School children see latest research tools
The gee-whiz hardware of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center went flying into the cafeteria of Grissom High on Thursday to show off what can happen when science and math are combined with a can-do attitude.
AMRDEC’s young engineers combined with the experience of the organization’s leadership to put on a show designed to impress fifth- to eighth-grade students attending a Summer Engineering Camp at the school.
AMRDEC’s Aviation Engineering Directorate brought in a small radio-controlled airplane that flew over the kids’ heads and a hovercraft that flew with a remote controlled camera. There was a beach ball spin with a shop vac, and a friendly competition between two student groups to see who could put a Raven unmanned aircraft together the fastest. The morning’s demonstrations were topped off with a video presentation of the online America’s Army videogame by AMRDEC’s Software Engineering Directorate.
“It was cool! It made me want to be an aerospace engineer,” Eric Braneon, a rising sixth-grader at Mountain Gap Middle, said.
“I liked when they showed us the Raven. I like airplanes. I liked that it was more interactive,” Ella Rozar, a rising fifth-grader at Weatherly Elementary, said.
“I liked the Raven. But I really liked the missiles,” added Chase Tuggle, a rising fifth-grader at Challenger Elementary.
The engineers didn’t have any missiles to show the kids. But AMRDEC director Eric Edwards did show the students videos of missiles blowing things up at Redstone Arsenal and White Sands, N.M. He talked about the Javelin and how its sensor makes it a type of robot because of the autonomy it allows.
But mostly, AMRDEC’s leadership as well as its engineers shared with the students their excitement in bringing science, technology, engineering and math to bear on missile and aviation systems that are being used by today’s war fighters.
“We want to get you folks interested, get your degree, and come out to Redstone to work for us,” Edwards said.
Engineers of all types – aerospace, mechanical, chemical, electrical, software, cyber, industrial and others – all fit in with AMRDEC’s mission to develop the latest technologies in aviation and missile systems, he said.
“We are an engineering center focused on the full life cycle, from sketching something on a piece of paper to how to get something out of the Army because it’s too old,” Edwards said. “We are involved in the full life cycle for missile systems and Army aviation.”
AMRDEC has 10,000 employees located at Redstone and in Virginia, Texas, Colorado and California, and an annual budget of $3 billion. It has more than 1.6 million square feet of lab space where it tests systems to make “sure when we give these systems to the Soldier they are going to work.”
With a sense of humor, Edwards referred to a slide that showed such famous robots as Rosie the maid from the Jetsons, and WALL-E and the Transformers from recent major motion pictures. He compared them to the unmanned aircraft and ground systems used today by war fighters, including Packbot, Talon and Raven.
“Hadn’t we rather lose a robot than a Soldier? We can use robots to look for bombs, to give Soldiers visibility of the route ahead of them. They are expendable and cheaper than putting Soldiers in harm’s way,” Edwards said. “These robots go out and do things autonomously under the control of Soldiers, and they do things that Soldiers would otherwise have to do.”
Edwards said there will always be “cool” challenges for young engineers to address in support of the war fighter. Even systems that have been in use for many years need updates and modifications to address new threats.
“How do we make things better? How do we change the way we fight because the enemy changes their tactics? … What kind of helicopter will we be flying in 2030 or 2040?” he asked the students.
“We’re looking to the future. Do you think by the time you get there all the cool stuff will be done? No. We will always be looking at ways to make things lighter, easier to maintain, more reflective, less reflective and the list goes on.”
The science and technology developed at AMRDEC and, specifically, in its Prototype Integration Facility, requires more than the efforts of highly skilled engineers. It also requires a can-do attitude, Danny Featherston, program manager of AMRDEC’s PIF, told the students.
Providing examples of his missteps with science as a young person who didn’t yet grasp the laws of science and math, Featherston said “attitude and aptitude are so important. There are certain rules you follow in math and science, and some of those you can’t deviate from. There’s a lot of lessons learned. … We’ve been able to solve problems quickly for the war fighter because we have people with skills in math and science and, most importantly, they’ve had the right attitude.”
He mentioned several PIF inventions that went on to become among the greatest inventions in the Army. All were designed in a short timeframe to address immediate problems on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We had to do them fast. We saved lives with quick solutions. We did not have a lot of time or room for error,” he said.
Featherston advised the students to have the right attitude and discipline, and to stay focused on their future. He told them to be fair, accountable and honest, to work hard and be nice to people, to be a team player and to be mindful of other people.
“The value of what you do does matter,” he said. “Your attitude will drive you forward and affect all you do.”
The Summer Engineering Camp was coordinated by Susan Moon, an assistant principal at Grissom High.
“We want to see these kids stay engaged in math and science,” she said. “To do that, they need to see the application of math and science, and that’s what they’ve seen today.
“To the kids, this is all cool and exciting. To us as teachers, it’s a way to keep them engaged in hard math and science. This is the most patriotic thing I can do. I can’t build robots or military systems. But I can help to keep students engaged in math and science so we have a work force to continue the mission.”