Educational institution celebrates centennial with aplomb > Maxwell Air Force Base > View
Alumni, special speakers, astronauts highlight the evolution of AFIT
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – An institution headquartered here pulled out all the stops on Nov. 7 to mark 100 years of educating airmen to meet Air Force missions.
The Air Force Institute of Technology celebrated its centennial with a symposium on the theme of Inspiration to Innovation. Its 750-seat Kenney Auditorium was packed, with a waiting area populated by remaining guests.
Several speakers and a panel of AFIT graduate astronauts were the highlights of the morning session. The afternoon session of the symposium was devoted to many other speakers, with the day ending with an awards and recognition banquet recognizing the achievements of alumni and the contributions of faculty and staff.
At the start of the morning session, Dr. Todd Stewart, Director and Chancellor of AFIT since 2012, welcomed and thanked all participants. He introduced the first of three guests.
Major General William Cooley, Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory and 1997 AFIT alumnus in Engineering Physics, was the keynote speaker for the morning session. He pointed out how airmen have had to become technologists since the early days of air power – a need that continues today.
“It is my responsibility to carry this banner and advocate for technologists. AFIT is central to this role,” he said.
Cooley described the Air Force’s implementation of technology over the decades, the possible danger of being too tied to one type of technology, and the need to seize every opportunity that different technologies provide.
“We really need to take a step back, re-evaluate and say, ‘what are all the different technologies that we can leverage?’” he said.
Cooley told AFIT students that increasing levels of technological complexity will be something they will have to tackle in the fields of land, sea, air, space, cyberspace and spectrum. electromagnetics – all in a highly contested environment.
“One of the huge challenges we face as a Department of Defense is credible deterrence,” he said. “How can we put this to good use?”
The general expressed his optimism that AFIT will play a role in responding to these challenges.
“I’m glad students and faculty are helping us solve these problems,” Cooley said.
In closing, he said, “We must, collectively, emphasize the need for every Airman – military, civilian, contractor – to see themselves as technologists and to educate appropriately through discipline and traditional academic approaches as well as short courses to expose new technologies and opportunities.
Cooley called on students to embrace their role as technologists, to be justly proud of AFIT, and to balance perseverance with openness to new approaches.
“I am very proud of my time at AFIT. Time and time again, I am impressed by the caliber of students and people we produce,” he said. “This is a top notch facility. You all receive a high level education. You are limited only by your own hesitation to dive in and make a difference. Be very proud of this institution.
Cooley received a 100and– Stewart’s anniversary piece; in turn, Cooley gave Stewart his personal coin, adorned with a quote from General Hap Arnold, “The first essential element of air power is the pre-eminence of research.”
The second speaker was Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandniece of Wilbur and Orville Wright.
“There isn’t a day in my life when I don’t think about flying. 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 have felt it too, because when it comes to flying, this is hallowed ground. I say this not only because of the work and accomplishments of my great-grandparents, but because of yours.
Lane described the efforts of his uncles, how they overcame aeronautical problems such as wing control, data collection, propeller design, and pilot training, to advance controlled, powered flight.
She also credited the men and women who have come through AFIT, “who have continued to shake our planet by breaking down boundaries.”
“Like you, (my great-great-uncles) were motivated. Like you, they were innovators. Like you, they weren’t afraid of hard work, but more importantly, they saw a future in which aerospace would truly benefit all of humanity,” she said.
“I know the heartbeat and birthplace of aviation beating vigorously today thanks to 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 Lt. Col. and two-time AFIT graduate in systems/reliability and electrical engineering, spoke about his early career as a Tuskegee Airman in the Army Air Corps and his later accomplishments 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 described his career, which began when he was 18. He has been 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 don’t think of flying missions. I think of AFIT, what it has done for me and how much I have enjoyed being here,” Hardy said.
During a subsequent Q&A, Hardy spoke about racial segregation, President Harry Truman’s executive order leading to his end in the armed forces, integration and those who resisted it.
“These things happened in the service, but when you run into issues like that – and a lot of us did – but luckily I survived,” he said.
“I’m so proud of the Air Force, because the Air Force was the primary service in starting racial integration,” Hardy said.