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AEDC Fellow Dr. James Cunningham's contributions to the complex remembered

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

AEDC Fellow Dr. James W. Cunningham will be remembered for his contributions to Arnold Engineering Development Complex following his passing on May 11 at the age of 93.

He is credited with making important contributions to the development, commissioning and operation of the AEDC Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility, arc heater facilities and the Aeropropulsion System Test Facility, or ASTF, during a career that spanned more than half a century. He was honored as an AEDC Fellow in 2006. The AEDC Fellows program, established in 1989, recognizes AEDC personnel who have made substantial and exceptionally distinguished contribution to the nation’s aerospace ground testing capability.

Cunningham’s work in the application of feedback control theory to the problem of arc heater stabilization was used to advance the arc heater test capability. His contributions aided in the establishment of AEDC as a Center of Excellence for testing of aircraft, turbine engines and reentry space vehicles.

Born in Washington, D.C., Cunningham earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt University in 1951. He went on to earn his master’s in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1962 and his doctorate in the same area from the University of Tennessee Space Institute in 1975.

Following his graduation from Vanderbilt in 1951, Cunningham began his lengthy career at AEDC, where he spent more than 40 years of his 55-year career. He started out in the PWT Instrumentation Branch at Arnold Air Force Base where he planned and commissioned instrumentation for a 1-foot pilot wind tunnel and the PWT complex. He also supervised engineers and technicians participating in the shakedown of the 16-foot supersonic wind tunnel at Arnold.

In 1953, he joined the Air Force, flying multi-engine cargo and transport planes. He was one of the founders and the first president of the Cumberland Flyers based out of Northern Field in Tullahoma.

He left the Air Force in 1958 as a captain and resumed his career at Arnold. Later in his career, Cunningham was a key contributor and innovator in the development of a nominal 20-megawatt segmented heater, known as the H1 test cell.

From 1978 to 1988, Cunningham supported the ASTF military construction program. He led the development of the Automatic Test Control System that would control engine test conditions in the ASTF. His group developed a dynamic simulation model of the entire facility, designed algorithms to control test conditions and wrote specifications for the computer system that would execute the algorithms.

In 1984, the development of this system was chosen as the Outstanding Technical Achievement of the Year by the Tullahoma Chapter of the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers.

Cunningham was a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and was chairman of the Middle Tennessee Section from 1966 to 1967. Additionally, he was an ad hoc visitor for the IEEE Educational Activities Board and made a number of Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accreditation visits to electrical engineering programs and engineering physics programs at numerous universities and colleges.

Cunningham retired from AEDC in 1993, but he continued to work as a consultant for the U.S., Japanese and European space programs until the age of 86.

Along with his work at Arnold, Cunningham also taught graduate courses as an adjunct professor at UTSI for more than 25 years.

Cunningham’s activities outside of work included establishing a Tullahoma chapter of the American Heart Association and volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol.