REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (June 28, 2022) – From a teenager working maintenance on aircraft to testing emerging technology at this year’s Experimental Developmental Gateway Event, Joseph Fanning can say that he literally worked his way up to where he is today.
Fanning began his career with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center in high school as a summer hire general day laborer, moving aircraft and assisting the aircrew at the airfield at DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center’s Fort Eustis location.
“They found out that I was planning to study engineering and offered me an internship upon my graduation,” Fanning said. “I was fortunate enough to learn quite a bit and move around the organization and meet a lot of people. As soon as I got my degree in 2016 from Old Dominion University, a contractor slot became available that I was able to transition right into.
In 2018, a government position opened up and Fanning was able to “flip badges” while remaining in the same role at DEVCOM AvMC. Today, Fanning is a senior test engineer in the Technology Development Directorate – Aviation Technology, under Engineering Test and Mission Assurance.
“I do mostly ground testing,” Fanning said. “I get a lot of unique programs. We work closely with the mission enhanced little bird AH-6 (MELB) and Black Hawk UH-60 Program Office so we do a lot of unique programs. Honestly that is the most fun part – I don’t know what I am doing the next day.”
Some days Fanning might be testing a rotor blade. Some days he might be safely integrating a component onto an aircraft. And then there are some days when Fanning might be accepting a coin for a job well done from the AvMC director himself, Jeff Langhout, as he recently did at EDGE22. For Fanning, who was at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah for three weeks working 12-hour “grueling” days, receiving the coin was completely unexpected, but appreciated.
“That was a big surprise, a big shocker,” Fanning said. “I was a bit speechless at the time.”
Fanning was not only performing engineering work at EDGE22 but was also actually up in the aircraft during tests, operating the weapons controller and monitoring the instrumentation. He said that type of flexibility is an essential skill for not just the type of work that he performs, but for engineers in general. It is not always cubicle life sitting in front of a computer screen, aspiring engineers should know that there is a whole world of opportunity out there – on land and in the sky.
“Be able to change directions,” Fanning advised. “I might write a program for a specific project and I later find out that I have to change gears because for the flight crew safety they need to monitor another instrument or signal and they need to have active monitoring in the program so I’ll have to start from scratch. And it is needed tomorrow. But they need it to make the aircraft safe and the crew safe, so I’ll get it done.
“Being flexible, able to adjust and come up with solutions - it is something that you have to train your brain for. And sometimes it is not just throwing darts at a board, it is sitting down and brainstorming, seriously looking at all the components. It is talking to other engineers or a senior technician or a crew chief. You can’t just stay on one idea. You can’t just stick with one mindset.”
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.