Randall Moon, an ATA instrument technician in AEDC’s Aerothermodynamic Measurement Laboratory, poses by the electric-powered truck he built from the frame up in his spare time. Even the reinforced leaf springs and 65-psi tires are unique; these modifications were needed because the truck weighs more than two tons due to rows of lead acid batteries in the truck’s bed. (Photo by Philip Lorenz III)
7/11/2012 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Randall Moon discovered early on that he had a gift for working with electronics.
"I started when I was 10 years old [when] I built a super heterodyne vacuum tube [amplifier]," said Moon, an ATA instrument technician in AEDC's Aerothermodynamic Measurement Laboratory (ATML).
Moon's older brother, who was an instrument technician for the Navy, had brought home the plans for the tube amplifier in a technical trade publication.
"I didn't have a reason for building it," said Moon, who acknowledged he just built it for fun.
Their father, who was an auto upholsterer and their mother, who owned a furniture upholstery business, made sure their youngest son knew the upholstery business. Moon said his curiosity, math skills, passion for tinkering with electronics and his parents' mentorship set the stage for his life.
"My dad said to me 'You will never go hungry if you have a trade,'" recalls Moon, who grew up in Ventura, Calif.
When most children are learning to read, Moon also discovered he has dyslexia, a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading. At the time, he said dyslexia wasn't well understood, and doctors had a hard time classifying his disorder. He was illiterate, even throughout high school.
When he was around 11 years old, Moon became acquainted with a retired college professor who owned a TV repair shop with another man.
"They would give me the sets that they deemed un-repairable," Moon recalled. "Sure enough I fixed one."
After Moon showed them the TV he had repaired, the retired professor began to teach the young man about electronics. This instruction continued for the next 10 years.
"He started giving me all of this material and going over it with me," Moon said. "He was giving me his class."
Moon's dyslexia presented obstacles, but he was determined to overcome or work around them to graduate from high school.
"There was a special education teacher, Mr. Buffet, and I had him for the whole three years," Moon said. "He could teach you Roman history without [you] having to know how to read. He would teach every subject, he would take me through every subject without the necessary textbook.
"Just because you have one block in your life, you still are interested what the Spaniards did, or what the [Spanish] Inquisition [was] or the conquest of South America, you would still like to know that. But you don't have to know how to read to know that.
"Math was easy."
Moon said shortly after graduating from high school, he found a job soldering satellite components.
Before long he finally decided to overcome his illiteracy.
"I taught myself how to read when I was 20 because the school system failed me," he said. "There was a TV program and this professor was describing dyslexics. He said that if you put different colored filters in front of your eyes, he said, it's the white versus black and it's using both eyes and he said there are workarounds.
"I started experimenting with colors of sheets of Mylar and I was also experimenting with ambient light when I got down to a grayer page, so that the contrast ratio wasn't so intense.
"Then I blocked one eye completely. I allowed one hemisphere [of my brain] to recognize words and it would tell the other hemisphere each word. The other hemisphere would group paragraphs and sentences. I did that with the book '1984' and it was the year 1984 and by the time I finished that book, I had it, I was done."
People who know Moon are impressed with his technical problem-solving abilities.
Don Gardner, Aerospace Testing Alliance's instrumentation and diagnostics section manager of the Technology and Analysis Branch, said, "Randall Moon is someone people at work call to fix equipment, the challenging jobs. That's the kind of thing Randall does, he can dig right into things that are seemingly very complicated and get to the bottom of it.
"He repaired some electronics and software on a wire EDM machine at the Model Shop. He basically got us back in business and saved a bunch of money."
A wire EDM (electrical discharge machine) is used for cutting thick metal plates for maintenance or testing facilities at AEDC.
Moon, who started working at AEDC's Hypervelocity Ballistic G-Range facility in 2005, moved to the Space and Missiles rocket test facilities at their request before working in the ATML or "heat" lab.
"Randall is a one in a million guy... an asset to any company involved in electronics," said Andy Nelius, an ATA senior electrical engineer who first met Moon when they both worked at Cubic in Tullahoma.
"We collaborated on field work which is when you really get to know somebody well," Nelius said. "Randall, or Randy as I call him, has the uncanny talent you only find in people who truly are engrossed in the electronics field.
"He also has taught himself the additional skills of machining essential parts for mounting electronics such as tiny mounting fixtures."
Nelius said Moon's personality makes working with his friend a pleasure.
"Randall is always cheerful, does not show any frustration with work obstacles and has such broad technical interests that he always has something to talk about," Nelius said. "He is a walking electronics encyclopedia and is always willing to share his knowledge with anybody who is interested, no matter how esoteric the subject.
Moon's job with Cubic took him overseas, including to China more than once, which is where he met Wenchun Hao, his future wife. For him, it was love at first sight, literally.
"She was in the next room and she wouldn't come out because she knew I was an American," Moon said. "Her attitude was 'I can't speak English.'
"The other girl said, 'Oh this idiot is talking us up in Chinese.' I had already learned Chinese before I met her and she said, you've got a foreigner out there chatting you up in Chinese, so, she said, okay I'll come out and see what's going on. I just had to see her eyes, that's all I had to see and I said, that was a very funny feeling to say, well, that's my wife coming in this room. We've been married now for 12 years."
Moon is just as busy on electronics-oriented projects at home as he is at work.
He recently completed building a fully-electric powered truck and is already aiming his sights on designing and assembling a natural gas-powered vehicle.
Moon enjoys the challenge of creating, repairing or finding new uses for components.
"I don't care why a manufacturer made something," he said. "I don't care, I have it and it's useful in something else. It doesn't bother me, why they were making them and why they were selling them. That was their idea and I'm glad that they exist now and I can use it in any other product, [for] any other reason."
Regarding the different projects he has tackled for the Model Shop or G-Range or in his own lab, his attitude toward them all is the same.
"To me troubleshooting is a game, it's a puzzle," he said. "If you're going to pay me to play, I'm going to come [and] play. The end result is the thing works."
Moon's passion for electronics and finding solutions to technical problems is something he enjoys both at work and in his personal workshop at home.
"I get a concept and then I just sleep on it and I allow the concept to become its own," he said. "I don't force it into a build - like which compressor, or which car to convert or which conversion kit [to use], there's hundreds if not thousands of options, there's too much."
He continued, "It's better to let it come to me. When I was a little boy, my mom had said, 'Nature abhors a vacuum,' so I would clear off of a piece of shelving and put a label on there as to what I wanted. Whatever it is I wanted I would get in that fashion, because I created a vacuum and only one item can fill that vacuum, it has to be the right thing and then I get it."