Moffett Field, CA. (Dec. 14, 2021) – Dr. Oliver Wong understands the challenges facing the vertical lift experts at Moffett Field, because he is one of them.
Wong took over as Associate Director for Design, Simulation & Experimentation for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Technology Development Directorate in 2018 after spending his career as a member of the team at their NASA Langley location. Transitioning into a leadership role was not difficult, he said, as he found it “strangely rewarding” supporting other researchers’ projects.
“I went from doing hands-on research to leading the group to guiding the projects that other people work on,” Wong said. “It gives me the opportunity to see the big picture and where all the pieces fit.”
For the Livermore native, the position was also an opportunity to come home. Wong did his undergraduate studies at University of California San Diego, and then left for graduate school at Georgia Tech, where he was accepted into the Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence program -- a partnership between the U.S. Army, Navy and NASA that combines innovative basic research and graduation education, with collaborations across government, industry and academia, to train the next generation of aviation scientists and engineers.
As a child Wong always had an interest in aviation that was influenced by his father who himself holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering. While at UC San Diego, he decided to also study mechanical engineering while trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to do with his career. Once he started working with nonintrusive diagnostics and wind tunnels, Wong knew he had found it.
After graduating from Georgia Tech in 2001, working for the Army in Virginia was an opportunity “to keep playing in the sandbox,” Wong said with a laugh. “It was an easy, natural transition to still do the things I wanted to do, that I was interested in doing, but actually getting paid for it and not living like a starving student.”
Settling back in California, the Wongs have enjoyed being closer to grandparents and family. Like all parents of small children, their free time has been traditionally been taken up with their activities. But with his oldest daughter set to graduate from high school in the spring, having older children has given him and his wife more time to pursue other hobbies – such as mountain biking and “tinkering – we got my son a 3D printer for Christmas, so he and I have been working on designing and 3D printing things,” he said.
While COVID-19 has changed where Wong’s team works, it has not changed how they work, being well-familiar with remote work long before the pandemic. He said that the culture of collaboration – even when the team members are located on separate coasts – is what he enjoys the most about his job, comparing it to an academic environment.
“There is a lot of interaction among very smart people -- they are not stove piped. This workforce here has a lot of cross talk across all the technical disciplines. A lot of rotorcraft problems are interdisciplinary in nature. Because there is a lot of talk across the technical areas, it enables creativity and that is how you make the next revolutionary step.”
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.