Eyewitness News gets inside look at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Once upon a time, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center was the site of more than 50 space shuttle landings.

With the end of the shuttle program, those days are gone. But Dryden's days are not.

It's next chapter is still deeply rooted in NASA's past.

"Some of the new technologies we're working on here aren't really new concepts, it's just how we're applying them," said Kevin Rohrer, strategic communications specialist at Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert. "For instance, the unmanned aircraft systems."

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as drones, now take center stage at Dryden.

UAV pilots trade in the cockpit for a control room.

"The pilot does not have a control stick, or rudder pedals," said Phillip G. Hall, Global Hawk deputy project manager at Dryden. "He has a mouse and keyboard."

Experts said some key advantages of unmanned aircraft are their ability to reach altitudes of more than 10 miles high. They can also stay in the air for extended periods of time.

"You can look at the changing conditions of a hurricane while it is forming that then gives you data where you can better design models to predict how a hurricane is going to grow," said Rohrer.

In 2007, Mark Pestana remotely piloted an Ikhana aircraft on the western states fire mission. The unmanned aircraft was able to reach low-visibility areas and provided real-time data to fire crews on the ground.

"It was very exciting to accomplish the mission," said Pestana. "It was very rewarding to be able to deliver this product to the forest service."

But, some remain skeptical, saying unmanned aircrafts have potential for misuse.

Rohrer is quick to defend the technology.

"Are we developing planes to spy on people in their backyards? No. Everything is as good as the rules that govern it," said Rohrer.

Rohrer acknowledged UAV technologies do have far reaching potential but said their practical applications can improve everyday life.

"We want to be able to inform the public about the work we're doing at Dryden, because, though you might not see it everyday, it will impact your life," Rohrer said.