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Woman’s visit to Arnold brings back memories of her family, childhood

  • Published
  • By Deidre Ortiz
  • AEDC/PA
Touching an X-15 model in the A&E Lobby at Arnold Air Force Base, Annette Freres became emotional as she imagined her father doing the same decades earlier as an engineer working at Arnold.

Freres recently had the opportunity to visit Arnold AFB, along with her daughter Michelle and high school friend Bob Hyde.

Though she’s currently a resident of Round Rock, Texas, Freres grew up in Tullahoma, graduating from Tullahoma High School in 1968. Her father, Jack Durand, was one of the early engineers at AEDC, known at the time as Arnold Engineering Development Center.

Durand, a graduate of Parks Air College, now the Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology at Saint Louis University, worked at Arnold in the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility (VKF).

“I remember that he worked primarily on the testing and development of the X-15 (Hypersonic Research Vehicle) in the mid-1950s,” Freres said.

The X-15 project began in 1952, and the Air Force was tasked with administering the design and construction phases. In the 1950s, AEDC provided aerodynamic tests that were instrumental in the development of the aircraft.

According to Freres, her father worked at Arnold between 1954 and 1964.

“He became terminally ill, but he worked as long as he could,” she said.

Frere’s father passed in 1966, and she remembers North American test pilot Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly the X-15 and one of the people who helped design the X-15 rocket, attended his funeral.

“That really meant a lot; and that he was there says a lot about Crossfield, as well as my dad,” she said.

Freres mentioned the community continued to support her family after her dad’s passing, helping her mother Jane Durand find a job on base as a secretary.

“AEDC is such a very giving and professional community,” she said.

Freres’ mother also kept connections to the base through friends and the Officers’ Club, and as part of this group she later met Col. Edwin W. “Ted” Brown and remarried.

Brown served AEDC as a vice commander in the 1970s and worked with those at Arnold conducting research and development for spaceflight programs.

“He was a wonderful stepfather and also a great grandfather to my kids,” she said.

The opportunity to see some of the flight test facilities at Arnold was meaningful to Freres, who mentioned her dad and stepfather couldn’t talk specifically about their work.

“It was awesome to see and hear about the facilities now and what they do,” she said. “I’m thrilled at the opportunity of being able to share a piece of my family’s history with my daughter.”