Science and Technology News

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

AEDC director settles into new job, takes aim at advancing mission

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 people]."

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 like AEDC.

"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 field."

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 organization.

"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 possibly can."

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 at all."

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 you go!'"

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.

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