ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – Arnold Engineering Development Complex has continued to grow and evolve over the nearly 70 years since President Harry Truman dedicated the site in honor of Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, but one thing has remained the same – engineers are the heart of AEDC.
Engineers oversee the testing, conduct the research and manage the maintenance necessary for AEDC to accomplish its objectives, and it is once again time to celebrate these men and women, along with other engineers across the nation, for the impact they have on the world around them.
National Engineers Week, also known as EWeek, kicked off Feb. 16 and continues through Feb. 22. This annual celebration of engineers was established in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. According to that organization’s website, EWeek, was started to raise awareness of engineers’ 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 and technology careers.
The theme for this year’s EWeek is “Engineers: Pioneers of Progress.” Those at Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters of AEDC, have done their part to celebrate the champions of progress employed at the base while encouraging a younger generation to explore their own interests in engineering and related fields. EWeek events at Arnold have included the annual Student Design Competition, which takes place today at the Hands-On Science Center in Tullahoma, and will include the Engineer for a Day event at Arnold on Feb. 19. Festivities conclude with the Engineers Week Banquet Feb. 20 at the University of Tennessee Space Institute Dining Hall.
To highlight their work at Arnold AFB, several engineers with varying levels of experience were asked to share some insight into their engineering journeys and provide perspectives on how their work helps accomplish the AEDC mission.
AEDC has allowed Ketura Bates to dip a toe in the engineering water. Bates, a third-year aerospace engineering student at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, has been at Arnold for less than a year. She was hired as an intern with National Aerospace Solutions, the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor at Arnold AFB, in the summer of 2019 and is completing a co-op at Arnold this semester.
“Working here has provided me with an opportunity that I know I can’t get anywhere else,” she said. “The environment isn’t the deadline-crunching, hair-pulling, high-stress job that I was expecting based on my college experience. I love that teamwork is a big thing here, and I’m glad that I was encouraged to ask questions if I was stuck or confused on my project.”
Bates is working in the Technology Innovations group and has been tasked with revamping a training program by incorporating the old program with new learning styles in a 3D format.
“The project I’m currently working has brought many challenges, which I love, because it has given me a chance to explore completely different avenues – some of which I would have never known about if it wasn’t for this project,” Bates said.
For Bates, tackling challenges and finding solutions lines up with what it means to be an engineer.
“To me, being an engineer means to take everyday complications and come up with efficient methods to solve them,” she said. “It means to pave a way into the future with endless possibilities.”
Although she is enjoying the experience, Bates admitted engineering wasn’t her first choice of degree to pursue.
“I first went to school to become an airplane technician,” she said. “When I started to work for a company around the corner from my school, I decided I wanted to do more than just fix the aircraft. I’m passionate about the aerospace field, so when I wanted to study engineering, I felt aerospace engineering fell right in line with what I was looking for.”
Bates added she is appreciative of the advice and assistance she has received from fellow Arnold engineers along the way.
“The engineers on base have been a big inspiration to me, and I really appreciate their guidance and motivation,” she said, adding she would be interested in pursuing a career at Arnold after finishing her education.
Mills Bishop said engineering is about more than math and equations.
“A good engineer identifies a problem, understands the problem and works to develop an effective, safe solution to the problem,” he said.
Bishop has been employed at AEDC for seven years and is currently a NAS Turbines test operations engineer in the Aeropropulsion Branch.
As a test operations engineer, Bishop is responsible for planning, installation, test execution and removal activities for all turbine engine test articles in the AEDC Engine Test Facility C2 Test Cell. He also coordinates all maintenance activities for C2, which include systems engineering and corrective maintenance, as well as proactive maintenance.
Bishop earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. It was during college that he set foot on the path that would lead him to a career in engineering.
“After graduating high school, I did not know very much about engineering,” he said. “However, after completing a few courses in college, I really enjoyed learning the physics behind how and why things worked.”
From civil to mechanical and chemical to electrical, Arnold employs various types of engineers. Bishop said the base gives these engineers opportunities to work in facilities and on projects unlike anything else in the world.
“AEDC provides engineers of many different disciplines the ability to work in some of the world’s most unique facilities and directly support the future of our nation’s defense capabilities,” he said.
Among the unique opportunities a career at Arnold has afforded him, Bishop said his work with various engines has stood out the most.
“Working with jet engines on a daily basis is something that can’t be experienced at most jobs and presents new challenges on a daily basis,” he said.
When she was younger, Payton Campbell had a computer game called “RollerCoaster Tycoon.” This game allowed players to design and build their own simulated roller coasters.
As it turns out, these digitized amusement park rides were propelling Campbell toward a career in engineering.
“It was always fun and interesting to me to ‘build’ something like that,” she said. “I wondered how you could do something like that in real life, and as I learned more about engineering, I realized it was close to that roller coaster designing that I loved doing so much.”
Campbell would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, with a minor in mathematics, from Tennessee Tech University before beginning her career at Arnold in October 2018.
She works as a test analyst in the Aeropropulsion Branch. In this role, she is responsible for interpreting the data from engine tests and relaying the results of that data in a clear and concise manner.
“To me, being an engineer means taking knowledge of math and science and trying to use it for a better purpose,” Campbell said. “It’s trying to solve a puzzle with the tools and knowledge you have at your disposal.”
The first project Campbell was assigned at Arnold, which allowed her to apply this knowledge right out of the gate, recently finished testing. She said this project will always stand out, mainly for sentimental reasons.
“I had never been so close or involved with a jet engine before then, and working on it quickly hit me with a steep learning curve,” she said. “But I’ve learned most of what I know from it, and I think it will always be sort of special to me because of that.”
However, there should be plenty of occasions for Campbell to make other memories. Like Bates and Bishop, she said Arnold offers engineers the chance to perform unique work.
“Being an engineer at Arnold is realizing that you’re part of something that isn’t very common,” Campbell said. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in your everyday work, but sometimes you take a step back and think about how your ‘everyday’ experiences are things that many people never even think about. You’re part of something much bigger than what it seems at the surface.”
Andrew Jackson said he was inspired to pursue a career in engineering due to his interest in the early days of the American space program, from Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program for the U.S., to the Apollo Program, which landed the first men on the moon.
“I was home from school with the chicken pox when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, and I watched Walter Cronkite report the event on a small black-and-white TV,” he said. “From that day on, I aspired to be an astronaut, but in high school I made a more realistic decision to pursue engineering.”
This year marks Jackson’s 40th year at AEDC. During his Arnold career, spent entirely in the Aeropropulsion Branch, Jackson has worked under a number of contractors and had held a number of job titles, including project engineer, lead test engineer, lead analysis engineer and senior engineer.
Jackson, who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University and his master’s degree from the University of Tennessee Space Institute, is currently a subject matter expert supporting projects in the AEDC Engine Test Facility. In this role, he helps train and mentor younger engineers at Arnold in both the government and contractor workforce.
“As an advisor to the Aeropropulsion Branch analysts, I am helping to develop plans and perform analysis on a number of test programs with turbine jet engines,” Jackson said. “The branch analysts are responsible for ensuring that quality data are produced from the tests and offering an independent interpretation of the test results to the agency that is requesting the test. To put it more simply, the branch analysts are trying to ensure that the sponsor is getting the best value for their test dollars.”
It is a responsibility that Jackson relishes.
“I especially enjoy working with young engineers,” Jackson said. “They come to us from college better prepared and very capable, but I am trying to teach them not to repeat some of the mistakes we have made in the past. I am spending a large portion of my time these days as a mentor, an activity that I find very rewarding.”
Jackson described engineering as a “broad field” in which many people with different skill sets, personalities and talents can contribute. He added Arnold is an ideal setting for engineers of all experience levels and various disciplines to ply their trade.
“Arnold is a great place for engineers,” he said. “There is a great diversity of operations and opportunities, and a chance to be involved in testing and evaluation of state-of-the-art systems.”