by Raquel March
Arnold Engineering Development Complex Public Affairs
5/29/2015 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- As Arnold Engineering Development Complex personnel make adjustments for a new Combined Test Force construct for Fiscal 2016, opportunities for sharpening engineers' knowledge at the Complex is available through the AEDC Ground Test University.
Organizers of the university saw the potential to train engineers in a broader range of testing areas to prepare for rapidly evolving technology and a different staffing environment.
"We have a significant need to accelerate the training of our folk, both the new-hires today and technical staff that serve in broader, diverse, cross-assignments," said Rob McAmis, the ATA Integrated Test and Evaluation Department director. "Additionally, we have a persistent need to train for the years ahead. Our employees will be more agile within the entire AEDC workforce and likely more mobile within the broader aerospace and engineering industry."
Coursework is laid out in a multi-year format to aid in career development and growth as determined by the individual's desires and supervisor's needs. Training a new test engineer at AEDC has traditionally been a five to 10 year project according to AEDC Test Operations Division Senior Materiel Leader Col. Timothy West.
"The goal of GTU is to accomplish a similar amount of training in a much more compressed timeline, say five to 10 months," West said. "Obviously, there is no substitute for hands-on experience in the test environment, but GTU will allow us to accomplish many aspects of that experience in a much shorter timeframe."
The GTU curriculum offers courses in aeropropulsion and flight and will later include space and asset management courses. A GTU library exists to capture course content which may be used for reference as needed.
The courses support a variety of students at the Complex including newly hired ATA and government civilian personnel and veteran personnel who moved into a new mission area.
"Several are using this as a tool to refresh their knowledge or springboard to a slightly different job function like project management," said Mark Bymaster, a GTU coordinator and aeropropulsion product manager with the ATA TE Department. "The idea was to develop an apprenticeship type program balancing theory, systems exposure, and on the job training to produce 'smart test people.' We needed to provide a recurrent forum for subject matter experts to routinely transfer systems and process knowledge to others."
The instructors for the courses are subject matter experts employed at AEDC and the courses are not a structured class setting.
"We know that sitting in a conference room and being bombarded with PowerPoint charts for hours is not necessarily an effective way to learn," McAmis said. "We are using the GTU to experiment with different techniques of learning which includes field visits, video, lab-assignments and various on-line assignments."
GTU participant Nathan Harrison, an analysis engineer with ATA and who has been employed with AEDC for seven months, has a better understanding of the test process due to the courses he has taken.
"Participating in the Ground Test University helped me to understand how tests are supported by departments other than my own," Harrison said. "Many of the classes drew people of varying roles and helped me realize the importance of communication and collaboration within the AEDC setting. The GTU courses also made way for discussions and Q&A time with the instructors that would otherwise be less likely to happen. Most importantly, after each GTU class I walked away with an increased drive to dig deeper and better understand what we're all trying to accomplish -- especially in the technical context."
AEDC Commander Col. Raymond Toth said GTU is critical to the future of AEDC and that it will ensure the Complex's engineers and technicians will stay on the forefront of test and analysis techniques. He also expressed the importance of continuous learning in regards to keeping abreast of evolving test technologies.
"We have the experts here at AEDC, so we should use them to grow the competency of our overall workforce as we head into a future where our services and value are in increasing demand," Toth said. "Ultimately I see GTU growing into an analogue of the Test Pilot School, which focuses on the core aspects of flight test engineering, where the best and brightest of the Air Force's engineers and technicians fight for a slot to learn from the masters of ground test engineering and analysis."