REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 31, 2022) – He might have returned to Alabama with a little more gray in his hair, but for Dr. Shane Thompson, EDGE22 was still a win for the team.
Thompson, a physicist with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Missile Multiple Simultaneous Engagement Technologies program, recently spent two weeks at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for the Experimental Demonstration Gateway Event 2022, commonly known as EDGE22. The exercise, sponsored by Army Futures Command’s Future Vertical Lift Cross-Functional Team, tested new tactics, technologies and interconnecting architectures for the U.S. Army and its international partners.
It was 3 a.m. wake times and 16-hour work days, unreliable cell service and the weather was less than to be desired. But for Thompson and his team, they returned to Alabama with valuable data and invaluable experience.
“EDGE22 reinforced that nothing replaces face time when interacting with other projects and their personnel,” Thompson said. “There are several other science and technology programs that my project will ultimately need to integrate with and getting those periods of downtime between missions to discuss plans and goals to that end are invaluable, both in discussing technical details towards integration and in establishing the personal relationships that build a foundation of trust and respect. You just cannot get the same kind of interaction on email or Teams.”
While Thompson said that he had always had a fascination with physics growing up, he initially planned to become a medical doctor.
“I was the dork in elementary school who always wanted to check out physics and electronics books,” Thompson said. “But since I grew up dirt poor, I worried that a physics degree might not lead to a good career so I opted for a path to medical school. In preparation for the Medical College Admissions Test, I took a physics class and fell in love – mathematics was always my first crush, but when I learned that physics was basically using math to build a model of the forces of nature, I was hopelessly smitten. My professor in that class talked to me a lot about the career options for physics and I decided it was worth a shot.”
Thompson took his shot and ended up working for the DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center by somewhat of a happy accident. While conducting research on laser-induced plasmas for propulsion applications for his doctorate, he developed image processing methods to aid in one of his experimental techniques. Those image processing skills led to support work through his company at DEVCOM AvMC, supporting automatic target recognition and machine learning efforts there.
“I had the good fortune to be working for a company doing my Ph.D. research under a Small Business Technology Transfer contract, rather than being a completely broke university research assistant,” he said. “Once I began to support AvMC doing ATR tasks, I enjoyed the work, my charge rate was pretty cheap at the time, and the AvMC guys liked my work well enough to keep funding me. Eventually, they realized I wasn’t going to go away -- though oftentimes, I think they wished I would -- and finally a job came open as a civilian that I applied for and got.”
For his work with MSET, Thompson was the recipient of a coin from AvMC Director Jeff Langhout, although he was almost the first person to ever have his coin rescinded when he offered a “Roll Tide” to Langhout, famously known for his support of his alma mater, Auburn University. It was all in good fun, Thompson said of Langhout, whom he provided direct briefings to daily on MSET.
“It felt good that he appreciated what we are doing,” Thompson said. “And even more that he was having me give him updates on our missions. It meant a lot to us to know that we have his support and his, ‘attaboy.’”
After almost two decades with AvMC, Thompson said that it was his team that he enjoyed most about his job, and he accepted his coin from Langhout on behalf of their hard work.
“More than anything else, I love and appreciate being a part of a great research and development team who all get along famously both professionally and personally,” Thompson said. “We have a perfect mix of being supportive when needed, and most importantly, being able to throw rocks at each other when that is needed, without feelings and egos getting in the way. We all want the best developments to emerge from our projects, and we all offer and take criticisms to get to that end.
“But also, those rare moments when the team has a true breakthrough make all the frustrations that come with research and development worth it.”
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.