The Men and Women Behind Unmanned
LOCKHEED MARTIN AT-SEA TESTING DEPARTMENT
Like most nine-to-fivers, when Renee Tallman gets ready for work, she pulls on clothes and heads to the office.
The big difference? Her clothes are actually a wetsuit, and her office isn’t a cubicle—it’s the Intercostal Waterway or the Atlantic Ocean.
Tallman is a senior member of Lockheed Martin’s At-Sea Testing Department in Palm Beach, Florida. The five-person team supports offshore testing for autonomous underwater vehicles. In particular, the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle and the Marlin.
Depending on the day, Tallman could be doing anything from driving the boat she captains to transporting program staff and materials offshore, to scuba diving and placing items in the ocean for testing, to taking underwater photos or video. The work is a perfect fit for Tallman, who has always had a love for the ocean.
“I learned to scuba dive as a teenager, and I quickly realized it would be more fun—and more scenic—to dive in the ocean than in lakes and quarries,” said Tallman. She moved to Florida 20 years ago and owned her own recreational diving company for a number of years, where she first started supporting Lockheed Martin.
Today, while the team’s focus is at-sea, there’s actually a lot of work that takes place on land: Maintaining and operating the five boats used to transport items to and from sea. Finding the right location to conduct tests based on program specs. Developing the safety plan. Alerting local law enforcement and other agencies prior to testing events. Preparing vessels and program equipment. Setting up staffing.
“I have the best job in all of Lockheed Martin,” said Tallman. “I get to be in the ocean, supporting many different programs. I’m doing a little bit of everything, and it’s always something different. And I’m outside almost every day.”
LOCKHEED MARTIN ARES PROGRAM
Every aspiring engineer faces a tough decision: Where do I start my career?
Jung Riecks remembers getting chills watching a documentary about the competition for the F-35 fighter jet and deciding her path on the spot; she would study aerospace engineering.
“I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer” she said. “I watched in awe. I wanted to control how the jet performs short take-offs and hovers. It was amazing. There was some kind of magic going on in the background, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Riecks changed her degree to align with her passion and after graduation, landed a job with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® where she now works on unmanned aerial systems—or UASs—in Fort Worth, Texas. Specifically, Riecks works on flight controls for the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System or ARES, which she describes as a ‘flying wing’ that can deliver a wide variety of payloads—from medical equipment to cargo—to remote locations.
“You can look at the flight control systems in terms of how your own body works, with a flight controls computer that can be viewed like your brain. The aircraft sensors act like your eyes, ears and sense of touch gathering data on what’s going on around you. Then, you decide what part of the body to move or what to do based on the inputs,” Riecks said. “It is very similar to how an aircraft operates. As the aircraft sensors evaluate the aircraft state, it sends those signals back to the flight control computer. Those inputs are put through the flight control software. Then, the flight control computer sends out commands to the actuators to make changes in the aircraft’s flight maneuvers to be at the desired state.”
On a day-to-day basis, Riecks usually works in a lab and performs control and design work in a simulation environment, where the aircraft is represented within the software. However, her job will get even more exciting when ARES will begin flight testing in 2016.
“We are building everything from scratch and choosing our designs, all the way from designing the flight controls to flight test. It’s really exciting to be there from the beginning and then have the chance to see it all come together.”
LOCKHEED MARTIN RAPID OPERATION PROGRAMS
Having an aeronautical engineering degree doesn’t mean you have to be pigeon-holed into one particular job. Take Dustin Gamble for example.
“My title says ‘aeronautical engineer’ but my actual job is very diverse,” said Gamble. “I work in a small unmanned systems group known as Rapid Operation Programs, where my responsibilities focus on research and development engineering for small unmanned systems. This ranges from doing engineering calculations to determining aircraft performance, payload integration, investigation of cutting edge technologies, prototyping, operations support, incident investigation, production, and working with suppliers.”
Gamble got his taste for variety when he interned with the Rapid Operations team for two years during graduate school. He’s since been working there full time for almost six years. At Skunk Works, he has overseen multiple small unmanned systems from concept to deployment. He’s also supported oversees operations in the Philippines, UAE, and Jordan and has over 200 hours of UAS pilot in command and 40 hours of manned flight experience.
Recently, he had a project to build an entirely new type of unmanned helicopter.
“At first, we started with a traditional multirotor layout using common technologies, but I was able to leverage all of the experience I captured over my years and came up with a new design using a flight simulation. Within a few weeks, we had a small flying prototype to test the concept and a month later, we had a custom vehicle built from the ground up that we could fly. This project has been the most rewarding so far because it’s a completely new design and required a new custom control loop.”
Gamble’s passion for engineering continues to soar as his team’s new inventions take flight. He often finds that the biggest rewards come in small packages.
“Working on small systems gives you a more direct connection to the aircraft; from a new propulsion system that you designed to a completely new aircraft configuration. Small sizes allow us to quickly try out new technologies every day, making our products and team up to speed with the latest technologies.”
Fun fact: During his time at Oklahoma State University, Gamble set three world records in endurance and range for electric-powered and fuel cell-powered UAVs in the 5kg class.