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National Engineers Week: Arnold engineers share insight on their career journeys, roles

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

The importance of the roles engineers play at Arnold Engineering Development Complex has not diminished one iota in the more than seven decades since it was established.

From civil and mechanical to electrical and aerospace and just about every type in between, engineers continue to make up a significant percentage of the AEDC workforce.

AEDC engineers oversee the testing, conduct the research and manage the maintenance necessary for the complex to accomplish its critical Air Force mission. Now, it’s time to celebrate these men and women, as well as other engineers across the country, for the impact they have on the world around them.

National Engineers Week, also known as EWeek, kicked off Feb. 20 and continues through Feb. 26. This annual celebration of engineers was established in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. According to that organization’s website, EWeek was started to raise awareness of engineers’ contributions to quality of life and to promote the importance of a technical education and a high level of math, science and technology literacy to parents, teachers and students. The goal is to motivate youth to pursue engineering and technology careers.

The theme for EWeek this year is “Reimagining the Possible.” The NSPE is calling on everyone to celebrate engineers for the new possibilities they constantly create and how they work together to develop new technologies, products and opportunities that change how everybody lives.

To highlight their work at Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters of AEDC, several engineers were asked to share what compelled them to pursue an engineering career, offer perspectives on how their work helps AEDC accomplish its mission and provide some insight on what it’s like to be among those who reimagine the seemingly impossible to bring the possible to life.


James Dai

James Dai didn’t want to “abandon” his degree in aerospace engineering, wishing to find a career in which his education and collegiate experience could be put to use.

In Arnold AFB, he found the ideal place to apply his skills.

“The work here is super unique. I’m working with the largest light gas gun in the United States,” Dai said. “Because what we do is so unique and because of our mission to support the Department of Defense, I feel like I’m doing work that contributes something of value and I’m making a difference.”

Dai is currently a test operations engineer in the rocket propulsion testing and ballistic range areas of the Space Test Branch. He has worked full-time under the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor for AEDC since September 2019. Dai was familiar with Arnold prior to this. He interned at the base during the summer of 2018, working in the J-6 rocket test cell to accurately model and propose improvements to components of the J-6 test stand.

He earned his Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from Ohio State University in May 2019.

The work of the team Dai is now a part of, which is responsible for maintaining and operating test cells, includes some mechanical design, system engineering, project engineering and analysis.

“You don’t always know what’s coming,” he said. “You may need to learn more about something you’re unfamiliar with. It’s your job to adapt to whatever comes along to make sure the test goes off as planned and you achieve the objectives the customer had for the test while keeping the test cell safe and operable.”

The ability to make adjustments on the fly is important, as test projects vary from customer to customer and test requirements change often.

“Of course, the field of engineering is always changing. That’s what we do – we try to create and improve things,” Dai said. “Being adaptable and going with the flow is important in this job. It definitely is a unique experience working here.”

Dai said the most interesting challenge he has faced thus far in his AEDC career involved the reactivation of a dormant test cell. He was tasked with serving as test operations engineer in Range S, one of AEDC’s high velocity ballistic ranges, which had been inactive for several years and was needed to complete a customer test.

“That allowed me to go through the entire process from test planning to execution to post-test,” Dai said. “We only had one craft person who was there when we last tested in S Range, so we all had a lot of learning to do together. But we did it.”


Jennifer Doan

As Jennifer Doan pointed out, it is quite impossible for one to look around and find something that has not been touched by an engineer. This observation inspired Doan to pursue a career in engineering.

“I wanted to put my energy into building the world around me,” she said.

Doan has worked at Arnold for nearly seven years. For the past seven months, she has served as an integrated project team, or IPT, lead. Doan, who works under the Technical Management Advisory Services contractor for AEDC, said her post entails providing a layer of quality assurance to identify and help mitigate risks before they become issues. She also provides routine project status updates on a timeline determined by the IPT and Air Force while providing information up the Air Force chain on a real-time basis. Furthermore, Doan tracks key performance indicators at the sub-project level and is involved in the writing of technical documents.

Doan, who earned her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Notre Dame and her Master of Business Administration from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, began her career at AEDC as a design engineer. Before taking on her current role, she held an analyst position.

“Working at Arnold can be very interesting and exciting,” Doan said. “One can really feel a sense of purpose here.”


Jacob Floyd

Jacob Floyd sought a career that would be both fulfilling and challenging.

Mission accomplished. 

Just shy of his fifth anniversary at Arnold, Floyd is currently an instrumentation and data systems engineer developer in the Air Force Research Laboratory von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility Wind Tunnel D. In this role, Floyd supports AFRL researchers stationed at AEDC by providing instrumentation and data systems expertise for new and ongoing hypersonic research campaigns. He is also responsible for operating and maintaining the instrumentation data system along with support for test article instrumentation.

Previously, Floyd, who works under the Technical Management Advisory Services contractor for AEDC, worked as an enterprise data systems engineer for the AEDC enterprise system for test data acquisition. Prior to that, he worked as instrumentation engineer for the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel in the Propulsion Wind Tunnel facility.

“Every day at Arnold is different and holds new challenges,” Floyd said. “In my short five years, I have had the privilege to hold multiple positions in several world-class facilities, all while building great relationships that will persist through time.”

Floyd earned his Bachelor of Science in computer engineering from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Tennessee Technological University.

He said perhaps the thing he enjoys most about engineering is seeing a project through from beginning to end and being involved every step of the way.

“I am honored to be able to see a project executed from conception to implementation, in addition to seeing flaws in current systems and how they can be improved,” Floyd said.

Although still early into his AEDC career, Floyd already has a project that stands out to him. He said his time working with the test data acquisition system team was “much appreciated and valued” in his career.

“I learned the nuances of project planning and execution along with growing my ability to overcome obstacles to release and sustain a good product,” he said. “Despite many challenges, the system is now deployed in VKF Tunnel C with more Flight wind tunnel installations on the schedule. I am proud to have played a part in the project, and I look forward to seeing more milestones achieved as the project progresses.”


Will Garner

Will Garner had already plotted his course. He knew he wanted to work as a scientist for the U.S. government.

“I chose to pursue a career in engineering because it would enable me to solve real-world problems, serve my country and have a concentration in the field of science,” he said.

Garner’s work for AEDC has allowed him to turn his goal into a reality. An Air Force civilian employee, Garner is currently the Propulsion Test Branch Instrumentation, Data and Controls technical lead for the Test Information Systems Section at Arnold AFB. The electronics engineer, who is nearing the end of his fourth year at Arnold, has held his current role for a little more than a year.

“The job takes the needs of future program ID&C requirements and directs a path forward to ensure AEDC’s viability as a leading propulsion test facility,” Garner said. “Another key function of the job is maintaining current assets in the turbines test cells to make sure they are ready for operation.”

Prior to his most recent post, Garner was an ID&C engineer for the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor for AEDC, working primarily in the jet propulsion and turbine test cells within the Propulsion Test Branch and with the Design Solutions group for Engine Test Facility plant controls.

Garner earned his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“Being an engineer is having the perspective to identify the true problem, rationalizing potential alternatives to solve the problem and the technical knowledge to implement the determined solution,” he said.

Garner said being an engineer at Arnold can be challenging at times, but he described the work as often “interesting” and “groundbreaking.” He added his involvement on projects in which the results directly impact the warfighter have given him a “very high sense of dedication” to the AEDC mission.

“Those projects allowed me to find true value in knowing the things I do out here really matter,” he said.


Nissa Schuman

Nissa Schuman wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps. And she did, aside from taking a slight deviation along the way.

“He was a civil engineer for the government, and I wanted to be an engineer, too,” she said. “I just decided I liked things that fly as well, so that tailored the type of engineering classes I took in college.”

Schuman, who has been at Arnold since 2010, is currently a test engineer and test manager in the Aerodynamics Test Branch. In this role, she helps test customers plan, schedule and execute tests in the wind tunnels at Arnold.

“Being an engineer at Arnold means you get to see a lot of programs come through here and work on a bit of everything,” Schuman said. “We have some unique facilities here on base that make us a frequent stop for programs developing or testing anything that will fly.”

Schuman, an Air Force civilian employee, earned her Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from the University of Tennessee and her Master of Science in the same field from Purdue University.

Prior to mid-2015, Schuman worked in the Analysis Branch at Arnold as a test analyst supporting the Space Test Branch.

For Schuman, being an engineer means tackling problems and finding solutions as a team. She said, more specifically, this involves working together with others to successfully run multimillion dollar tests at Arnold.

Over the course of her AEDC career, Schuman has worked on plenty of projects that she has found interesting for one reason or another.

“Some tests have shown interesting results in data, while other projects were technically challenging to execute,” she said.


Ron Shumpert

A career in an industrial setting and the prospect of getting acclimated to the technologies that lie within could be intimidating for some job seekers.

Not for Ron Shumpert.

It was actually the complexity of the AEDC facilities that drew him to seek a career at Arnold.

“Even from the outside just looking at the facilities and how big they are, you can’t imagine all the pieces and parts it takes to make the plant and test cells work together,” Shumpert said. “Everything in school was newer technology. Most things here are physics-based with technology mixed in. One of the biggest challenges is figuring out how to make the old and new work together and, when they don’t, figuring out why they don’t and coming up with a solution.”

Shumpert is a test operations engineer at Arnold. He assists in overseeing wind tunnel C in the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility and helps in other areas of the VKF plant when needed. Starting out as a mechanical system engineer in the VKF plant, Shumpert has worked for the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor for AEDC since June 2019. He earned his Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of South Carolina in December 2018 after working as an aircraft and airframe and power plant, or A&P, mechanic for 15 years.

Shumpert’s affinity for hands-on work runs in the family. His grandfather worked on helicopters while serving in the U.S. Marines. His uncle also has experience working as an A&P mechanic. It was while working with his uncle one summer that a then-16-year-old Shumpert decided he too wanted to be an A&P mechanic.

However, observations made during his career as an A&P mechanic played a large role in Shumpert’s decision to alter his course and pursue an engineering career.

“As an A&P mechanic, I picked up on issues we would have with various pieces of equipment that could have been resolved in the design process. I wanted to try to improve things earlier on,” he said. “Also, to be blunt, I wanted more steady employment. We got furloughed a lot. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I learned that one engineer doesn’t design the whole system, just one part. That highlighted for me the importance of teamwork and communication and their vital role in successful designs and implementation.”

Shumpert said his engineering career has thus far kept him on his toes, as every day presents its own challenges.

“The craziest things can happen sometimes,” he said. “It’s not always what you would expect.”

In fact, Shumpert said he could only recall one time in which a test went exactly as planned with no challenges to overcome. He described this particular test as “boring.”

“There are always different problems which keeps things interesting,” he said. “It’s only frustrating if you let it be.

Although Shumpert spends a great deal of time in Tunnel C, the most memorable challenge for him during his time at Arnold actually involved some repair work in VKF Tunnel B. He said the occasional change of scenery to provide support where needed comes with the territory for test engineers.

“You go wherever you’re needed,” he said. “That’s the name of the game. We work together and help each other.”


Daniel Soderquist

Things often have a way of just working out.

Daniel Soderquist, a computational fluid dynamics analyst at Arnold AFB, first considered a career in engineering not because it sounded fun, but because his father was an engineer and his job provided the family with stability.

“Halfway through high school, I started to learn what engineering actually was, and I realized that I enjoyed it. One day in particular while modeling some geometry in SolidWorks [engineering software] it hit me that I could see myself doing it for the rest of my life. My understanding of what engineering is has evolved since then, but that was the point where I began enjoying engineering.”

Soderquist has held the role of CFD analyst for the entirety of his nearly three years at Arnold. In this role, he performs modeling and simulation to support test programs and other research objectives. He utilizes engineering software to build computational models of test articles in their test environment and then runs simulations to provide flow-field visualization and other results, such as lift and drag predictions.

Soderquist added that, to him, engineering means applying math, science and creativity to solve problems.

“Being an engineer at Arnold is a uniquely exciting experience because of the great variety of testing that happens here,” he said. “There are structural-, electrical-, chemical- and fluids-related problems that need to be solved every day to keep the test facilities running and to ensure they are world-class. Even though everyone has their specialty, people often end up getting their feet wet in several other areas of engineering.”

Soderquist, who works under the Technical Management Advisory Services contractor for AEDC, earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University.

As for a standout project, Soderquist pointed to a recent effort in which he was involved in the design of a new test article to be used for research and process improvement.

“I ran CFD simulations for several conditions and configurations to help iterate the geometry until it satisfied our requirements,” Soderquist said. “Then I got to work closely with the design group as they created drawings and turned the concept into something that could actually be fabricated. It was a rewarding experience for me to be a part of multiple stages of the project and to meet people of various backgrounds.”