Posted on: Wednesday - Aug 19, 2015

Today we’re celebrating National Aviation Day and the birthday of Orville Wright, who along with his brother Wilbur, invented the first successful airplane. In Tennessee, we’re helping aircraft take flight not only within the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere but well into the far reaches of space.

Tennessee’s impact on the aerospace industry can be felt from one end of the state to the other with 32 aerospace businesses employing more than 2,100 Tennesseans, but it’s a town of 19,000 residents in southern Middle Tennessee that lays claim to some of the most unique aerospace assets in the world.

Tullahoma, Tennessee is home to the U.S. Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) and the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) that have helped make the city a hub for aviation, aeronautics and avionics activities and industries.

AEDC is the most advanced and largest complex of flight simulation test facilities in the world and has a replacement value of more than $11.8 billion. There are 43 aerodynamic and propulsion wind tunnels, rocket and turbine engine test cells, space environmental chambers, arc heaters, ballistic ranges and other specialized units. Nineteen of these test units are unmatched anywhere in the U.S. and 14 are unique in the world.

Flight conditions from sea level to 300 miles and from subsonic velocities to Mach 20, can be simulated at AEDC, and it has contributed to the development of practically every one of the nation's top priority aerospace programs including the Atlas, Titan, Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs, the space shuttle, space station, and Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

“It can be anything from a heat lab where we do thermal temperature testing up to Mach 20 or it can be a space simulation where we do satellite testing in a vacuum and very cold environment or we do threat testing against that satellite. Just a very wide variety of unique stuff we do here,” explained Jason Austin, AEDC chief of public affairs, regarding facility’s one-of-a-kind capabilities.

UTSI, a graduate education and research institution part of the University of Tennessee system, is located on Arnold Air Force Base and adjacent to AEDC.  Established in 1964, UTSI has become an internationally recognized institution for graduate study and research in engineering, physics, mathematics and aviation systems.

“We work on rocket science,” stated Dr. Trevor Moeller, UTSI faculty member.  “Almost every facet of the work we do at UTSI is important to the development of rocket programs.”

Approximately 500 AEDC employees have earned graduate degrees at UTSI, including 40 doctorates. Thousands more employees have participated in UTSI’s continuing education programs. Additionally, UTSI faculty and students routinely work with AEDC personal on a variety of research and technology development projects.

“A lot of our [AEDC] engineers and scientists will come fresh out of college and work here, and then they’ll go to UTSI at night and get their advanced degrees. So there is very good symbiosis between the two,” said Austin.

UTSI’s distinguished alumni have become chief scientists, engineering managers, company presidents, renowned scholars and scientists, and nine have become NASA astronauts including current astronauts like Barry Wilmore, Randolph Bresnik and Scott Kelly. Kelly is presently spending a year in space on the International Space Station, twice as long as typical U.S. missions. His one year mission will help scientists better understand how the human body reacts to long durations of spaceflight and help determine ways to reduce risks on future deep space missions such as the journey to Mars.

“We anticipate over the next century that much of the aerospace development in the country is going to occur in the South and that the Middle Tennessee tech region is going to play a vital role and put our unique Tennessee finger prints on the development of future aerospace capabilities,” said Dr. John Schmisseur, UTSI faculty member.