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Hypersonics pioneer Marren retiring from AEDC

Dan Marren

Dan Marren

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- Early in his career, Dan Marren was among those at what was then known as the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak, Maryland, charged with improving offensive and defensive systems on sensitive national defense programs.

Their success had historic implications.

“The Pentagon program manager traveled to White Oak and showed us a brief going to President Ronald Reagan that described the new capability we helped enable,” Marren said. “Then, shortly after, President Reagan had a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR and the Berlin Wall fell. In subsequent years, information was made public about how our defensive and offensive systems were superior and, in part, led to that great event.

“Talk about motivational.”

This stands as just one of the many highlights Marren has amassed during his career at White Oak.

Marren, the current Arnold Engineering Development Complex White Oak site director, is set to retire on March 28. However, Marren said labeling him as “retired” would be a misnomer, as he has no intentions to leave the hypersonics field behind.

“Yes, I will retire from the federal government after 36 years of civilian service to our great nation,” he said. “On day one after I leave, I will still be hard at work helping the Office of the Secretary of Defense and NASA achieve their destiny in hypersonics.”

Marren added his time at White Oak and those he worked alongside throughout the years prepared him for his next step.

“I owe every experience and ability and my expertise to these fine people and the experiences we have shared,” he said. “It’s time for me to lean forward and give back by putting that experience to use to see hypersonics across the finish line.

“I’m hoping to be consulting for the government and others where I can add value to help the hypersonic workforce develop in a way consistent with the National Defense Strategy. I plan to help educate and illuminate leaders to see the great advantage the U.S. has directly because of its dedicated employees and amazing capabilities in research, development, test and evaluation. I hope to be a strong advocate for evaluation through test and for the great folks at the Air Force Test Center and AEDC.”

Marren began his White Oak career in 1984. He worked as a co-op student in the Naval Surface Warfare Center, or NSWC, Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 while pursuing his degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Cincinnati. After graduating, he landed a full-time job at the NSWC. Marren ran tests at the Center during the day and attended graduate school at the University of Maryland in the evenings, earning his master’s in engineering management with a specialty in high temperature gas dynamics in 1992.

In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure commission closed the Navy White Oak site and threatened to close Tunnel 9. But, through the efforts of many, Tunnel 9 was kept open and became an Air Force test facility in 1997. The facility has since been operated by AEDC.

Marren remained onboard throughout the transition. He said he has had “four separate careers” at White Oak. First, Marren was a technical test engineer, which allowed him to observe and work with some of the most advanced systems. Next, he served as a test coordinator for programs, during which time he got to travel to test facilities around the country and first became acquainted with AEDC. Later, he worked in the technical, program and personnel management of White Oak. In this role, Marren said he developed relationships with personnel from technical agencies, other governmental agencies, legislators and industry leaders.

He became director of the AEDC White Oak site in 2004.

“It was an interesting feeling to now have to fully take responsibility for the great people who trained me and not let them down,” Marren said. “There was a lot going on then organizationally and in the community of hypersonics. I felt a heavy burden wondering if I could handle the awesome responsibility. This is one job you can never really be prepared for. I’m just fortunate the great folks here make me look good most days.”

Marren was awarded the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts Ground Testing Award in 2017 and was named an AEDC Lifetime Achievement Fellow in 2019. He credited his mentors and co-workers for his professional success and the continued successes at Tunnel 9.

“I think it’s safe to say that as wonderful as White Oak and Tunnel 9 is, I would be remiss to take any of the credit for that,” he said. “In fact, that organization, its spirit and people actually made me. I’ve worked with giants in the hypersonic industry, from early German transplants to today’s pioneers in hypersonics. Oddly enough, many of those same folks are taking positions of leadership in the DOD and NASA and have become some of the reasons I need to leave AEDC and help them more directly.”

The aerospace industry is currently in the midst of a hypersonics renaissance and, according to Marren, AEDC was at the forefront. He said the renaissance started in 2005 at White Oak when those at the facility “set a course to change the way we do business in every way.”

“Only today, the requirement has caught up with that 2005 vision,” Marren said. “Today, at Tunnel 9, we have developed a Mach 18 capability that has been a dream since 1990. We continue to have an amazing staff of characters with character. They excel in every specialty needed for our mission and look after each other in a way that is inspirational. Together, they are again reinventing Tunnel 9. They doubled capacity, increased capability in every system, delivered sensitive instruments and diagnostics to unlock the physics of hypersonics. I predict that in a few short years when I may be invited back for a Christmas party, I’ll not be surprised to see this place again the center of the hypersonic universe.”

Until then, Marren said AEDC will continue to play a significant role in the development of hypersonic systems and the achievement of objectives outlined in the National Defense Strategy.

“Tunnel 9, like many AEDC facilities, is world-unique,” Marren said. “While that’s interesting, it’s not important. The ancient, prehistoric dodo were unique but, when not useful, they stopped existing. The fact that this amazing group of folks pioneer each day to make this place relevant keeps it not only unique but a critical national asset. Now that asset is also singularly important to the National Defense Strategy.

“The fact that our data underpins the technology that enabled contemplation of the hypersonic system prototypes and we have doubled our capacity already and have to again signifies to me that this place is working seamlessly with the rest of our enterprise in the U.S. Air Force and beyond. It signifies this place is more than important and is an asset we just cannot ignore.”

Col. Keith Roessig has served as Marren’s supervisor since assuming the role of AEDC Test Operations Division chief in July 2018. Roessig said Marren has not only directly supported test execution but, due to the proximity of the White Oak facility to Washington, D.C., he has also been instrumental as a liaison for AEDC to DOD-level agencies located in the nation’s capital.

“He’s been a tremendous help in communicating what AEDC brings to hypersonic systems across multiple test capabilities and is able to communicate that right there to the national capital region personnel without the need for reoccurring TDYs,” Roessig said. “That has saved AEDC a lot of time and money.”

Roessig added Marren has also dedicated much effort into workforce development in the hypersonics career field to look at how both AEDC and the Department of Defense as a whole can build a workforce that has the technical depth to enable proper testing and development of weapons systems.

“He’s obviously been a tremendous help, not only to AEDC, but to me as I took over the job, so, while he is leaving government service, I know he’ll be in the community in other capacities,” Roessig said. “I wish him well and success in his future endeavors.”
AEDC Commander Col. Jeffrey Geraghty echoed this sentiment, adding Marren’s contributions to AEDC have been invaluable.

“Dan has contributed so much of his life to national defense, and those who worked for him or with him owe him a great debt of gratitude for his service,” Geraghty said. “I’m hopeful he’ll continue to apply his vast store of knowledge toward challenging technical problems and valuable mentorship to the next generation.

“Godspeed to Dan in all his future pursuits!”