One of Trong Bui’s earliest childhood memories was conducting mock dogfights on bicycles with neighborhood friends as they pretended to be jet fighters. Today, Bui has realized his dreams of a career in aviation as an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Bui was recently involved in the Dryden Aerospike Rocket Test, which he deems a highlight of his career. NASA, the Air Force Flight Test Center, Blacksky Corp., and Cesaroni Technology Inc. joined forces to become the first known team to fly a rocket with an aerospike nozzle to transonic speeds.

Born in Saigon, Trong grew up during the Vietnam War. In 1979, at the age of 14, Bui and his family escaped to Thailand by small boat. After living in a refugee camp for four months, relatives living in Sacramento, Calif., sponsored the family and Bui headed for the U.S.

“I was always interested in jets and dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot some day,” Bui said. “I was very proud that I was always the first kid who correctly identified the jets that flew over our neighborhood, either by sight or sound,” he added.

Bui never forgot his dream of becoming a pilot. After being rejected twice for pilot training by the Air Force, Bui decided to study aeronautical engineering, so he could still work with airplanes. While working on a master’s project as a graduate research assistant at NASA’s Ames Research Center in 1988, Bui became interested in working for the agency. He worked in the Unitary Wind Tunnel Complex at Ames, where he was assigned to work wind tunnel wall interference issues for the 11-foot transonic wind tunnel.

Bui completed a master’s degree in 1990 and accepted a position at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. At Glenn, he was assigned to the Inlets, Ducts, and Nozzles Flow Physics Branch of the Internal Fluid Mechanics Division working on the Proteus Computational Fluid Dynamics code.

In 1997, Bui transferred to DFRC. He was involved with the F-15 Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles thrust vectoring nozzles project, the X-43A skin friction experiment and the High Speed Instrumentation Test project intended to collect data for a scramjet flowpath in flight at Mach 6. He also worked on the Russian Central Institute of Aviation scramjet flight experiment, in which NASA collaborated with the Russian agency to obtain flight data for a Mach 6.5 scramjet mounted on the nose of a rocket.

“To me there is no comparable experience to design, ground test, and then finally watch your work take off with lots of noise and smoke, screaming straight as an arrow into the sky, and punching a hole into that wide clear blue sky at supersonic speeds,” Bui said.

“All of the advances and rewards that we have in the air travel, defense, and space industry were drawn from the pool of knowledge that prior aerospace researchers, both from inside and outside of NASA, created through all their hard work and sacrifice,” Bui said.

Bui earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering from California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo and a doctorate in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.

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