The year 2020 will likely be remembered as the Year of the Pandemic. Life for many Americans, including many of at the Redstone Test Center, changed drastically both at work and at home due to COVID-19.
Masks, hand sanitizer and telework became routine as our workforce moved to safely and effectively adjust to the pandemic. The employees of Redstone Test Center executed these precautions while making 2020 one of RTC’s busiest and most productive years yet with more than a million direct labor hours conducting test and evaluation in support of our warfighters.
In support of the Future Vertical Lift Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program, RTC experimental test pilots conducted flights of the Bell V-280 Valor in August. The flights are part of the Test and Evaluation Command preparations for the FLRAA test effort, a key element of Army nmodernization.
Similar flights are scheduled in the future for the Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Defiant.
In 2020, Test and Evaluation Command and RTC started integrating with Sikorsky for the planned RAIDER X Combined Test Team. RTC’s Army civilian experimental test pilot Charlie Packard, became the first Army aviator to fly the similar Sikorsky-built aircraft known as the S-97 Raider. RAIDER X will be the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft concept from the Sikorsky Aircraft division of Lockheed Martin.
A government flight test evaluation of both the Sikorsky RAIDER X and the Bell 360 Invictus is expected by fall 2023.
While the pandemic brought most in person events to a halt, earlier in the year many RTC teammates did receive honors in person, while others were later honored virtually.
In February, RTC flight test engineer Kayla Freeman was honored as the 2019 Veteran of the Year by the Association of the U.S. Army at an awards ceremony in Tuscaloosa. Freeman became the first black female pilot in the 200-year history of the Alabama National Guard. First Lt. Freeman received the honor on Feb. 26 at the Women’s Leadership Luncheon held in Tuscaloosa by the West/Central Alabama Chapter of the AUSA.
This is only the second time the honor has been given, and Freeman is in good company, with the first going to Maj. Gen. Sheryl Gordon, the adjutant general of the Alabama National Guard, the first female to hold that position. Gordon was also on hand at the luncheon.
In 2020, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Zealand Shouse was honored for his skills as a highly-trained experimental test pilot. Shouse is the 2019 National Defense Industrial Association Army Military Tester of the Year.
In 2019, Shouse served as the test director or project pilot for several complex flight test programs including the live weapons vibration trial for the AH-64E; assessment of a new modem for AH-64D and AH-64E Tactical Engagement Simulation Systems; qualification of weapons firing on foreign UH-60A aircraft; and the AH-64E Area Weapon System Accuracy Improvement.
Shouse also thrived in the stressful environment of testing for the High Energy Laser (HEL) program. During the HEL program, he conducted a number of flights in the AH-64E, UH-60M, and MH-60M to facilitate aircraft flight envelope development. Shouse assisted the HEL manufacturer in the development of critical pilot vehicle interfaces (including user symbology), and the subsequent cockpit integration into the AH-64E and MH-60M aircraft.
In the background of preparing the system for flight, Shouse led the test team in developed of HEL indoor laser safety measures for RTC and Yuma Proving Ground test facilities, and developed air to ground safety fan analysis methodology applicable to any range being utilized for HEL testing in the future.
Shouse was instrumental not only in establishing the conditions for flight, but also in executing in-flight HEL engagements and a sensor assessment of specific HEL equipment that will provide Program Executive Office for Aviation vital data to compare against existing systems.
RTC’s explosives safety manager Mike McKinney was named the ATEC Civilian Mission Support Employee of the Quarter for the second quarter of 2020.
McKinney served as RTC’s explosives safety manager within the organization’s Center Support Directorate. He was responsible for administering all regulatory explosives safety management functions across the center which is comprised of five open air ranges, and more than 180 buildings with explosive site licenses.
Maj. Simon Beattie, an experimental test pilot from the United Kingdom serving at RTC as part of the Military Personnel Exchange Program, was the 2020 Robert N. Turk Award recipient.
The Robert N. Turk Award is presented to the individual within the RTC Aviation Flight Test Directorate who has made the most significant contribution to Army engineering flight testing during the last year. It is awarded in memory of Robert N. Turk who died on May 26, 1964, near Delano, California, during a test flight in a Hiller LOH-5.
Beattie provided exemplary service to RTC and the entire Army aviation acquisition community while serving as the test director and senior XP for the AH-64E 30mm Gun Accuracy Improvement Test Program.
In February, RTC held what would be the final in person Town Hall meeting for teammates. Many awards were handed out and employees honored, including Lynn Hanks. Hanks was honored for 50 years of combined service as a Soldier and Army civilian.
Hanks retired from Army active duty in 1993 as a lieutenant colonel. While on active duty, he served in numerous leadership and senior staff positions primarily in the experimental test pilot, research and development, and acquisition arenas. Military assignments included a year in Vietnam, three years as a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base, two years in Saudi Arabia, five years as a test pilot at Edwards, two years with the Defense Intelligence Agency, two years on the V-22 Multi-Service test team, and he commanded the Airworthiness Qualification Test Directorate at Edwards for three years.
As COVID-19 numbers began to rise across America in early 2020, and prior to the state mask mandate, RTC teammates rallied together to obtain homegrown masks for teammates working on site. Spouses generated dozens of cloth masks, the RTC Aviation Flight Test Directorate’s Aviation Life Support Equipment team created several dozen from equipment on hand, using hair ties for the elastic and helmet visor packing for the mask material. A local quilting group even donated dozens of masks for RTC teammates working onsite supporting the mission.
Members of several of RTC’s divisions made face coverings and also printed a few using 3D printers. Spouses and family members also contributed to the mask-making efforts. A local quilting club donated dozens to the divisions as well.
Like most organizations, RTC had to shift many events and meetings online. In the fall, RTC began participating in several virtual job fairs held with universities across the country in an effort to recruit newly graduated engineers.
The RTC human resources team, along with engineers from RTC test directorates, conducted interviews with students virtually from several universities, extended job offers to the new engineers. More virtual job fairs are planned.
Job fairs weren’t the only events that went virtual in 2020, and an RTC teammate participated early on in a virtual swearing in ceremony for a family member joining the Navy.
Robert Dulin, a retired Navy commander, is working as a contractor for the Redstone Test Center. In 2002, then-Lt. Dulin visited his 6-year-old cousin Nick Sandercott’s class in Michigan.
Eighteen years later, Dulin was to commission his cousin in person. However, travel restrictions and social distancing due to COVID-19 forced the ceremony to be held via Zoom instead. Despite the last-minute change, the ceremony marked the continuation of a family tradition of military service.
During the summer, RTC hosted 23 Army civilian interns. All students were engineers and came from a variety of colleges such as Texas A&M University, University of South Carolina; and many in-state campuses from the University of Alabama and Auburn University.
At RTC, interns get hands-on experience every summer. This summer that experience also included real-life COVID-19 mitigation procedures to keep on-site employees safe while executing RTC’s mission of providing test and evaluation services to the warfighter.
Over a muggy three days in late August, the Redstone Test Center worked in collaboration with the 1103rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion Alabama National Guard and the Defense Logistics Agency to successfully divest of more than a million dollars’ worth of old property.
Operation Clean Sweep, as the mission was named, began in June when RTC Logistics Division Chief Rontario Hicks coordinated support from the 1103rd CSSB and DLA to remove the items from RTC. Through Operation Clean Sweep, RTC divested of property that has been accumulating over the past 12 years from remnants of testing.
Despite the challenges faced by COVID-19, RTC teammates rallied together and continued to support the warfighter with our critical mission.