AFTC engineers share what it means to be an engineer

Paul Ritter (Image has been altered by obscuring phone numbers for securing purposes)

Paul Ritter (Image has been altered by obscuring phone numbers for security purposes)

Andy Escue (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

Andy Escue (U.S. Air Force photo by Bradley Hicks)

Marshall Alexander

Marshall Alexander

Rachel Garrard (image altered for security purposes)

Rachel Garrard (image altered for security purposes)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Their impact is indelible.

Thanks to the efforts of engineers, everything from the everyday, like preparing dinner and making the morning commute, to the extraordinary, such as the exploration of distant planets and national defense, is possible.

Engineers are the heart of Air Force Test Center and it's organizations. They are the ones responsible for the testing and research necessary for AFTC to accomplish its mission, and it is once again time to celebrate these men and women, as well as other engineers across the country, for the effect their work has on daily life and the world around them.

National Engineers Week commenced on Feb. 17 and continues through Feb. 23. This annual celebration of engineers was established in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. According to the NSPE website, National Engineers Week was started to raise public awareness of engineers’ positive contributions to quality of life and to promote recognition among parents, teachers and students of the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science and technology literacy while motivating youth to pursue engineering careers in order to provide a diverse and vigorous engineering workforce.

The theme for this year’s National Engineers Week is “Engineers: Invent Amazing,” and those at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee, and other bases under the AFTC banner have done their part to celebrate the amazing accomplishments and contributions of engineers across the base while encouraging a new generation to further explore their interests in engineering and related fields. 

Several AEDC engineers recently shared what inspired them to pursue an engineering career and what it means to be among those who invent amazing every day.

Math skills lead Escue to engineering career

Aside from a one-year “sabbatical” during which he worked in business development in Tullahoma, Andy Escue has worked at Arnold AFB since 2006. He is currently section manager of the Facility Technology and Test Methods group, a role he has held since 2016.

Similar to the track of others, an early interest in math steered Escue toward a career in engineering.
“I realized in high school that I liked math, calculus and a blonde-headed girl who was already bound for Tennessee Tech,” he said, adding “Yes, I later married her.”

Escue earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Tennessee Tech in 2004 and his Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the same university the following year.

For Escue, being an engineer is about getting the job done with the resources on hand while maintaining creativity with solutions, persistence and ideas to make improvements.

“Change can be realized but often takes patience and diligence,” he said.

During his time at Arnold, Escue has worked mostly in Facility Technology and Analysis with stints in turbine engine modeling and some time with the Advanced Missile Signature Center. He said he views his role of section manager of the Facility Technology and Test Methods group as that of a “player/coach,” adding the Facility Technology section provides “multi-disciplined engineering services across all mission areas, including facility and test technique development, facility analysis and facility modeling and simulation.”

“Facility or plant modeling primarily in support of control system configuration and development has been my focus area since the start of my career,” Escue said. “It’s rewarding to see our models being used to provide confidence that the facility control systems are ready to go. I hope to one day see facility models be applied in other ways to support AEDC’s mission, such as online health monitoring, training, test planning, utilities scheduling, etcetera.”

The role of an engineer at Arnold can be very different depending on the area in which he or she is working, but Escue said with that variety of areas, which range from test and plant operations to analysis, technology and design, Arnold is an ideal locale for an engineer to ply his or her trade.

“The systems under test and the test facility infrastructure are world-class opportunities for engineers at AEDC,” Escue said. “In the words of a recently-inducted Technical Fellow, it truly is an ‘engineering wonderland,’ and the mission we support is worth being excited about.”

Video game sparks Alexander’s interest in Arnold

While an affinity for math and his high school sweetheart helped lead Escue to an engineering career, it was the combination of a wondering mind and a video game released in the early 2000s that helped spark Marshall Alexander’s interest in pursuing a career at Arnold.

“It was an arcade-style air superiority combat game with a world in a parallel state to our own, rife with warring nations,” Alexander said. “This game included many of the legacy and currently operational Air Force and Navy aircraft, including the F-4E, F/A-18 and F-22. There were also foreign models such as the MiG-29 and SU-37 Russian aircraft. I spent many hours enjoying the flight and dogfights and, ultimately, I feel it led to me having a desire to join the AEDC team to be able to see the ground tests of these vehicles.”

This May will mark the start of Alexander’s eleventh year at Arnold. He is currently a Propulsion Wind Tunnel Data Systems Engineer in the Flight Systems Combined Test Force (CTF) and has spent his entire Arnold career in PWT Instrumentation, Data and Controls.

Alexander received his associate degree in engineering from Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. He subsequently transferred to Tennessee Tech, where he received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

While at Tennessee Tech, Alexander spent a year in an engineering co-op at Trico/Schrader Electronics. There, he spent a great deal of time troubleshooting printed circuit board (PCB) failures from both the manufacturing process and failed units returned from the field from customers such as Ford.

“I personally believe this time, more so than any other, influenced my personality in electrical engineering,” Alexander said. “I found that I was a very good troubleshooter and discovered a greater interest in PCB design. Most importantly, however, I learned that I did not want to work in a manufacturing facility.”

Alexander’s first role at Arnold was that of test project instrumentation engineer. In that capacity, he assisted the test teams and customers in the16-foot Transonic and 4-foot Transonic wind tunnels, known respectively as 16T and 4T, with their instrumentation needs and day-to-day troubleshooting of equipment failures. Over the past several years, he has completed design and installation work in the Flight CTF for new and innovative systems on investment projects. Recent significant projects Alexander has worked on include the upgrade of the 16T Main Drive Compressor Data Acquisition System and the replacement of the Digital Inclinometers in the Flight CTF.

Alexander said being an engineer is all about learning on the fly.

“While required to gain employment, I don’t personally believe that a degree in engineering necessarily makes one a good engineer,” he said. “The degree shows that one has the ability to learn and retain new information, but by extension, to take seemingly unrelated information and form a new conclusion which could lead to innovation is the mark of good engineering talent in my mind.”

And Alexander said Arnold provides opportunities for engineers across disciplines to challenge themselves and apply their talents in a variety of environments.

“There are various and sundry positions available to engineers of all disciplines at AEDC,” he said. “Within one’s own wheelhouse, he or she could spend time working directly with customers, working strictly on new design, or install and actively test new equipment. On that same note, with the many mission areas available, one could find themselves in a new area of operation based on previous experience with certain equipment if the current assignment has become stale in some way. I believe if an engineer is finding himself unchallenged, there are many chances to discuss options with their supervisor and there will almost always be a solution.”

Ritter likes availability of opportunities at Arnold

Paul Ritter wanted to be a pilot, but his eyesight prevented him from meeting the necessary requirements.

“I decided that the next best thing would be to design airplanes,” he said.

That goal led Ritter to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering. His master’s degree work was focused on the design of an orbital launch vehicle.

Ritter has worked at Arnold for just over six years. He is currently a test engineer and test analyst for the Space and Missile CTF. In this role, he primarily supports rocket testing and has supported space sensor testing. While working under the previous Test Operations and Sustainment contractor, Ritter was in the Engine Test Facility supporting turbine engine testing as a test analyst.

“There are two pieces to my job,” he said of his current position. “The first, as a test engineer, is to ensure that rocket tests are being set up correctly to meet the customer requirements. That translates to interfacing between the customer and AEDC personnel to ensure the test will provide the information the customer needs. The second is to perform analysis on the data produced during the test. The post-evaluation is important because it helps the customer understand how the test article performed relative to the requirements.”

Ritter added that Arnold is an exciting place to be an engineer because of the many engineering opportunities available.

“Subject matter experts are valuable and, if that interests you, there are plenty of those opportunities for that sort of development. Also, engineers are encouraged to develop a breadth of knowledge across many aspects of the aerospace industry. That’s my favorite engineering thought process – a big picture view across multiple fields.”

He also offered up some advice for budding engineers or those looking into the field as a possible career path.

“To those who are considering engineering or pursuing an engineering degree, pay special attention to developing strong technical fundamentals,” he said. “A strong foundation in thermodynamics, fluid flow, heat transfer, electrical theory, mathematical processes, and especially instrumentation will provide you with the tools to be an engineer at Arnold. You never know, maybe one day you’ll work on a turbine engine that uses a few hundred pieces of instrumentation to provide reliable test data.”

Garrard enjoys critical thinking aspect of engineering

For Rachel Garrard, engineering runs in the family.

“My dad is an engineer. So is my brother,” she said. “Seeing and hearing what they did helped me decide on engineering once I figured out I didn’t want to go into medicine.”

Garrard has been at Arnold for five years. She is currently a test engineer in the Turbines test area, which includes C-side Altitude Test Cells and the Sea-Level Cells, and has worked in the Turbines CTF for the past two-and-a-half years. Prior to taking on her current role, Garrard was a project manager for the Capital Improvements Branch.

“While military engines can be more interesting and more relevant to what we do at Arnold, I think the commercial engine programs I have worked on are my favorite,” she said. “There’s actually a chance one day I’ll be on a plane and one of the engine types I tested will be on it.”

Garrard earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and her master’s degree in engineering from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. In her current role, she works with other groups in the Turbines CTF to oversee, plan and run turbine engine test programs.

“I help customers do the experiments they need and get their data efficiently and accurately,” she said.

According to Garrard, being an engineer is about applying critical thinking to help solve problems. Like Escue, Ritter and Alexander, Garrard said Arnold is a great place for engineers to put their knowledge, skills and talent to work.

“To put it shortly, it’s fun,” Garrard said of working at Arnold. “We get to work with some of the world’s newest technology on some of the biggest and most advanced equipment in the world. It is easy to get bogged down in the paperwork sometimes, but there is no place like Arnold for an engineer.”


(Note: original article written by Bradley Hicks, AEDC Public Affairs Office)

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