The time-honored stereotype of a steely-eyed test pilot
laughing at death and wringing out a high-performance airplane needs
a serious update – the ground-bound control room is the dramatic
counterpoint, a crossroads where real-time flight data streams in and
is displayed so engineers can assess a test in progress.

Control rooms at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center,
located on Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert, can
be configured to give testers specific information for different
flight tests. For a recent test involving two high-speed jets in
close formation, if the aircraft moved out of a safe parameter,
information displayed on a video screen turned red, instantly
alerting the engineers of a potential problem.

The control room is a nerve center of brain power and
computer power, where program managers balance risk against safety,
making sure safety wins out.