AEDC Fellow John Rampy’s contributions to Arnold remembered

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

AEDC Fellow John M. Rampy will be remembered for his contributions to Arnold Engineering Development Complex following his passing June 15 at the age of 86.

He is credited with helping guide AEDC through a variety of endeavors, showcasing his leadership, insight, vision and mentoring ability. He was honored as an AEDC Fellow in 1996. The AEDC Fellows program, established in 1989, recognizes AEDC personnel who have made substantial and exceptionally distinguished contributions to the nation’s aerospace ground testing capability.

A synopsis of Rampy’s career on the AEDC Fellows page found on the Arnold AFB website states his “efforts to lead AEDC toward new goals, cut red tape, empower employees and put the customer first resulted in many achievements for the center.” Two examples provided of how Rampy put the customer first were his leadership roles in AEDC forming the Large Turbine Engine Steering Group and the Customer Management Focus Group, with the purpose of both groups being to learn customer needs and goals and help uncover ways AEDC can meet them. 

Rampy himself remarked that he was hired to be a “salesman” for AEDC. Over his 25-year career at the complex, he would work his way up to become AEDC executive director, the highest civilian post at Arnold.

“I’ve been fortunate in my life to be a part of some first-class organizations, and AEDC was the best of them all,” Rampy said in the days leading up to his February 1999 retirement ceremony. “The excitement of working at a place with such a great mission and with such wonderful people and customers has sustained me through the years.”

A native of Woodland, Alabama, Rampy earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1962 from Auburn University, where he was in the ROTC program. After receiving his commission in the U.S. Air Force, he was assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where he served as a research engineer testing experimental aircraft.

After two years at Edwards, Rampy was sent to Arnold Air Force Base, headquarters of AEDC, to pursue his master’s in aerospace engineering from the nearby University of Tennessee Space Institute. He was part of the first UTSI graduating class in 1965.

In 1970, following eight years of service in the Air Force, Rampy began work in the civilian aerospace industry in Huntsville, Alabama.

Four years later, he returned to Arnold to work at AEDC. From 1974 through the mid-1980s, Rampy served as senior manager for the Flight Dynamics and Aircraft Branch at Arnold. He was technical director from 1985 to 1991 before becoming director of test operations, a post he held from 1991 through 1994. Rampy then took on the role of AEDC executive director, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1999.

It was a tumultuous period in the aerospace testing world when Rampy started working at Arnold in the first half of the 1970s. Circumstances at the time led to exorbitant prices for most testing. AEDC was not immune. Due to his work with private aerospace companies, Rampy had some familiarity with the issue and how to combat it.

“The space race was winding down, workload was decreasing, budgets were cut and people were writing papers about how wind tunnels would be replaced by computers in 15 years,” Rampy recalled in a 1999 interview. “There was a lot of turbulence in the aerospace industry, and especially at AEDC when I arrived.”

Rampy said he was brought in to sell the AEDC test and evaluation capabilities to customers. The uncertainty of the time spurred AEDC into becoming a more customer-oriented and forward-thinking organization.

Along with refocusing on the original Arnold vision, AEDC officials implemented a strategic management process by the late 1980s. Rampy said the success of strategic management was perhaps the thing he was most proud of during his AEDC career.

Outgrowths of the business management focus that Rampy helped lead included reorganizing the Directorate of Operations into business areas, establishing customer focus groups, as well as the annual Customer Day, and forming alliances with aerospace industry partners, a move that helped AEDC expand into the commercial sector.

Rampy said the best marketing is a satisfied customer, and his customer-centric approach is credited with helping get AEDC through a period of tumult and setting the complex up for future success.

“The customer is first, last and always,” he said in early 1999.

Several AEDC officials commended Rampy’s contributions to the complex following the announcement of his retirement.

“John has done more than anyone to make AEDC what it is today, the recognized world leader in aerospace ground test and evaluation,” then-AEDC Commander Col. Michael Heil wrote in a commentary published in the Feb. 18, 1999, edition of High Mach. “He is the epitome of the values we hold dear here – technical excellence; concern for our customers, workers and community; and above all, rock-solid integrity.”

The late Maj. Gen. Lee Gossick, who served as AEDC commander from 1964 to 1967, referred to Rampy in early 1999 as “a very important part of AEDC in terms of getting the mission done.”

“He’s very well grounded in technologies AEDC deals with, and he’s an excellent manager and a stabilizing factor in the overall Air Force management of the center. Air Force people have come and gone, but John has been the corporate memory. We’re going to miss him, and his replacement will have a tough act to follow.”

Then-AEDC Vice Commander U.S. Navy Capt. Elmer Standridge called Rampy “a gentleman of impeccable integrity, empathy and wisdom.”

“He always does the right thing and provides the stability in management of the center,” Standridge said. “He genuinely cares about all of the people here and the future health of the center. And above all, I think he truly is everyone’s friend…he’s going to be sorely missed.”

Along with his recognition as an AEDC Fellow, accolades Rampy earned during his career include his promotion to the Senior Executive Service in 1985. He was honored in 1999 with the Allen R. Matthews Award from the International Test and Evaluation Association. Rampy was also recognized with a Distinguished Auburn Engineering award and is among the UTSI Distinguished Alumni.

Rampy was a member of the International Test and Evaluation Association, the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development Propulsion Panel and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was also on the NATO Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development from 1992 to 1994.

His activities outside of work included service on Franklin County Chamber of Commerce and Planning Commission.