FAA tests drone detection technology

The DAV Foundation Adds Former FAA Executive and Space-Shuttle Commander to Advisory Board

By Bradley Berman — Lead Editor

George Zamka, the DAV Foundation’s newest advisor, is not afraid to take risks and explore new frontiers. His impressive 30-year-career includes positions as a U.S. Marine jet pilot, an executive at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and a NASA space-shuttle commander. Zamka this week became the second shuttle commander to join the DAV Foundation’s advisory board, following Scott Horowitz joining the advisory board in January.

George D. Zamka

For Zamka, the journey started as a young man when he became curious about how a supersonic fighter jet can precisely land on the deck of an aircraft carrier. That inspired him to study mathematics at the U.S. Naval Academy. “Math is used for everything,” said Zamka. “In math, one learns tricks to do very complicated things.”

Zamka continued to use math — as well as his master’s degree in engineering management — to do increasingly technically complex and valuable things. The long list includes learning to fly 30 different aircraft, logging 5,000 flight hours as a Marine pilot, becoming a NASA astronaut, and ultimately commanding the Space Shuttle Endeavor in a February 2010 mission to the International Space Station, his second visit there.

The intersection of math, engineering, and advanced vehicle operations aligns with the DAV Foundation’s work to create a blockchain-based 21st-century platform for self-driving cars and self-flying drones. As the prior lead for the shuttle’s training and procedures division, Zamka will be a valued advisor to the DAV Foundation’s technical team.

Moreover, as the FAA’s former deputy associate administrator for commercial space transportation, Zamka will help guide how our decentralized framework will ensure that government guidelines are met for the rapidly burgeoning drone industry. FAA officials last week confirmed that more than 32,000 drone flight authorizations had been processed to date, but 12,000 such requests are pending.

Zamka understands the inner workings of the FAA. He appreciates the FAA’s work to publish hundreds of “grids” outlining the maximum allowable altitudes for drones near airports. And he is closely monitoring the FAA’s new safety rules around remotely identifying drones and related security protocols.

The Right Stuff

Twenty years ago, Zamka went through the rigorous training required to become a NASA astronaut. It’s not for the faint of heart. After getting admitted to the program, the space agency sent him to a remote region in Siberia.

“Being in the middle of Russia, in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the night looking for wood to make a fire was strange for me,” he explained. “Those things are difficult. I liked seeing how I responded to those circumstances because when you’re wet, tired, and cold, you’re at your weakest point.” Equally challenging were the exams conducted in simulators in which instructors make candidates quickly respond to faults in a space vehicle’s hydraulic, electrical, and digital systems. Zamka came through with flying colors, ultimately logging nearly 700 hours in space.

Zamka was interviewed one day prior to the 135th and final mission of the American Space Shuttle program. Even as the shuttle program was ending, he was looking ahead to other types of vehicles that further man’s knowledge of the world and the cosmos. “I expect the shuttle to one day be replaced by smaller family vehicles that routinely travel into space with humans on board,” he said.

In 2013, Zamka retired from NASA to become the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for commercial space transportation. He now works for Bigelow Aerospace as director of its crew and cargo program. The company’s goal is to make space stations affordable and welcoming to outside research entities. Bigelow’s business model includes leasing small space habitats consisting of inflatable modules.

This position at Bigelow Aerospace and his advisory role at The DAV Foundation is Zamka’s way of sharing the joy of space and technology exploration — and utilizing his deep expertise to develop advanced transportation systems. “I believe humans should be in space,” he said. “I’d love for people to see what I saw.”

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