by Philip Lorenz III
Arnold Engineering Development Complex Public Affairs
1/15/2013 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Dr.
Douglas Blake took the reins as Arnold Engineering Development Complex
's executive director only last month, but is ready to tackle the
challenges and explore the possibilities of his new position.
One current focus is advancing hypersonic flight with programs like the
X-51 WaveRider and Hypersonic Technology Vehicle-2, but he acknowledged
the complex technical challenges those programs have presented to the
ground and flight test community.
"I'm a huge believer in the potential of what hypersonics can bring to
the fight," Blake said. "There's tremendous opportunity there, but that
doesn't come without costs. Hypersonics is one of those games that is
very expensive to get into and to develop the technology for.
"AEDC is uniquely positioned to contribute to that effort. There is a
target of opportunity for a contribution there that needs to be made by a
consortium of folks as opposed to a relatively small number [of
Blake said AEDC's world-class flight simulation testing facilities are
only half of the story when it comes to supporting the mission. This
translates to supporting the workforce and promoting science, technology
and mathematics career choices to ensure future generations of
scientists, engineers and technicians will bring their skills to places
"I am in a learning mode at this point," he said. "If you look at my
background, you will see I've been heavily involved in aerospace
systems, whether that was in academia or project management. I was
involved in the follow-on test and evaluation programs for the Minuteman
III and Peacekeeper weapons systems, and I am just interested in this
Blake is an aerospace engineer whose career has ranged from academics to
management of major weapons systems programs and included a deputy
directorship at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson
AFB, Ohio, and a directorship at Tinker AFB, Okla.
He said that whenever you are in a position of leadership over an
organization, the more you identify with and understand the business
that you're over. That in turn, allows you to be a benefit to the
"Teaching aerospace engineering, thermodynamics and computational
aerodynamics, running computational fluid dynamics calculations and
having been over a wind tunnel test facility at the Air Force Research
Laboratory have helped me to understand the mission of AEDC, I would say
much more readily than had I not been involved in that type of
activity. All of that experience helps me to understand and
understanding what we do here puts me in a position that I can help the
organization. My job here is to help the organization in any way I
Blake said it is important for leaders to keep the big picture in mind and team with their colleagues.
"I'm going to learn what this place needs, and not just here at AEDC,"
he said. "Especially in today's world, you can't be myopic and just
focus on your own installation; you've got to focus on the needs of the
larger [test] community.
"We're a national asset here; there's no doubt about it. [But] there are
other national assets that are out there. We need to be asking
ourselves, 'How do we bring these national assets together to bear on
problems that we need to solve as a nation moving forward, in the most
effective manner possible?'"
Blake said everyone must remain cognizant of challenges -- rapidly
evolving technologies and encouraging young people to stay the course
toward STEM-oriented careers -- facing the Department of Defense,
especially in a fiscally constrained environment.
Even under ideal circumstances, he emphasized effective leadership
requires ongoing collaboration and education beyond formal academics.
"So, it's not just about learning about AEDC, but it's about learning
about the test community in general -- that's my number one priority,"
Blake said. "I also don't believe in a single person's vision for an
organization because I'm going to leave some day and if it's 'my'
vision, it leaves with me. If it's 'our' vision, then it stays behind.
So, it's a process of developing that as opposed to walking into an
organization with a preconceived notion of what that is."
Blake said his own career path provides a good example of how a person's
life can take many unexpected turns before finally finding something
that excites an individual professionally.
"I became an aerospace engineer because I loved airplanes," he said. "I
thought airplanes were the coolest thing in the world. [However], I
quickly realized in my junior year that I wasn't ever going to design an
airplane and some of that theoretical aerodynamics stuff I didn't like
He learned what he really liked was programming computers.
"I literally would come home from work at night and write computer code,
just for fun" he said. "Then I learned about this thing called
computational fluid dynamics (CFD) -- something that can be solved on a
computer. I got to solve these massively large fluid dynamics problems,
like a heat transfer problem on a computer. I went, 'That's it and there
This interest motivated Blake to continue his education and led to a
master's degree in aeronautical engineering with a specialty in
computational fluid dynamics and a doctorate in aeronautical engineering
where he conducted research in computational electromagnetics and
massively parallel computing. As much as he appreciates what CFD brings
to the mission, Blake said it is only one tool and not a substitute for
ground testing at a place like AEDC.