AFMC Command News

Long-tenured AEDC employees share memories, observations

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks

Among the thousands of employees who have forged careers across Arnold Engineering Development Complex are scores of engineers, craft personnel, managers, supervisors, administrative assistants and others who possess decades of experience in their respective fields.

A number of these long-time employees have worked at AEDC for more than half of its 70-year existence. Several team members fitting this description were asked to reflect upon what drew them to seek an AEDC career, discuss some of the changes they’ve observed at the Complex over the years, and share some of the memories collected and insight gathered during their time at AEDC.

Dr. Bill Baker

Dr. Bill Baker’s first introduction to AEDC was in 1959. At that time, Baker was a student at Mississippi State University and a member of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, which later became the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Baker and other members of the IAS took a field trip to view the facilities at AEDC, then known as Arnold Engineering Development Center and solely located at Arnold Air Force Base.

After earning his Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in the summer of 1963, Baker was offered a job by Arnold Research Organization, or ARO, which managed AEDC at the time. However, he had already accepted an offer from North American Aviation, Inc., located in Los Angeles, California. Within a year after Baker’s move to the West Coast, there was a mass layoff at North American Aviation. Baker was affected, so he contacted ARO to see if they were still hiring.

“They were, and on Aug. 13, 1964, I drove in the front gate of AEDC as an employee of ARO, Inc.,” Baker said. “In August of this year, that was 57 years ago.”

Growing up, Baker was unaware that AEDC even existed, much less that it was so close to where he lived. After that fateful college field trip, he knew he wanted to eventually work at AEDC.

“AEDC has been everything that I expected, and I have gotten to work with and learn from some really great people,” Baker said. “At AEDC, you get to work on essentially everything that flies from aircraft to spacecraft. I have been fortunate to be able to work in many areas of testing and analysis at AEDC.”

Over his nearly 60 years at AEDC, Baker has held a number of titles while working under various testing contractors and most recently the Air Force. He is currently Technical Director of the AEDC Test Division.

“I have worked in testing, technology and analysis during my career at AEDC,” Baker said. “I was also able to work in a wide range of disciplines from subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic wind testing; arc heater testing and diagnostics; missile aerodynamics testing; store separation testing; and space environmental and space sensors testing.

“As a tester, researcher, analyst and manager, I have been able to work with and for some of the world leaders in test and evaluation. It is working with and being mentored by these incredible people that I have had some of my greatest and most memorable experiences.”

Baker said in the early days of its history, much of what transpired at AEDC was similar to a “research project,” as nearly every test represented a new way of testing.

“It was a great time of development where everything did not always go as planned, but it was acceptable for a test or research project to fail because something was always learned from the effort, even if the effort was not a total success,” he said.

Among the things that have stood out for Baker are the knowledge and abilities of those who have worked alongside him.

“After becoming a manager, I was always fortunate enough to have a really great group of technology experts and analysts to work with as a team for some very interesting work that made a difference in the total product that AEDC delivered to its customers,” he said.

Michael Barlow

Nearly 41 years ago, Michael Barlow joined the team at AEDC as an electrical engineer fresh out of undergraduate school. He has been at AEDC ever since.

“I have been blessed to work in many different areas and functions at AEDC,” Barlow said. “That’s really what made it interesting and, I think, was a key to my longevity here.”

During his time at Arnold, Barlow has worked as a systems engineer and project manager. Prior to his stepping into his current role of Aeropropulsion Deputy Branch Manager, Barlow led engineering, project management, performance measurement, quality, safety, utility and integrated scheduling organizations.

Barlow described his experience at AEDC as “very positive.”

“I made a conscious decision earlier in my career to stay at AEDC,” Barlow said. “I’ve been fortunate to have lots of opportunities to learn new things, work on some one-of-a-kind equipment and work with some really great people. At the same time, my wife and I raised our family in a wonderful community.”

While he said the Test Operations and Sustainment contractors, Air Force leadership and contracting strategies and constructs at Arnold have changed throughout the years, one crucial element has remained constant.

“The thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that AEDC’s facilities and the people who maintain and operate those facilities have been and will continue to be the keys to AEDC’s success,” Barlow said.

Barlow said he has many fond memories of people he has worked alongside over the years, many of whom are long retired. He added the most fulfilling project he has worked on in his AEDC career was the activation of the utility systems for the Aeropropulsion Systems Test Facility (ASTF).

“A small group of us were responsible for writing checkout procedures and executing them,” Barlow said. “Along with that responsibility came the resources and the autonomy to achieve our goals. By ‘turning on’ the electricity and cooling water, we literally brought ASTF to life. I still remember the hum of the 161-kV transformers as they were energized for the first time.

“I encourage young employees and managers to make AEDC theirs. Take ownership and be persistent in doing the right thing. Collaborate with others. It truly takes each of us working together to make this place go. This will ensure AEDC continues to be a great place to work for many years to come. Take pride in a job well done. Enjoy the ride. I have.”

Roy Carroll

Growing up in the Manchester area, Roy Carroll viewed those who worked at AEDC as happy and successful. Because of this, he opted to train in the electronics industry, all the while keeping his sights set on landing a job at AEDC.

Things went according to plan, and Carroll began his AEDC career on April 15, 1980. Carroll said the fact that he recently began his 41st year at Arnold indicates his overall experience at AEDC has been positive.

“My career at AEDC has provided my family with a good life and much happiness,” Carroll said. “It has helped me develop confidence in myself and a feeling that, in some ways, I have helped our country to stay free and safe. I have made close friends with co-workers and traveled throughout our great nation. I am glad to be a part of the team here.”

Carroll, currently an engineering technical specialist in the Innovative Technology Group, has worked most of his career as an instrumentation specialist in this same group. He was hired in at the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility, or VKF, Chamber group and later transferred to Technology when support work was divided into different groups.

Throughout his career, Carroll has worked closely with AEDC engineers, specifically mentioning Fred Sherrill, Charley Pender and Ken Bynum, on a variety of projects. These include working to develop new technology instruments while assigned to the Mark 1 Chamber; work with Technology groups that included applied laser, X-ray and emissions measurements; and work on the Joint Standard Instrumentation Suite project.

His role at AEDC also called for a good deal of travel. Carroll said he traveled with the Field Measurement team for almost 20 years, going all over the country and occasionally overseas to complete jobs. Carroll referred to this as an “exciting time” in his career, and his work during this period included making signature measurements on the Space Shuttle and on numerous defense missiles.

“My fondest memories were traveling with the Field Measurement team,” Carroll said. “During the early years, I was able to have my family follow me to the testing site. We sat on the causeway at Cape Canaveral and watched a shuttle launch, air shows and missile launches, both large and small. On 9-11, I was traveling to Huntsville for a test and barely got through the gate before it was locked down. We traveled to New Mexico, driving all across Texas to White Sands. There, we saw the great sand dunes and cliff dwellings. I went to Cincinnati to test GE engines and took them to the Cincinnati Zoo and Chuck-E-Cheese for the first time. Even the times that they could not go with me and our team worked hard, long hours together, it was rewarding and fulfilling. I have enjoyed the work, the people and the experiences.”

Bruce Dean

Bruce Dean played a role in ensuring a proper send-off for many an AEDC retiree.

Beginning in 1984 and continuing the subsequent 20 years, Dean freehand lettered the white matte board portion of the AEDC aerial photographs given out to guests for special presentations and, most often, to retirees.

“During that time, I probably produced over 1,500 of these,” Dean said. “For the retirees, I wrote ‘Your Friends at AEDC’ with their years of service in cursive above the photo and their name in Old English underneath the photo.”

Along with utilizing his calligraphy talent to create mementos for retirees, Dean has lent his artistic touch and eye for detail to a number of AEDC projects over his 41-year career. He is currently a design product manager for National Aerospace Solutions, the current Test Operations and Sustainment Contractor for AEDC. In this role, Dean provides final review and approval for all design products produced by the NAS Design Engineering Group within Technology Innovations. These products include design estimates, analyses, engineering drawings and technical review of NAS procurement documents for facilities within the Engine Test Facility, Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility (PWT) and VKF, and for AEDC Base Operations. Since the implementation of AEDC’s electronic drawing management system in the 1990s unto the present, Dean has personally signed over 12,500 drawings for final design approval – a rising number whose magnitude may never be surpassed.

“Aside from routine design jobs, the work has been very interesting and often very challenging,” he said.

Dean has spent his entire AEDC career in design engineering. When he arrived, all beginning engineers were required to produce their own drawings on the board.

“Although these were handcrafted masterpieces depending on your ability to plan and space your creations on vellum, in the straight-laced world of design engineering of that day there was very little room for modest embellishment,” Dean said. “After several months of platforms, small piping revisions and the like, I finally got do to some engine installations. These were side-view elevations of the engine in a test cell. I shaded the engine and inked the title on my first one. Appearance-wise, they really stood out and I produced several of them.”

Dean’s skill, particularly his penmanship, did not go unnoticed. The section leader of an employee who was set to retire asked Dean to letter the aerial photo to be given to the retiree. Others began approaching Dean for the same purpose, kicking off what he referred to as his “secondary job” of lettering the aerials.

When asked to point out some of the changes he has observed at AEDC over the course of his career, Dean responded it would be easier to begin with what hasn’t changed.

“And that is my first and only phone number that was assigned to me over 40 years ago,” he said.

Dean said one of his most memorable experiences was working on the Engine Test Facility C-Plant Bypass Duct from 1987-88. The purpose of the duct was to meet new test parameters for upcoming aviation turbine fuel engines requiring low Mach number altitude without impairing the existing operating capabilities of ASTF. Dean was the lead mechanical engineer on the project and oversaw the planning and preparation of shop fabrication and installation drawings for the ducting, structural support, foundations and a large process valve access platform.

Operational checkouts of the Bypass Duct were performed in March 1988. It met all of its performance objectives.

“The C-Plant Bypass Duct has remained in service for over 30 years,” Dean said.

Thomas Hartvigsen

Regardless of the types of testing conducted within, many facilities under the AEDC umbrella have one thing in common – they have been impacted by the work of Thomas Hartvigsen.

Over his 47-year AEDC career, Hartvigsen has either completed design work or provided other support for all of the wind tunnels within PWT; Tunnels A, B and C in VKF; Hypervelocity Ballistic Range G; 7V; 10V; 12V; Mark I, the Aerodynamic and Propulsion Test Unit; ASTF; and the sea-level test cells. He has also done some work for AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Maryland.

“For me, my work has always been interesting and challenging, and that has never changed,” Hartvigsen said.

Hartvigsen, an aerospace/mechanical engineer III, began his AEDC career in January 1974, initially working in PWT Test Operations as a design engineer. He continued full-time in that role until his retirement in September 2017. He is now working as a part-time, casual employee.

Currently, Hartvigsen is working on the design of a store actuator mechanism for a new 18-percent scale F-35 model. He referred to this as the most challenging thing he has ever worked on.

“Of course, over the years I have seen many changes in technology, work environment and management emphasis,” Hartvigsen said. “

Before the days of personal computers, Hartvigsen completed most calculations on an HP-35 calculator. For more involved calculations, he would have to submit Fortran jobs on punch cards that would run on the base IBM 370 mainframe computer that was then located in the Administration & Engineering Building at Arnold. Prior to the advent of computer-aided design, design work was completed by hand with the aid of a swing-arm drafting machine on large sheets of vellum.

A number of other processes have evolved since Hartvigsen began his AEDC career.

“Many things that are now done on PCs were done by people handling typed forms,” he said. “Material requests, for example, were done on typed multi-part M7 forms which were mailed or hand-carried to the warehouse for processing. The tunnels and associated plant systems were manually operated by people because there was not much computer-controlled automation back then.”

From his early work completing design for tests in the 1-foot transonic wind tunnel and his attendance of offsite symposiums and a design engineering show in Chicago, Hartvigsen said he has accumulated many fond memories throughout his time at AEDC. In the mid-1970s, Hartvigsen was fortunate enough to be one of a few young engineers selected to attend the Experimental Flight Mechanics short course at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. For that course, test flights were flown from the AEDC airstrip, and all of the students took flight data and processed it after the flight. There were several top test pilots and engineers who lectured at that short course. Neil Armstrong was one of them.

“Overall, I would have to say that I had a very positive experience over my career at AEDC,” Hartvigsen said. “I got the opportunity to do some incredible things that I never imagined I would do when I started here.”

One of Hartvigsen’s most memorable moments was seeing the new Captive Trajectory System installed and operating in the 4-foot transonic wind tunnel. The scene was a satisfying payoff for a multi-year effort.

“I worked on that project from when we first started talking about it in January of 2007 through the installation in 2015,” Hartvigsen said. “There were some very challenging technical requirements to meet for that mechanism and it took a lot of hard work to meet them all.”

Dr. Ralph Jones

Although Dr. Ralph Jones has observed a number of changes at AEDC in his more-than-40-year career at the Complex, he said one thing has remained constant – the focus on providing the accurate and reliable information needed to support system development.

“In addition, there’s the complimentary focus on making sure the facilities and test capabilities are in place to meet current and future test needs,” Jones said. “This is at the heart of AEDC’s mission and what continues to make AEDC an important partner in system development.”

Jones, currently a subject matter expert with QuantiTech, the Technical and Management Advisory Services contractor for AEDC, began his AEDC career in December 1978. He retired in 2014 after 36 years at Arnold but returned to part-time work in September 2016. He began his stint at AEDC working in the PWT in the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel analysis group. He was primarily involved in the aerodynamic analysis of compression systems for this wind tunnel and the 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel. In the early 1980s, Jones began work in the area of transient engine modeling. He continued in his capacity until jumping at an opportunity to support a propulsion facility exhaust system design effort undertaken in preparation for the testing of military propulsion systems equipped with exhaust nozzles capable of both vectoring and reversing.

“A number of other challenging technical efforts followed that I really enjoyed,” Jones said. “However, eventually I found myself moving into a series of management positions with Sverdrup and then Jacobs and retiring as the branch manager for ATA’s Technology & Analysis Branch.”

Jones described his AEDC experience, both technically and personally, as “outstanding.” Although he has amassed his share of memorable moments throughout his AEDC career, Jones said two in particular stand out. The first is his aforementioned involvement in the development of the aerodynamic design for a component of the facility exhaust system in the ASTF. The second was associated with an acoustic anomaly that occurred during the testing of a military engine in ASTF. Large acoustic levels were generated in the test cell and exhaust ducting that posed a danger to both the facility and test article. Jones was responsible for an exploratory effort to try and understand what had occurred.

“I had the good fortune to work with Glen (Lazalier) along with folks at UTSI, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Florida State University and NASA Glenn in a combined computational and subscale experimental effort that ultimately arrived at a plausible explanation for the unexpected acoustic phenomena,” Jones said.

As far as changes at AEDC he has observed throughout his career, Jones said he has witnessed significant growth in the use of computational techniques to support facility and test installation and data analysis.

“I’ve seen a number of measurement techniques, both intrusive and optical, that were demonstrated and refined as part of the technology program find their way into routine test support,” Jones said. “And, from a broader Complex standpoint, the various contract constructs we’ve seen over the years is certainly a part of the changes AEDC has seen. When I came to work, there was a single contractor and, over the years, there have been varying numbers of contractors creating different interface challenges. But a strength of the workforce has always been to adapt and make sure the Complex is ready to support development programs.”

Mike Metzger

Mike Metzger began his career at what would later become AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Maryland, when he was hired as a summer intern in May 1979.

He returned to school that fall and, after earning his degree from the University of Maryland, Metzger returned to the White Oak facility, then known as the Naval Surface Weapons Center, as an aerospace engineer in April 1980.

Early in his career, Metzger was involved in the development of a high-pressure, high-Reynolds Mach 10 capability. As President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as the “Star Wars” program, took off in the early 1980s, various aspects of interceptor missile testing was conducted at the White Oak facility. Metzger was heavily involved in the model and sting designs for this work.

Tunnel 9 became an Air Force facility in 1997 after the Base Realignment and Closure commission closed much of the Navy’s White Oak site. Metzger brought his nearly 20 years of experience at Tunnel 9 to AEDC when the Complex assumed management of the facility.

“Early in my career, I was on a steep learning curve and, in some ways, I still am,” Metzger said. “There’s always something new to learn or tackle here. I learned from the skilled people working here, first as a Navy facility and later as AEDC. In this business, it seems everything is unprecedented, and there are a vast array of technologies, processes and skill sets involved in pulling off the testing we do.”

Metzger added that throughout his career, the Tunnel 9 team has constantly evolved to meet the latest needs of the aerospace community. This has meant adapting or developing the technologies that make the facility work, or work better, and to increase test capabilities for customers.

“I have had, and continue to have, the privilege of working with the best technical professionals on the planet,” Metzger said. “For me, it’s the unique and talented individuals I have worked with and continue to work with which is most memorable.”

Together, this team has overcome the challenges they have faced. It was the range and breadth of the staff and their skills that allowed for the successful completion of a shroud separation test conducted in Tunnel 9 in 1990, an effort Metzger referred to as one of the “greatest technological challenges in testing” he has encountered. The staff also negotiated a “complex transition” when Tunnel 9 moved from a Navy to Air Force facility.

Throughout his career, Metzger has also worked to improve the technology, reliability and safety of the Tunnel 9 heater system, which is used to store and heat the nitrogen gas needed for testing operations at the facility. He has been passing his knowledge on to fellow Tunnel 9 engineers.

 “I’ve long thought that I’m privileged to serve from a unique vantage point in history, helping to equip our warfighters with the latest tools and technologies they need to keep us safe,” Metzger said.

Randy Nicholson

Like several longtime employees, Randy Nicholson has spent his whole professional career at AEDC.

“I came here straight out of college and never bothered to leave,” he said.

Nicholson has worked in the space chambers area for the entirety of his 40-year AEDC career. He is currently a subject matter expert for sensor testing in this area and spends most of his time performing test engineer and data analyst roles.

“At this stage of my career, I find myself more frequently serving as a mentor and trainer for the next generation of test engineers and data analysts,” Nicholson said. “Passing the torch to ensure that the valuable work performed in our little corner of AEDC will continue long after my career has ended is a responsibility that I cherish and do not take lightly.”

Nicholson first heard about AEDC through an on-campus job interview while a student at West Virginia University.

“I followed that up with a plant trip to AEDC where the things I remember most were eating breakfast at Cracker Barrel, seeing all the big pine trees lining the AEDC highway, and being overwhelmed by all the amazing things that went on at AEDC,” he said. “The most enticing aspect of the AEDC mission was the space chambers group, even though my education had probably better prepared me for some of the other mission areas. I accepted my job offer from ARO rather than some other available options, even though it meant relocating 600 miles from where I grew up and from my family and friends. I have never regretted that decision.”

A career at AEDC provided Nicholson the opportunity to work in a field in which he has long held an interest.

“I have always had a passion for space-related things,” Nicholson said. “AEDC has provided me the opportunity to work with and evaluate performance of several critical space-related systems, most of which have been surveillance and interceptor systems that are defensive in nature.”

Nicholson said there have been many significant changes at AEDC since the start of his career, with one of the more dramatic being the work environment.

“There used to be a lot more people working here,” he said. “Offices that today are occupied by one or two individuals used to be smoke-filled and typically inhabited by four to five people. In spite of the reduced workforce, I think the workload itself has actually increased.

“Emerging technologies have certainly helped in many areas to provide the ability to do more with less. I failed to anticipate the personal computer revolution and, thus, failed to take typing in high school. Big mistake. I assumed I would always have a secretary or administrative support staff to do my typing for me. I would definitely do that one over if I had the opportunity. From my perspective, accessible and flexible computers have been the biggest element driving change in the aerospace field for the past four decades.”

Nicholson said AEDC has been a great place to spend his career, adding his work has never gotten dull or routine.

“There have always been plenty of challenges to keep things interesting and exciting,” Nicholson said. “For the past 38 years or so, I don’t think there has ever been a day that I have not had more to do than I could possibly get done that day. Sometimes I think I would long for just one day to kick back and read magazines or do something mindless. But my nature is such that I prefer being busy and always having an overflow reserve of tasks to perform.”

Nicholson said his role in the testing of complex and unique systems designed to operate in a space environment has provided many challenges and resulted in many special accomplishments. And while this work has created its share of memories, Nicholson said his fondest memories of his AEDC career are of the people he has worked and associated with over the years.

“No two of them have ever been exactly alike, and each has had interesting traits and qualities – or quirks – that have tended to make each workday a new experience,” Nicholson said. “Working together as a team to derive and implement solutions to challenging problems has provided many memorable experiences. I have fond memories of playing intramural sports – softball and basketball – with many of my colleagues. I have had many opportunities to travel and experience both the benefits and hazards of such ventures. I think I could probably write a book documenting the range of travel experiences I have encountered.

“I have made some good friends locally and in other parts of the country via my work experiences. Many of those I will continue to enjoy and treasure for the remainder of my career and perhaps the rest of my life.”

Timothy White

When asked to reflect upon what has changed the most during his more-than-40-year career at AEDC, one thing immediately jumps to mind for Timothy “Bubba” White – the computers.

“Just the changes that have occurred since 1992 when I came to the Advanced Missile Signature Center are unbelievable,” White said. “What we can do with computers now compared to then is amazing.”

White, an Engineer Tech V who has been working with computers for more than 47 years, began his AEDC career in September 1978, working in the computer room of the Engine Test Facility Shop Building. He left AEDC for brief period in 1984, returning two years later. Upon his return, White worked in the Data Storage Processing Room in ASTF. In 1992, he moved to what was then known as the Plume Data Center, now the Advanced Missile Signature Center, and has been there ever since.

White said he has been “blessed” to work at AEDC and work with some great minds over his career.

“While here at AEDC, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant people I have ever known – Dr. Wheeler McGregor, Dr. Robert Reed, Dr. Glen Lazalier, Rick Roepke, Mike Gallagher and Dr. Robert Hiers, just to name a few,” he said.

Like other longtime employees, White said his fondest memory of his time at AEDC is the people with whom he has worked.

“Right now, I work with a group of folks that are just like family – the folks at the AMSC and the Clan 130, Denise Pegram, Stephanie ‘Genius’ Shetters, Rick Roepke and Mia Wilkerson,” White said. “Everybody steps up when needed to get the job done, whatever that job might be. It has been a joy and blessing to be working closely with them the last few years.”