REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Feb. 8, 2023) – Lt. Col. Mark Cleary was determined to fly.
His love of aviation started as a teenager and today after 19 years as a Soldier, it has yet to wane. Cleary is an experimental test pilot for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center at its Fort Eustis, Virginia, location. But his origin story starts on the opposite coast.
“I grew up in North Bend, Oregon on the Southern Oregon coast, lots of rain and dreary weather,” Cleary shared. “I had my first flight lesson at 16 – after sending letters to local flight schools – I was determined to make aviation a career from that point on. I started out in a United States Marine Corps program on an aviation contract, switched schools to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, changed my major and needed money, so I jumped to the Army for a scholarship. The military seemed like a good way to explore aviation in interesting ways and the Army has just continued to challenge and reward me throughout my career.”
While the Army has given him the opportunity to fly, Cleary said his role at DEVCOM AvMC is a blend of flight operations and program management, “a balancing act of finite resources – people, money, time, equipment, integration of new software, hardware and full-up systems technologies on airborne platforms and flight testing to assess suitability for applications in the Army aviation fleet. At the end of the day, we are 100% dedicated to making the job easier, more efficient and safer for Soldiers executing combat operations on the battlefield.”
It is not lost on Cleary that how an experimental test pilot makes a Soldier’s job easier, efficient and safer, is to shoulder the risk – that he needs to identify the problem and sometimes even solve it for the safety of the Soldiers and also his.
“In the flight test realm, the impacts of failing to do something right could have near immediate impacts and significant consequences,” he said.
When not at work, Cleary is still on the move, but instead of flying Soldiers, he is shuttling kids to activities. He also enjoys running, hiking, traveling, spending time with family, spending time outdoors, experiencing different cultures and meeting new people.
After a career spent in uniform, Cleary has found himself in the position of having some well-worn experience for the pilots and engineers who come after him, although he’s not ready to retire yet.
“Open your ears and think critically,” Cleary said. “Listen and take notes, learn from those with experience and discover lessons learned to not repeat old mistakes. Be patient and take time to master your piece of the puzzle, no matter how mundane it may seem. But don't be too patient or complacent, take charge of your own career and pursue what interests you.
Gain an appreciation for the bigger picture and how your efforts impact everyone else. Know why you are doing what you are doing.”
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.