By Angel Canales/ABC News

EDWARDS, Calif. — Next time you’re up in the sky sipping your drink, you might raise a toast to the people who toil to make flying safer.

Meriden, Kansas native Daniel Goodrick is one of them.

Dan’s route to becoming an engineer for NASA took a couple of detours after high school. First, he took some time off to serve a mission in Mexico for his church and second, he joined the Utah Army National Guard as a Counterintelligence Agent in 2000. The Army, by-the-way, helped pay for his college tuition.

Being deployed to Iraq in 2003 and stationed in Baghdad for a few months before moving to Qatar at Area Support Group camp As Sayliyah, Goodrick reflects, “It was a great job and I enjoyed my deployment experience.”

After seven years of service in the Army, Dan completed his dream to earn a Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Utah.

Today, we find him working at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Goodrick’s job is making flying safer for pilots and passengers. “I make sure that planes fly the way they’re supposed to,” he says. As an instrumentation engineer, Goodrick designs systems to collect, transmit and store data for researchers. To put their research to test, NASA Armstrong Flight Research center created the Full Scale Advanced Systems test bed from a modified F/A-18A fighter. The test bed examines systems under stress caused by control surface failures, weather, turbulence or pilot error.

Dan adds that, “we can basically make this test bed fly like anything we can aerodynamically model, be it a brick, a Boeing 747, a rocket, or a broken F-18. This technology has been used for a variety of tests since coming on-line in 2011, such as developing new control laws to handle adverse flying scenarios, to proving a peak-seeking algorithm that allows trimmed or asymmetrically loaded aircraft to fly with better fuel economy, to testing the control laws for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, the first exploration-class space vehicle in 40 years.”

Goodrick’s project team has developed algorithms for a fly-by-wire vehicle to be flown safely with any number of control surfaces disabled or stuck, as well as algorithms that will correct pilot errors, or prevent further damage to a weakened surface by distributing control authority to other systems.

His current project is designed to simulate a plane with a weakened control surface that can’t take much stress. “For example, a roll maneuver can produce a significant load on the ailerons. If one of our ailerons is damaged, we can still complete the maneuver without further damaging it. We compensate for the lack of control on the aileron by using the other control surfaces like the flaps and the rudders to prove roll control authority,” says Goodrick.

Dan Goodrick conducting a pre-flight inspection of control and instrumentation systems on the Full-scale Advanced Systems Testbed. Photo credit: Angel Canales/ABC News
Dan Goodrick conducting a pre-flight inspection of control and instrumentation systems on the Full-scale Advanced Systems Testbed. Photo credit: Angel Canales/ABC News

This project, he says, can improve the safety for all classes of airplanes. “Airplanes are already very safe and flying on an airplane across the country is the way to go but there are unplanned events that can happen for which this technology can reduce the probability of an accident or mitigate any further issues if an incident were to occur,” he says.

A good example where this technology will be useful is when a fighter pilot is in a combat zone and gets hit by something and loses partial control of the plane. If the pilot needs to get out of the area, he may have to maneuver aggressively to escape, but without breaking the aircraft. This software will allow the pilot to continue flying without overloading the damaged surfaces that could result in a crash.

While Goodrick enjoys being part of improving flight safety, he also enjoys working for NASA. “I love working at NASA and the team I work with. It is a great group of people that are devoted to research and aeronautics and we’re all excited to come to work and solve problems. It is a very fulfilling opportunity to feel like we are doing something for the greater good,” he says.

He credits the military for his accomplishments. “Most of my accomplishments have been as a result of serving in the military. Actually almost everything in my life today can be traced to my having served in the Army,” Goodrick clarifies. “This is very exciting for me as an engineer and researcher to feel like I’m improving things for the next generation of pilots and air passengers. There’s no doubt in my mind that when this comes into production it will save lives and that is a great feeling that I get to take with me. It is a real blessing to end up here at NASA,” he says.

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