Pioneering Test Pilot Bill Dana Dies At Age 83
[ Watch the Video: Retired NASA Research Test Pilot Bill Dana Dies ]
Bill Dana was an aeronautical engineer, a test pilot. He was an astronaut.
His career at the NASA High-Speed Flight Station (now Armstrong Flight Research Center) began on October 1, 1958; coincidentally the same day NASA came into being. He piloted some of the agency’s most remarkable craft and was with us from the agency’s infancy through the maturity of the Space Shuttle and the creation of the International Space Station. Bill retired on May 29, 1998, a few months shy of 40 years of distinguished service to NASA. He passed away Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at the age of 83.
His long and illustrious career at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center did not end when he retired. He returned to Armstrong seven months later as a contractor with Analytical Services and Materials, Inc., to write histories of various programs and to evaluate lessons learned. During a period of budget reductions, this man of integrity and accomplishment gave up his salary and continued to work as a volunteer with the History Office. Over the course of his career, Dana logged more than 8,000 hours in over 60 different aircraft from helicopters and sailplanes to the hypersonic X-15. Several of the airplanes he flew are displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Dana spent 4 years in the Air Force before he was hired as an aeronautical research engineer. His first assignments included development of a rudimentary performance simulator for the X-15 rocket plane and stability and control research involving the F-107A fighter prototype. In September 1959, he transferred to the Flight Operations Branch as a research pilot. Over the next three decades he flew a variety of aircraft, including the rocket powered X-15 and wingless lifting bodies. Dana flew to the edge of space in the X-15, attaining a maximum speed of Mach 5.53 (3,897 mph) and a maximum altitude of 306,900 feet (nearly 59 miles). He was then assigned to fly the HL-10, M2-F3, and X-24B lifting bodies to validate engineers’ assertions that such vehicles could be precisely controlled during approach and landing, and providing NASA with the confidence needed to proceed with designs for the Space Shuttle orbiter.
In addition, he flew hundreds of research flights in advanced jet fighters, including the F-14, F-15, F-16, and YF-17. He evaluated the X-29 forward-swept-wing technology demonstrator and flew the pioneering F-18 High Alpha Research Vehicle, the first aircraft to use multi-axis thrust vectoring for vehicle control. Because of his demonstrated leadership and extraordinary service in flight research, Dana was appointed chief pilot in 1986 with responsibility for recruiting, developing, and training Armstrong’s cadre of research pilots.
In 1993, he retired from flying to become Armstrong’s chief engineer. In this position, he oversaw all of the center’s research projects and was responsible for flight safety. Dana held this position until his retirement from civil service in May 1998.He returned to Armstrong seven months later as a contractor with Analytical Services and Materials, Inc. During a period of budget reductions, he gave up his salary and continued to work as a volunteer with the History Office.
His numerous awards and honors include the AIAA Haley Space Flight Award (1976), NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1976), Lancaster Aerospace Walk of Honor (1993), NASA Distinguished Service Medal (1997), and the Milton O. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award (2000). He was honored in the “Salute to Test Pilots” at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Annual Convention in 1996. Dana was awarded astronaut wings on Aug. 23, 2005, for two of his X-15 flights that exceeded 50 miles altitude. That honor came nearly 40 years after the flights themselves because at the time of the X-15 program, NASA did not confer astronaut wings on its pilots. Dana was a distinguished member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He joined the SETP in 1961 and was elected a fellow in 1998.