As a kid growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dylan White, 28, had a knack for taking things apart and putting them back together. Airplanes captured his imagination originally, but college presented him with the opportunity to study aerospace engineering, and suddenly, the sky was no longer the limit. Still, White never really imagined being where he is today.
“The opportunity to work in the space industry definitely became a reality in school,” he said, “but I don’t know that I ever thought I would be working on something as unique as this program.”
The program to which White is referring is the Dream Chaser Spacecraft by Sierra Nevada Corporation (White’s employer), in partnership with NASA, under their Commercial Resupply Service 2 (CRS2) contract. Basically, Dream Chaser will be able to haul crew and cargo to space destinations in low-Earth orbit, such as the International Space Station.
Specifically, according to Sierra Nevada Corporation, “Dream Chaser will carry critical supplies like food, water, and science experiments; and returns to Earth with a gentle runway landing. The spacecraft will provide a minimum of six cargo missions to and from the space station between 2019 and 2024.”
And, as if a space-capable vehicle wasn’t cool enough, Dream Chaser boasts smart design—like, rocket-scientist smart—with features like its reusability (up to 15 uses) to ensure cost-efficiency and quick turnovers between missions, the ability to access the vehicle immediately after landing (which was never an option with previous space shuttles due to the explosive volatility of the materials used), and its ability to re-enter Earth at half the speed of previous space shuttles (1.5 Gs instead of 3 Gs) and to employ commercial runways around the world for an easy, airplane-esque landing.
Dream Chaser is an endeavor with decades-old roots that has finally taken flight in the past few years, and White plays an active role in the journey.
“So, as a systems engineer,” he explained, “I work for a team that is helping to design all the different pieces that make up the vehicle itself.”
It begs the question: How does a person working to create some of the world’s foremost technologies find time to rope? The answer: Easily.
“I’m pretty fortunate that I work in an industry where my work schedule is fairly flexible,” White said. “I’ve set my schedule up to where I can go into the office at 6:30 so I can leave at 3:30, solely so I can go home and rope.”
While it may be tempting to think of roping as a release from a demanding work environment, that’s not how roping translates for White, a Top Hand Ropes endorsee.
“I think the biggest aspect of roping that I really enjoy is putting effort into something and getting better. That’s definitely what intrigues me the most. I’m the kind of person that gets extremely excited to go to the World Series Finale or a big roping on my calendar. I get really excited for it and I put all my energy into improving myself and making sure I’m completely prepared. So that’s why I continue to try to make time for it.”
Conveniently, for this engineer, the arena also provides just as much opportunity to analyze the data and make appropriate decisions according to the outcomes.
“I approach team roping very methodically. It’s all numbers to me. It’s all percentages and odds, and every aspect that I can control, I try to put it on paper and see how I can control it.”
“I will write down every run I make,” White admitted of his competition runs.
In White’s rocket-science approach to roping, the numbers can be very telling.
“One thing I really like to do,” he offered, “is I like to write down all my runs at every competition and whether I caught, missed, or maybe broke the barrier, and put that into a spreadsheet and go back and look at my catch percentages and how much money I’ve won and how much money I’ve spent. Stuff like that.”
For White, who garnered his interest in roping from his grandfather, the numbers are the starting point of a whole-systems analysis, and where his engineering mind and his cowboy roots meet, but he knows their limits, as well.
“Numbers will only tell you so much,” he conceded. “But, the catch percentages are something I enjoy looking at. I know that in my mind, if I can catch this percentage of steers, then I think I’m going to be successful. So, therefore, if I’m not able to do that consistently, then I’m able to go back and say, ‘Okay, well, this week I need to work on catching this number of steers.”
Beyond what the numbers say, White’s approach widens into a much-relatable tactic of understanding his strengths and weaknesses and being motivated by his passion for the sport.
“As a header, staying ahead of my horses—being able to help them as they run instead of getting in their way—is probably the biggest thing I have tried to work on consistently in the last several years.”
And when White says consistently, he means it.
“I try to rope every day, when I have the horses that allows me to do it. I definitely try to rope every day.”
And though White may ride into the practice pen with percentages running through his head, it’s the people in this industry who have captured his heart.
“I think what’s unique about our sport is the people that want to help you get better. And I think that’s something really great about the roping industry. There are a lot of people who can compete at a high level, but they realize that not everybody can rope at that high level right away. I think that’s something that I definitely enjoy being around is those people who will help you get better. You don’t always find that in other industries.”