REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (April 29, 2021) – For aviation personnel in theater, a bullet hole in an airframe is not an uncommon event.
But what happens if the repair solution is not in the technical manual?
That’s when you call the liaison engineer. Liaison engineers are Army civilian aerospace engineers who have years of aviation maintenance experience and provide on-site and remote field engineering support to the mission. U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Travis Massa has volunteered to deploy as a liaison engineer not once, but twice.
“Our job is to be the onsite airworthiness authority as it pertains to maintenance engineering,” Massa said. “In order to save a component or repair an airframe without having to remove that component and send it to a repair facility, we can review that damage, go through the technical data available, do a repair and possibly save that component to keep it in service.”
It is not your typical role for an engineer, who is usually far removed from combat areas. But Massa prefers to be hands-on, enjoying “being able to touch the hardware, engage and interact with the Soldiers – the Warfighters.”
Massa has always wanted to be as close to the aircraft as possible. From a young age, the Kentucky native hoped to become a fighter pilot, but faulty eyesight grounded his pilot ambitions. After graduating from Florida Tech, he entered a two-year internship program with Army Materiel Command and discovered that if he couldn’t be the pilot leading dangerous missions, he wanted to support those who were.
After his last deployment, Massa went to work as a permanent liaison engineer in 2008 for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, more commonly known as the Night Stalkers, the highly skilled, elite aviation unit that flies the military’s most dangerous missions.
While not working in a hands-on capacity, Massa is still involved in facilitating on-the-ground engineering. Over the past year, he has helped create and revise the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command’s Advanced Manufacturing Policy, which encompasses additive manufacturing and 3D printing – a hot topic in Army materiel today, but one that can be complicated in terms of aviation.
After a career spent with field units, Massa’s advice to new engineers will come as no surprise.
“Get your hands dirty. If you are studying engineering, your college has a machine shop. Work in the machine shop, not for the pay – for the experience. That’s why I love this job. You get to see, touch and be around the aircraft. There is no substitute for that.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.