Natalie Crawford: Distinguished Analyst of Air Force Programs and Cherished Mentor

Natalie W. Crawford

Donor Profile Natalie Crawford

Natalie Crawford is a senior fellow at RAND, a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School, and president of the RAND Alumni Association. She served as vice president and director of RAND Project AIR FORCE from 1997 to 2006. She holds the distinguished chair in air and space policy, a philanthropically funded position that allows her to conduct independent research beyond the scope of client projects and to mentor the next generation of policy researchers.


In more than 50 years at RAND, Natalie Crawford has built a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense analyst of Air Force programs, as well as a mentor for young officers moving up the ranks.

She can get the Air Force chief of staff on the phone, but she also keeps in touch for years with former students or junior staff officers.

She “gave her entire life essentially to our Air Force,” said General Norton “Norty” Schwartz, a former Air Force chief of staff. “She was so dedicated and adopted so many of us along the way and invested her intellect in us. She is the quintessential mentor from outside the Air Force.”

Crawford came to RAND as a computer programmer in 1964. At the time, she says, she didn't know much about the Air Force except that it had airplanes. Nonetheless, she joined the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department and was soon helping to analyze weapon systems.

Four-star General Philip Breedlove described Crawford as a “guided missile” in finding and solving problems.

She never missed an opportunity to climb into a cockpit, to see those weapon systems up close and in action. Afterward, she would sit and talk with crewmembers about how those systems worked under real combat conditions. That attention to detail made her a national expert in Air Force weapons, aircraft performance, force modernization, and space systems.

Four-star General Philip Breedlove, a former Air Force vice chief of staff, described her as a “guided missile” in finding and solving problems.

“It's the work that matters, not the applause,” Crawford would tell people. Or: “I get paid to tell the truth, not to sell the story.” Or her personal mantra throughout her career: “Every day is a school day.”

Natalie Crawford

Photo from RAND Archives

Crawford has received several high honors, including the Medal for Exceptional Public Service from the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the Air Force Association's Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Air Force Academy's National Defense Award for significant contributions to national security.

Crawford is also herself a longtime donor to RAND, as well as president of the RAND Alumni Association, a membership organization of former and current RAND associates. In 2014, with RAND president and CEO Michael Rich, she established the Alumni Impact Fund, which is designed to help extend the impact of RAND research and analysis. During the past four annual campaigns, with Natalie's generosity and leadership, the association has raised more than $436,000.