By Amy Rollins, Skywrighter Staff / Published November 13, 2019
A panel of Air Force Institute of Technology alumni who went on to become astronauts discuss how AFIT impacted their careers and the future of space as part of the AFIT Centennial Symposium on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Nov. 7, 2019. The panel, which included Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, and Guy Bluford, the first African-American in space, also took questions from the audience of AFIT students. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)
Alumni, special speakers, astronauts highlight AFIT’s evolution
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – An institution headquartered here went all-out Nov. 7 to mark its 100 years of educating Airmen for meeting Air Force missions.
The Air Force Institute of Technology celebrated its centennial with a symposium carrying a theme of inspiration to innovation. Its 750-seat Kenney Auditorium was packed, with a stand-by space populated by remaining guests.
Multiple speakers and a panel of astronauts who are AFIT graduates were the morning session’s highlights. The symposium’s afternoon session was devoted to many other speakers, with the day concluding in an awards and recognition banquet recognizing the achievements of alumni and contributions of faculty and staff.
As the morning session began, Dr. Todd Stewart, AFIT’s director and chancellor since 2012, welcomed and thanked everyone in attendance. He introduced the first of three guests.
Maj. Gen. William Cooley, Air Force Research Laboratory commander and ’97 AFIT alumni in engineering physics, served as the morning session’s keynote speaker. He highlighted how Airmen have had to become technologists since the earliest days of air power – a need that continues today.
“It’s my responsibility to carry this banner and make the case for technologists. AFIT is central to that role,” he said.
Cooley outlined the Air Force’s implementation of technology across the decades, the possible danger of being too tied to one type of technology and the need to embrace whatever opportunity various technologies offer.
“We really need to step back, reassess and say, ‘what are all the various technologies out there that we can tap into?’” he said.
Cooley told the AFIT students that the increasing levels of technological complexity will be something they will need to address in the realms of land, sea, air, space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum – all in a highly contested environment.
“One of the huge challenges we have as a Defense department is credible deterrence,” he said. “How do we bring that to bear?”
The general expressed his optimism that AFIT will play a part in responding to such challenges.
“I’m glad that the students and faculty will help us solve these problems,” Cooley said.
As he closed, he said, “We, collectively, need to emphasize the need for every Airman – military, civilian, contractor – to see themselves as technologists and educate appropriately via discipline and traditional academic approaches as well as short courses to expose the new technologies and opportunities.”
Cooley asked the students to embrace their role as technologists, be justifiably proud of AFIT and balance persistence with openness for novel approaches.
“I am very proud of my time at AFIT. Time and time again I am impressed by the caliber of the students and the folks we produce,” he said. “This is a first-rate institution. You all are getting a top-drawer education. You are only limited by your own hesitation to dive in and make a difference. Be very proud of this institution.”
Cooley was presented with a 100th-anniversary coin by Stewart; in turn, Cooley gave Stewart his personal coin, emblazoned with a quote by Gen. Hap Arnold, “The first essential of air power is preeminence of research.”
The second speaker was Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
“There is not a day of my life that I don’t think about flight. It has its own heartbeat here in the Midwest,” she told the audience. “I hope that when each of you spend time here at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, you’ve felt it, too, because when it comes to flight, this is sacred ground. I say that not only because of the work and accomplishment of my great-grands, but because of yours.”
Lane outlined her uncles’ endeavors, how they overcame such aeronautical issues as wing control, data collection, propeller design and pilot training, to advance controlled, powered flight.
She also credited the men and women who have passed through AFIT, “who have continued to rock our planet by breaking boundaries.”
“Like you, (my great-grand uncles) were motivated. Like you, they were innovative. Like you, they were not afraid of hard work, but most importantly, they saw a future in which aerospace would truly benefit the whole of mankind,” she said.
“I know the heartbeat and the birthplace of aviation pulses vigorously today because of AFIT,” Lane said. “I know the Wright brothers will be with you and future graduates for the next 100 years.”
Third speaker George Hardy, a retired lieutenant colonel and two-time AFIT graduate in systems engineering/reliability and electrical engineering, spoke about his early career as a Tuskegee Airman in the Army Air Corps and later achievements as a B-29 bomber pilot during the Korean War. Hardy also served as a C-119 gunship pilot, flying 70 missions during the Vietnam War.
Hardy outlined his career, which began when he was 18. He served as a pilot, maintenance crew officer and electronic systems reliability expert. He worked on automatic voice networks until he flew in his third war before retiring in 1971 and going to work for GTE Corp.
“When I think of my career, I do not think of the flying missions. I think of AFIT, what it did for me and how much I loved being here,” Hardy said.
During a subsequent Q&A, Hardy talked about racial segregation, President Harry Truman’s executive order leading to the end of it in the armed services, integration and those who resisted it.
“These things happened in the service, but when you run across problems like that – and a lot of us did – but fortunately I survived,” he said.
“I’m so proud of the Air Force, because the Air Force was the leading service in starting racial integration,” Hardy said.