A new course aims to help young engineers gain their footing in missile research and help “build the bench” for one of the Army’s research labs.
Missile Fundamentals teaches government employees “how missiles work, where the technology came from, where the technology is going, how to put these different components together, and get the required system performance,” said Blake Haynes, Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Weapons Development and Integration Directorate navigation technology division chief.
In 2018, Haynes approached WDI leadership about creating a course that would train employees on missile design fundamentals. At the same time, Department of Defense funds designated for workforce development were available. Haynes’ idea was met with excitement from leadership. With the help of Susan Dunbar, then-WDI missile technology branch chief, and Mike Richman, WDI technical deputy director for missile modernization and development, WDI members planned the course, applied for and received funding.
The first class ran for six months in 2019 and covered the mathematics, physics and evolution of missile technology dating back to the invention of gunpowder. The inaugural year had intermediate-level employees from four of the five directorates: the Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate, the Engineering Directorate, the Aviation Engineering Directorate, and WDI. Subject matter experts from the center’s S3I, ED and WDI were used as guest speakers.
“We need to build a bench,” Haynes said. “That’s something that, historically, we have done a good job at. However, there have not been the type of classes available for some of these technologies in a long time. That was what I thought we should do – try to mentor the next generation.”
People are the Army’s greatest asset. This course looks to build a talented, well-trained and educated workforce. Along with lectures, the curriculum featured tours for students to meet with center subject matter experts, discuss current tests and build relationships across the center. According to Haynes, the ideal student would be a center government employee and a recent college graduate or someone less than five years into his or her career.
“I’ve been working in a very narrowly defined technical area, which has been very rewarding … but it’s been very specific,” Jeffrey Bolan, WDI aerospace engineer, said. “(This class) was an opportunity for me to see what else is going on within the center, and also understand more of how the piece I’ll work on fits into the overall missile design. I saw it as opportunity to learn some lessons from other disciplines and, hopefully, take that back to my regular job.”
Haynes made the course as realistic as possible by pulling experiences from his nearly 25-year career. During the students’ final project missile design, he purposefully gave one group an unrealistic requirement – something that is physically impossible for a missile to achieve. Realizing this, the students had to meet with Haynes, acting as the customer, and tell him they could not meet the specification.
Bolan was part of that group. He said he learned the most important goal is to figure out what the customer wants to achieve and help them get there. “You can just blindly make a design that meets their written down requirements, but it may not actually answer what they want,” he said. “They actually might not care about (specific technologies) if you can get the same performance with something else. If they can rework or reword their requirements, they’ll really get at what they want.”
Without this class, Haynes said engineers would have to do multiple rotational assignments across different programs to gain the level of expertise covered in the course.
The result? A center employee with an increased technical grasp on missile systems and the ability to make an impact on the center’s mission goals.
Sam Winkler, a S3I lethality analyst, has supported a missile program at Joint Attack Munition Systems Project Office under Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space since 2016.
“I was going to these meetings and we’re talking about radar, integrated flight simulation, millimeter wave, and all that just didn’t make sense. I’m a person that has to know everything for it to all tie together,” Winkler said. “Over time, I slowly caught on … but now, after taking the course, I can contribute to the conversation, ask intelligent questions and see how it ties into my role in lethality studies.”
Haynes said he believes it is vital for the future of the Army and the Aviation & Missile Center to have employees with these skill sets. “The folks that we are training up today are going to be the weapon system design engineers of tomorrow.”