what you have to consider when
you do something like this.
you had experience in some of the projects that you worked on where
you were able to see this merging, that made a great breakthrough
that resulted in something that benefited the project?
usually not the way we do it here. Like most places, somebody says
they're going to retire and then they retire and then they decide,
well, son of a gun, they did retire. Now we've got to get somebody
in that job. There's a tendency to do that, but there's enough work
going on that you don't want to double up on this one particular area
in essentially a teacher-student type mode, and so you wind up with
the person leaving and then the next guy that comes in picks it up.
tell us about other projects that you've worked on. You mentioned
the SR-71. Did something follow that was as exciting as that one?
worked on the F-111 Mission Adaptive Wing [MAW]. That was fun. It
was a big project. That was a lot of fun. It was another one to do
on the F-111. It wasn't the MAW at that time, but it was more base
drag, more looking at ways to alleviate base drag. So it was interesting.
The MAW was—it was a pretty big project, and I wound up being
the technical chairman of the committee of the last presentation they
had for the MAW, and that was interesting, working with all the different
that the first time you had done something like that?
It involved getting them all to get their papers written. A lot of
hen type of thing.
That's what the technical chairman winds up doing a lot of, because
you have to get the papers all together, you have to get the presentations
all together. They all have to come around at the same time. And it's
checking up, "How are you doing on this? Do you need any help?
What are the problems you're having?"
you have a time period that you had to have all that done?
yes. We had a time period, so you mapped it all out. This is when
the symposium is going to be held. Okay, so this is when everything
has to be done, and this is what has to be done, and you just set
up dates by when you need to meet these certain deadlines, otherwise
you aren't going to make it at the end. We made it.
you have to travel and do presentations about some of the work that
you were working on?
as much. There wasn't as much traveling as there is now. I did do
some presentations at groups, but not as much as happens now. Probably
about the last five years or so, it seems like they've been traveling
a lot. I think that's going to end, too, because the travel money
is getting tighter. NASA, to me, appears to be in—we’re
in another change, and what's going to be happening after the change,
nobody's really quite sure, and it's really traumatic because the
old ways, the old days, are gone and we aren't sure what the new days
are going to be like.
about those older days, is there a project or a time period that you
reflect on as being one of your favorites since you've been here?
the SR-71. That was a lot of fun. You had to go down to this separate
hangar because you had to keep it in a secret hangar, so you had to
have all the badges to get in there. That was fun.
you able to witness the flight testing of that as well?
yes. You sat in the control room and you'd see what was going on.
Strip charts were really advancing by then so you had a lot of strip
charts you could look at.
a lot of people in the control rooms at the time?
Actually, there were quite a few. It's people on the project, so I
don't know how many would have been in there. I don't know, ten, twelve,
fifteen. I don't know. There was quite a few in there.
you able to see what they were doing or were you so focused on what
you were doing?
you were focused on what you were doing, because your purpose at the
strip chart was to see, how is your data? Are they getting the data
you need? Are they getting the point you want? Is your instrumentation
working okay? That was your purpose of being in there, so you could
check to see when your point was taken. And because the flights were
so long, you kept track of when your points and they only processed
certain parts of the tape. They didn't process the whole, I think
they were like three-hour flights. They didn't process the whole flight
then because you didn't need it. Nothing was there that you were interested
there a time that you thought maybe this wasn't a good decision for
you to be here, some time frustrating that you just maybe wished that
you could move on some place?
I think everybody runs into that. But I didn't move on at that time.
It might have been better, it might not have. Most of the people that
move on—a lot of the people that move on, move on within about
the first, probably about the first five or six years, because they're
starting to get enough experience, they're starting to move up in
whatever they want to do, and then it becomes clear at that point
whether the path they want to take is going to be open. And so if
it's not, then that's when they decide whether they're going to stay
and take the ultimate path or whether they're going to move on and
try and find another path.
me about your silver Snoopy.
did work on the Space Shuttle. It was the first one. Was it the Enterprise?
mind's going here. So it was just basically the drop test, and I worked
on the airspeed part of that, so that was interesting, too. I enjoyed
was something completely different.
were your first thoughts when you were assigned to that project and
learned what you were going to be doing in this totally different
naturally, since you have the old naysayers here, there was a lot
of discussion about, they can't do it, they'll never be able to land
it on a given spot, can't do it. And obviously, they did do it. It
was pretty exciting because you weren't sure what was going to happen,
whether it really was going to do it or not.
So it was exciting, to see that happening. You weren't sure when it
went off the plane if the whole thing wasn't going to crash into the
tail and knock both planes out of the sky. You can do all your studies,
but when they finally actually do something, that's when you find
out whether your studies are right or not. So it was exciting.
long were you working on those studies before they actually tried
not sure. I probably spent, I don't know, maybe two years on that
you able to watch the testing as well?
I was up in the control room.
must have been so exciting.
it was. We got some data off the first flight, so the Space Shuttle
was coming back to see if it was agreeing, so it was a lot of fun.
you seen it land here as well?
an actual flight?
Almost saw it take off. My husband actually got the trip for that.
He worked on the Shuttle as well. But they aborted that flight, so
he didn't get to see it launch.
one day soon.
one day. I did see an Apollo launch, though.
you working here at the time?
The director at that time had connections at Kennedy, so a number
of us planned a big trip back to Kennedy to see the Apollo launch.
course, I didn't see Saturn [rocket], but I understand watching a
Saturn V launch was pretty impressive.
almost didn't go either. They kept delaying it and delaying it and
we kept staying and staying, and finally it went off, so it was fun.
you remember which one it was?
I don't. [Apollo 17]
was a few years back. That's understandable.
can't remember which one it was now. It was one of the night launches,
though. I've got some nice pictures of it launching.
you keep up with the LLRV from where it left here? I know that that
was about the time that you were finishing school.
I didn't really keep up with it after that. I'm not sure anybody really
did much keeping up with it. Once it leaves here it's hard to be involved
with it anymore.
mentioned the Space Shuttle and also I believe you worked on the X-29.
Is that correct?
Not as much, but I did work on it, yes. I did a parameter estimation
study on that.
was it different, or was it different, from the other projects that
you worked on?
was actually more a paper study. I didn't have an actual experiment
on the plane, so that was different. Usually I had an experiment on
the plane, but this one I didn't. Some of these things just kind of
run together in your mind, actually.
was going to ask Sandra. You have any—
thinking back, the time you were here and just what was going on in
the country and the dress code the women followed more so then than
they do now. Have you noticed a lot of changes as far as how you're
allowed to dress, or was there an actual dress code at that time?
a written dress code, but, yes, there was a dress code. You wore skirts
to work, dresses. You didn't wear slacks. You just didn't wear slacks.
that make it hard to do your job sometimes? I mean, if you're having
to go out and check out planes.
of the time you didn't have to climb on the plane. When I started
working on the XB-70, I did have to climb on the plane, so I had coveralls
that I changed into whenever I went out to check my experiment on
the airplane. And probably—well, it would have been probably
in the seventies is when they finally started changing the dress code
and women started wearing slacks to work.
But prior to that time, like I said, it wasn't written down but you
just didn't do it. You wore hose and skirts and dresses. You didn't
wear slacks, you didn't wear shorts, and that's what all the women
But when the seventies started, then the dress code changed a lot.
The women working now and even the women who started working in the
seventies, they don't really understand that. They never went through
it and that's just the way it is, and that's all they remember and
they never really understood that. You were a lot more restricted
in what you did. They worried more about what you did after hours
than they did now, because of your security clearance, so they followed
what you did after hours, too.
they follow the men the same way?
not. I don't really know. But I know that a woman got talked to about
after-hours activities. They actually did. They were—you were
much more watched about what you did, much more concerned about what
you did. So when the women started coming in the seventies, they didn't
understand that. They had never been through that. I don't know if
they ever will understand that. It was just a different way of doing
stuff. They had a lot more freedom to do whatever they wanted to do.
That was a big change, it really was.
The men's clothing didn't change as much, because it was a point of
pride or honor among a lot of the engineers out here that they wore
more the casual clothes. They didn't always come in the shirt and
tie. Besides that, they worked down on the airplanes and they were
doing stuff, so they didn't—so that was a big point with a lot
of the men, but the women were expected to be dressed up.
you feel like you were ever discouraged, as far as when you were in
school or when you first started out in your career? Engineering,
even at that time, wasn't a normal field for women to go into. Do
you ever feel like you were discouraged at all?
mother didn't want me to go into engineering because she knew how
hard it was going to be. She felt, you know, there's easier things
out there to take than that. Why don't you consider those? I never
noticed it in the instructors as such. The problem was that I was
the only engineering student in my—aerospace engineering student.
There was one in architecture in the dorm. So you wound up working
A lot of the guys, either in the fraternities or even in the dormitories,
had files from previous classes on the engineering work, so they would
go into their files to check out what was going on. In that respect,
it made it harder for the women because you didn't have the files.
They didn't even have files of some of the tests. [The fraternities
and men’s dormitories had copies of previous tests.]
I don't know how long [how many years of tests]—but you hear
them talk about it occasionally, so in that respect, yes, it was—it
wasn't that they would discourage you from doing it, but you weren't
playing quite from the same field that they were playing, so that
did make it more of a challenge. And the instructors I had were pretty
good. Most of them, it didn't make any difference to them. If it did,
they never showed it.
My advisor was, he wasn't quite sure how—he was relatively young.
I thought he was old, naturally, but he was relatively young, and
I think he wound up with all three of the girls, and he wasn't quite
sure what to do with all these—he would have been much more
at ease with the boys than with the girls. He didn't discourage you
but he wasn't as at ease with the women as he was with the men.
But no, nobody really discouraged. You never heard any voices coming
out and saying, "What are you doing in it?" One thing though,
when I graduated, there was a company in my hometown that had engineers,
and my mother said, "Oh, why don't you apply for that?"
So I went in and talked to them and it turned out they weren't interested
in hiring me at all. They just wanted to talk to a woman engineer.
they'd never talked to one?
about it, yes. So you did run into that. The government couldn't do
that, and most of the people here, you didn't have that impression
that they felt that way. They may have but they didn't show it. Like
I said, Paul Bickle, I haven't ever heard him say anything about women.
Women just didn't get promoted to any positions of responsibility.
there was more of an undercurrent?
wasn't overt. That's about all I have.
we close, I would like to talk about your monograph that you did,
and I think Sandra's letting me know that we might want to stop and
take a break for just a second and change the tape out, but after
to behavior and working attitude at Dryden]—things that have
changed, and I don't know if it's just because I'm older and I don't
see it anymore. When I started here, the people were more spontaneous,
they seemed to do more things, they seemed young at heart, and the
people now don't seem to be as young at heart.
I know the one guy, this Terry Larson, a real character, they were
talking about when they were younger engineers, they'd go on top of
the hangar and they'd make their paper airplanes, and then they'd
throw them off the roof. Naturally, most of them would go back in
the hangar. Well, they got chastised for doing that because all these
paper airplanes were coming in the hangar.
Poor Terry, he was one of these guys, he was very good at taking a
joke, but they were always pulling practical jokes on each other,
and I don't know, the younger people, they seem much more solemn now.
They don't seem to pull these practical jokes on people anymore. It's
interesting. It's like the place is kind of old and stodgy, compared
to what it was when I came there.
There was a lot of energy. They'd come back from their hikes and some
of them would be burned almost beyond recognition, but they were out
doing things. And they'd talk about their flight parties and all the
problems they had getting home and all the drinking. It was just a
different atmosphere. I'm not saying that drinking is good, but they
did a lot of those things and you don't hear those stories.
It's like, there was an article in some magazine, I can't remember
which one it was now, but one of the women engineers, and I'm pretty
sure who it was, made the quote, referring to the fact that they had
seemed to be doing more fun things, did more fun things. Now you see
the pilot going down the street. On the back of his car he has this
bumper sticker that says, "My student is an honor student at
such and such a school."
It's just a completely different atmosphere in that respect. It's
much more solemn. They don't laugh very much. I don't know if you've
noticed that where you work or not, but it's a different type of spirit.
Maybe times are more solemn now. Certainly you're more safe with seatbelts
and all this other stuff they have, but the spirit of adventure, it's
just not there like it used to be.
You say it's good to have all this stuff and it is, but we've lost
something, too. It's just, the excitement is not the same. It's a
different group. Of course, some of the stuff, I did, too. But I remember,
just recently, this younger woman with her kid. She was talking about,
we were at this place, and there was more than one car, and my husband
took off in the car and he took the childcare seat. Well, we couldn't
go anywhere then because we didn't have a childcare seat to put the
baby in. I was sitting there, "Yes, that's true. That probably
is true," but I remember some of the things we did, and we wouldn't
have worried about any childcare seat. It's a different mentality.
interesting, especially in our field, talking with people about how
they were able to adapt to whatever situation. Well, we might have
thought it would have been extremely challenging. They just said,
"That's what we just did, and that's what we had to do and go
on." They didn't find all the reasons that they couldn't do it.
They just found the reasons that they needed to do it.
And that was one of the things that we wanted to come back and talk
to you about, is the information that you put together about a group
of women that did that. You put together a publication you called
"Women in Flight Research at NASA-Dryden Flight Research Center
from 1946 to 1995." Tell me why you decided to put this effort
into this publication.
it started out, I think I even mentioned in there that the Society
of Women Engineers was having a meeting, and a bunch of us said, "Hey,
it would be kind of fun to go to that," and so I thought, "Well,
what could I write about?" I could write about the Society of
Women Engineers, I could write about the history of women at Dryden,
and I did that, and then the paper just kind of expanded from that,
because one of my colleagues said, "You should put in about the
film recorders" and all this other stuff, and it was a good idea,
and I did put it in there.
Looking back, I was lucky in the time I wrote it because the people
that I knew who had worked on these things were still here, so I'd
just go down and ask them, "What did you do on this?" and
they could tell me, and most of those people are retired now. It would
be really hard to get that. The men. The women were already retired.
I have a lot of respect for what the women did then. They went through
a lot. They were really pioneers, but you never hear anything about
them. They were a significant part. They were a substantial part of
the group, but they weren't really acknowledged as that. They were
just the workers. They just did the work. And I guess part of it was,
too—like with my mother, they did a lot of things. They deserved
to be recognized for what they did, and that's part of the reason
I did it.
you talked with them, did they realize the contribution that they
had made to the history of Dryden or did you feel they just felt they
were doing their job?
did their job, and that was the response I got from some of them was,
"Well, I just did my job. I don't see why you want to write about
this." And in fact, one of the people out here who was in a supervisory
position said, "Well, I don't see why you're writing about history.
We don't write about history at Dryden." And of course, he went
on to write histories of some of his work.
There wasn't a lot of support for it, there really wasn't. The Center
director, Ken [Kenneth J.] Szalai, supported me in it, but the support
in between was kind of spotty. Sometimes you'd get support, sometimes
you wouldn't, but he did support the activity.
you have difficulties finding the information that you were trying
to document to put in here?
really, because a lot of the men, in particular, were still here.
I knew them, I'd worked with them, they had no problem talking to
me about it, especially with the film recorder stuff. They were proud
of their work that they had done at that time and they were more than
happy to talk to me about how it was done.
I knew the people to talk to. Somebody else coming in wouldn't have
known the people to talk to. I knew the people to talk to and they
knew me, and so they were more than willing to talk to me about it.
I got a lot from Terry Larson, I got a lot from Dean Webb. Dean Webb
encouraged me a lot, in writing this. In fact, he's the one that wanted
me to expand it to include about how the data was actually reduced.
That was a good idea, and I did.
But it would be difficult, even for me now, to get that kind of information
because the people aren't here anymore. They were eligible to retire
when I was talking to them, and they have since retired.
you thought about other information or have you found other information
since the publication's been released that you would have liked to
put in here? Like if you could do an addendum, is there information
that you've thought of that would go nicely in here?
as much. I was so happy to get it out [laughter]. I have found out
more about the first expresses that were published. I could add that
in there. I haven't really thought that much about it. Like I said,
it took me a long time to get it out.
long? Estimate the time.
about three years. And I got down to where I was almost ready to go.
I was trying to make an SP [Special Publication] because it didn't
fit in any other categories, so I thought it would be a special publication,
and I couldn't get approval from a supervisor that I needed to get
approval to have it as an SP, as it was. So I sent it off to headquarters.
I saw an article about the history office back there, so I just sent
it off to the headquarters history guy.
kind of feedback are you getting back?
I got a lot of positive feedback on that one. One of the best-selling
ones I've ever written. [Laughter] People actually say they read it
and they like it. One of the engineers who I talked to a lot about
it says he—he hasn't told me, he's told a friend of mine, who
then told me, that he thinks it's a really great paper, he really
enjoys all the stuff in it, and he uses it a lot.
So I've got a lot of feedback from it. The Embry-Riddle [Aeronautical
University] used it for one of their courses. I have no idea what
they used it for but they used it for one of their courses. I think
it probably would have been for the data reduction section that had
the film recorders, and it's been referenced by a guy who wrote about
film recorders. He was writing about that. It's been very pleasant.
I've been very pleased with the reaction I got from people. I've got
a lot of positive comments from people about it.
we've certainly learned a lot from it. Some of the women that you've
talked about, when we talked to them about it, were very pleased that
that information has gotten out. Do you have another project in the
works, or are you planning another writing project?
don't know. I haven't thought of another one. Like I said, if I hadn't
sent it to headquarters, it would not have been published, because
the supervisor that needed to sign it simply was not going to sign
off to get it published.
at least you have an avenue now to go with if you have another idea.
it's my only inspiration. I haven't come up with anything since then
to write about. The women now, certainly there's been some changes
going on. Maybe because I know them too well. They don't seem nearly
as exciting. They're okay. I'm not saying that. They're nice enough
The times don't seem as exciting now. You don't have the stories like
with Lita Holleman talking about she didn't go on her trip because
it wouldn't have been accepted for her to do that, even though there
would have been a chaperone along. It just wouldn't have been looked
upon as well. Somehow, the women now—I don't know. They don't
seem to have the struggles.
Like I said before, they don't realize the struggles that everybody
has gone through to get them where they are. I don't think they understand
the struggles their mothers went through, either. Some of them, you
can tell, when they talk about their mother, "They didn't really
do it like they should have." Well, you know, they had different
times. They did what they could. And like I said, I don't know. If
I think of anything, I will, but at that time, it was a struggle to
get it out.
you talked to the women that you feature in your publication, did
they remember a lot of the details? Sometimes they say it's the same
thing, day in and day out, so were they able to provide lots of information
for you, or did you have to piece a lot of it together?
one of those situations where the people I worked with talked a lot
about how things used to be, what they used to have to do, and I came
in at a time when I still could see what they had to do. I didn't
do the airspeed, I never really worked much in that area. But from
working with film, I knew what kind of effort they'd gone through.
From fairing curves by hand, I know what kind of effort was involved.
I'd heard about it.
It was like the stories you hear when you're growing up. The tales
were all there, and so when I would talk to the women, they would
certainly fill in areas that I didn't know about, but I was able to
more ask them specific questions because I had a good feel for what
they had actually worked at and what they had actually done.
it seemed like you certainly had a sensitivity since you were the
second or the next generation of women that came to Dryden to do yet
another field of work.
wasn't a cold call in that I didn't know what they had been through.
I didn't know a lot of the people but I knew people that they knew.
It's like Mary Little. I knew Mary Little. I never worked with her
on anything but I knew who she was, and she knew who I was. We just
worked in different areas. Roxanah—again, I knew her. I never
worked with her, but I knew her. Katherine Armistead, Kay, I worked
in the same general area, so I knew more about her, and then Harriet,
I never worked with, either. We were small enough that I knew all
It would have been difficult for me just to call up some of the women
like [Mary] Tut Hedgepeth and Beverly [Swanson] Cothren if I hadn't
been so immersed in what had gone on here. But everybody that I talked
to knew these people, or knew of them. It was one of these continuous
things that they knew them. I don't know if that answers your question
or not, but it was more that I was here and it was kind of, you know,
like the tales you hear, it was a matter of sorting them out and getting
the actual facts from the people.
sure it was a bit of a comfort to them to know that someone who understood
what they did was trying to now put it down on paper for somebody
else, so they didn't have to go back through all the stages of explanation,
that you could certainly appreciate that. Well, we certainly have
appreciated the information, and the opportunity to sit and talk with
you as the—like I said—
group that you're involved with. Are there any other areas that you
can think of that—or projects, any anecdotes of being at Dryden?
How many years have you been here?
No, I can't really think of anything in particular. We had the old
cafeteria. The old cafeteria was in 4800. It was a big shock to people
when they had to walk outside the building to the cafeteria. It was
bad news as far as they were concerned. A lot of grumbling about that.
yes. Before, you didn't have to go outside. You'd just go down to
the cafeteria and get your ice cream cones and they would scoop out
the ice cream for you.
that kind of a time at lunch, too, that everybody saw everybody else,
when the cafeteria was there?
You could see everybody there. A lot of people brought their lunches.
A lot of people would take breaks in the cafeteria, so you would see
a lot of different people in the cafeteria. Now, a lot of the people
I don't know anymore. A lot of new people. It's hard to know when
you look back, whether people were really that much closer, or were
they just imagined that way? But I think they were. I think there
was a—proximity-wise, you were just much closer. I don't know.
The numbering of the building. We renumbered it many times, and you
never could figure out what the new numbers were so you just, you
know, who are you going to see? That's where they are. A lot of changing
of names. Different directors. When Paul Bickle left—in my mind,
the reason he left was because the times were changing and he didn't
want to change, and that's not a bad reason to leave.
But it left us kind of vulnerable because he hadn't been keeping up
with the changes. He hadn't been making the inputs for Dryden, so
when the next group came in, they were at a disadvantage. There were
kind of funny ones there for a while. We had a lot of scandal.
The director that came in, Dave [David R.] Scott, one of the women
that worked as a contractor on the YF-12 was a very attractive woman.
Dave Scott liked attractive women. He got her in as his secretary.
That had a lot of the women upset because she was an attractive woman
and she dressed like she was proud of her shape, and so she had these
tight-fitting clothes, short skirts and high heels, fancy hairdos.
The woman who was the secretary didn't care because he put her with
the lawyer, but she was interested in being a paralegal anyway, so
that didn't make any difference to her. And then just to make sure
that all the areas were covered, he had another woman come in who
did get along with the sexy chick, to do the actual work. So he had
everybody up in the air. All the women, anyway. The guys, I don't
know, they had different, probably, reactions. Some of the women were
really upset about that.
a change. But then he left and the next guy came in. An outsider has
a hard time coming into this place, they really do. It's getting better
because we aren't as small as we used to be, we aren't as much of
a family as we used to be, so the people coming in have an easier
time. But back then, it was really hard for anybody to come in.
We had some outside Center directors, and it was very difficult for
them. And Dave, I don't think, he didn't worry about. He had his job
so he was happy. But the first black guy that came here as the Center
director [Isaac “Ike” Gillam], he always felt it was because
of his race. It may have been some of that but we were just a really
tight, closed Center, and he was the outsider.
So no matter what his ideas were, if they didn't agree with what the
inside group wanted, there was this united front to try and not agree
with whatever he wanted, so he had a really hard time. It was just,
we were a very small Center, and if you've ever lived in a small town,
that's what we were.
did the pilots fit in to all the team efforts and workings of the
people that were here? Were they part of those teams or were they
leaders of the teams, or just pilots?
is probably too high a term to use for them, but it was kind of like
that. The pilots were basically the last word on anything. If they
didn't like something on the plane. And there's a lot of justification
for that. After all, they're the ones going out and risking their
life, so they had a lot of influence, a lot of concessions, I guess
you would say, for the pilots. One of my supervisors one time was
all upset about what was happening with one of his planes, because
they were just taking it out and using it for pilot proficiency. He
never made any progress on that one because, well, so what—your
you work closely with them, with your work?
They'd be in the tech briefs, they'd be in the pre- and post-flight
briefs. But no, you didn't work that closely. Most of the people didn't
work that closely with the pilots. The crew was obviously the ones
that worked really close with the pilots, they worked really close
with. They knew who you were, you could talk to them, they were friendly
enough, but I didn't work that closely and most of the engineers didn't
work that closely with them.
If you were involved with a simulator, then you would have worked
closely with the pilots because they would have come down to run the
simulator so then you would have gotten to know them better, but I
didn't work with the simulators. Otherwise, you just wouldn't have
a chance to be with them. But that's why it's been really hard for
the Center because a lot of the flight projects have gone away. The
pilots are really dismal because there's not that much—compared
to what there used to be to fly, there's not that much to fly anymore,
so it's been hard.
we certainly hope for your sake, on a personal basis and professional
basis, that before you decide to end your career at Dryden that it'll
swing again and allow some more excitement for your work on some projects
that you really will enjoy doing before you decide not to do this
that would be nice, but I suspect I'll retire before then.
you'll have opportunity to write more books.
right. I can spend more time writing books and researching. I did
enjoy doing that one. It was interesting, once I got into it. It's
always hard for me to get started, get the words down and get started
in those thoughts.
it was definitely different than any of the rest of the reports that
you had done.
a different way of writing. The reports used to be quite structured
in how they wanted them written, even down to the tense you were supposed
to use. And so you got used to that because they changed it all, so
you might as well start out with that. It was a change to go to a
different way of writing. It was a completely different style.
we wish you luck on the next one and look forward to reading it, whatever
it may be.
you going to write one?
like to. We are finishing a book that we worked with the author on
the Shuttle-Mir project, so we've had our hands at helping to write
and organize and do whatever. But our main job right now is just to
gather the history before it's gone, or before people don't want to
talk about it, so we're hoping to stay with our project as long as
the numbers are dwindling rapidly, as far as talking to the ones here
in the fifties, the forties. They're starting to disappear, so time
is not on your side.
that may be something you can help pick up with. But we wish you luck
in the future, and thank you again for talking with us today.