Cam Martin: the man who restored “aeronautics” on behalf of NASA

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Some people know something about almost everything. Others know almost everything about something. But when the question concerns planes and aeronautics, either Cam Martin already knows it or knows who knows it.

Cam grew up to be a career communicator for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, working to EXPLAIN X-PLANES and the wonders of aeronautics. Despite daily efforts to reach local and global audiences, generalist and specialist, professional and recreational, Cam has maintained a low-profile and low-key profile throughout his career at NASA.

Cam Martin visits a warbird with a family connection. This restored F4-U-4 Corsair fighter flew from the aircraft carrier USS Saipan on which his father served with the VF-42 fighter squadron. (Courtesy photo)

Retired in Tehachapi, Calif., And fully engaged with the family, lecturing, piloting gliders, volunteering for the Experimental Aircraft Association and playing an active role each summer in the convention and fly-in d EAA’s Oshkosh AirVenture, Cam found time to sit down for this portrayal in words.

The story of how Cam arrived in the high desert of California in 1995 as chief of the external affairs office of the NASA Flight Research Center begins with his video conference presentation from the 1990s on why the “Space Agency” side of the NASA brand dominated popular culture while “Aeronautics,” the first capital “A” in the acronym, was less recognized.

Realizing the reputation a middle manager might have for delivering what could be unwelcome news to senior managers, Cam informed the data which pointed to a blunt truth. By comparing the communications work of the NASA Aviation Group before the Internet age with what was then being done by the agency’s planetary exploration, manned space flight and space science divisions, the aeronautical side stood out for its lack of publications. , high impact images and projects. stories to document and tell the stories of one’s accomplishments.

Emphasizing this point, Cam said that if someone asked a typical man on the street what the large “S” meant in the NASA name, the immediate answer would be “Space.” Ask the same question on the “A” and you will get an air of confusion. Even a great job cannot speak for itself. A partial solution, he suggested, was to start filling the aeronautical information void with stories giving the public a chance to see and hear what was going on in NASA’s first “A”. Hopefully this could rekindle the kind of interest and excitement generated in the rocket era of “The Right Stuff”.

One person on the conference call that day was Kenneth Szalai, then director of NASA’s flight research center at Edwards. He invited Cam, then happily employed at NASA Langley in Virginia, Calif. For what turned into a life-changing job offer.

Cam sees what he calls his own continuing passion for theft in the faces of many who come to this region to join a team, build infrastructure, invest, solve problems and fly new technology. You can just browse the list of landmark accomplishments from Edwards AFB, NASA, Mojave Air and Space Port, the companies at Factory 42. Things are happening here. There is an impetus and a synergy in this region that transcends all these institutional boundaries.

Cam and Congressman Kevin McCarthy reconnect at an event. During his years with NASA at Edwards, Cam regularly briefed the congressman on aeronautical research. (Courtesy photo)

He continues, “This region is filled with people who are passionate about flying. These are people who go out of their way to choose to come to this valley, Edwards and Mojave, ”as he did. And Cam adds: “It’s a safe bet that they did not make this choice based solely on the landscape.

Explaining the healthy cultural differences in balancing research approaches, Cam says ground research tools, computer modeling, wind tunnel testing and simulation are essential, they represent “the pen”. The flight search takes place at the pointed end, “The Sword”.

Cam explains, “A successful business has both a pen and a sword. Wilbur and Orville Wright were successful pioneers while others weren’t because they studied, built, performed flight tests, and then solved problems, not just once, but over and over again. Their disciplined tests in 1899, 1900, 1901, and 1902 showed them exactly what they needed to do to make history at Kitty Hawk in 1903. “

In celebration of the centenary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 2003, legendary engineer and NACA rocket test pilot Scott Crossfield coached a team that flew a replica of the machine the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, in North Carolina, 100 years earlier.

Cam recalls Crossfield saying during a visit to the center after the pageant: “The Wright Flyer was the worst plane that ever flew.” But he flew, and that was what mattered.

These same processes are alive and well in the Mojave Desert. In Cam’s words, “Build something and fly it ASAP.” This approach separates real problems from imaginary ones and reveals important and unexpected things that have been overlooked.

It was the pioneer namesake of NASA Aeronautical Test Center Hugh L. Dryden of Antelope Valley who said almost exactly that seven decades ago.

Cam still has a passion for telling stories that matter, and after three decades his license plate still says “XPLANE,” an ironic name and misspelled verb.

In 2018, a few months after Cam Martin retired from NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center, Congressman Kevin McCarthy read in the Congressional Record a summary of Martin’s career that reflected the long working relationship of the Kern County Legislator with Cam. The text reads in part:

Former X-15 pilot Joe Engle, left, and Cam reunite at the dry lake bed set for the filming of scenes from First Man. The two men served as historical consultants to the film’s producers. (Courtesy photo)

“Cam stood out as a man who truly loved what he did and he never failed to inspire an interest in aviation science in those who worked with him. “

Thinking back to what happened in the years that followed at the Central California office of external affairs, Cam recalls a question he asked himself early on. “I still had my 1st Grade Weekly Reader journal with the X-15 on the front. “Pilots will fly in space.” Yes, the coolest plane in the world was history, seen only in museums, but how could I NOT want to go to where they had flown the X-15? “

From time to time, fate smiles. After consulting on the X-15 stages for Neil Armstrong’s biopic “First Man”, Cam was on the set with veteran X-15 pilot Joe Engle. Cam remembers thinking, “This is really Edwards AFB. It really is the lake bed. And it looks like a real X-15. I didn’t expect to see something like this. Looks like I didn’t miss the X-15 after all.

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a three-part series. Look for Part 2, Born with Flight in His DNA, in the upcoming issue of Aerotech News and Review.

An X-15 mockup was used to recreate historic NASA flights that paved the way for Neil Armstrong to the moon. (Courtesy photo)

The first to fly in Cam’s family was his grandfather, James Campbell Martin, who served in the 293 Aero Squadron of the Army Signal Corps. (Courtesy photo)
Custom Cam Plates: X-PLANES (Courtesy Photo)


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