Barry Hellman, project manager for the Air Force Research Lab’s X-60A Hypersonic Research Vehicle, explains the details of the project to AFRL personnel who were a part of the AFRL Inspire Tech Expo at the Dayton Convention Center on Thursday. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

AFRL counting on tech advancements to attract future scientists

Leaders of the Air Force Research Laboratory are hoping an annual Dayton gathering will allow them to not only celebrate and share their own accomplishments but to also “inspire” and attract future military scientists.

“We want to ignite the imagination and bring in the next Orville and Wilbur Wright, the next great thinkers and engineers and innovators into the Air Force Research Laboratory,” said Maj. Gen. William Cooley, the AFRL commander. “We have an environment in which we can experiment, we can take chances, we can take risk and actually advance technology.”

The Air Force often competes with private companies paying higher salaries to fill high-tech jobs at Wright-Patt’s AFRL. Cooley said he hoped the AFRL Inspire event and tech expo, which brought around 500 people to the downtown Dayton Convention Center on Thursday, would attract the next great thinkers in aerospace.

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AFRL is based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest single-site employer in Ohio with about 29,300 civilian employees and military personnel with an estimated economic impact of more than $15.54 billion. The research lab itself has a multi-billion dollar impact in the Dayton region through the contracts it awards.

Of AFRL’s more than $15 billion in contract dollars from fiscal years 2013 to 2018, $2.5 billion went to the Dayton area and $490 million went to the rest of the state, according to data collected by the Dayton Development Coalition. Overall 20 percent of AFRL’s committed contracts were in Ohio, the data shows.

“We have a mission that’s very important and we want to celebrate that and we obviously want to bring folks into our world a little bit and see what we do and maybe inspire them to come join,” said Theresa Bennett, AFRL chief learning officer who planned Thursday’s events.

AFRL showcased 16 technological advancements at the expo, including a new rocket system, sensor technology and an engine with artificial intelligence, among other things.

One of the projects on display was research and work done to create a mostly aluminum cargo ramp for C-130 aircraft called a “milk stool.” Currently, milk stools are made from wood and weigh 85 pounds but AFRL’s aluminum one weighs just over 32 pounds and has the potential to save the Department of Defense more than $2 million a year in fuel costs, according to the research lab.

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“We want to make sure that we share (AFRL’s work) with the community and with the nation because it makes a difference for our Air Force as a whole,” Cooley said.

Researching the capabilities of hypersonic flight has become big focus of AFRL in recent years and work on the topic was on display at the tech expo Thursday.

AFRL recently achieved a hypersonic milestone by completing the critical design review of the X-60A liquid rocket. The rocket is a vehicle that will be used for hypersonic flight research, Wright-Patt announced in an October.

Hypersonic flight is considered the ability to fly at a rate exceeding Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. It’s widely thought that hypersonic weapons would be capable of penetrating current air defense systems.

It’s critical to “attract the brightest minds” when it comes to researching and advancing hypersonic flight, said Ivett Leyva, program officer for high-speed aerodynamics at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research in Arlington, Virginia. To make further developments in hypersonic flight, it’s important that AFRL is able to fill jobs with people who can provide a fresh perspective, she said.

“It’s like saying you want to make soup. But, if you don’t have water, it’s not going to come out too good,” Leyva said. “It’s the same thing. If you want to make great things…and things that you’ve never done before, a lot of that creativity and innovation comes from young minds.”

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