AEDC Fellow Martha Simmons remembered for her contributions

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks
  • AEDC Public Affairs

AEDC Fellow Martha Simmons will be remembered for her contributions to Arnold Engineering Development Complex following her passing on March 8, 2024, at the age of 69.

Simmons is credited for making notable and valuable contributions to the nation’s aerospace capabilities in numerous areas relevant to the AEDC mission during her more-than-40-year career at Arnold Air Force Base, headquarters of AEDC. She was honored as an AEDC Lifetime Achievement Fellow in 2023. 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 native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Simmons in 1976 earned her Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University where she majored in Chemistry with a minor in Mathematics. Simmons began her AEDC career in November of that same year.

Simmons would subsequently earn a Master of Science in Engineering Science and Mathematics from the University of Tennessee Space Institute in 1981.

Over the course of her 42-year career at Arnold, Simmons worked within and influenced all sections of the Technology Branch, including Instrumentation and Diagnostics, Modeling and Simulation, Facility Test Techniques and Foreign Technology.

Her technical leadership responsibilities included oversight for technology product development and transition; subject matter expert and principal investigator for projects related to chemical propulsion; exhaust plume phenomenology; radiative transfer; and, as section manager, providing technical guidance to the Instrumentation and Diagnostics section.

In documents submitted to nominate Simmons for the Lifetime Achievement Fellow honor, AEDC Technology Subject Matter Expert Dr. Robert Howard, who was honored as an AEDC Technical Fellow in 2019, wrote Simmons made “major technical contributions” through her early years representing AEDC on the Joint Army Navy NASA Air Force, or JANNAF, Interagency Propulsion Committee for the development of rockets and missiles.

“Martha built on the knowledge and experience gained from the distinguished AEDC technical giants, Dr. Wheeler (Mac) McGregor, Dr. Chad Limbaugh and Dr. Robert Hiers (AEDC Fellows in 1990, 2009, 2012, respectively), becoming the lead for operation and maintenance of the multiple JANNAF codes that provided AEDC the capability for prediction of flow field-related properties that were used to complement the vast AEDC signature measurement capabilities,” Howard wrote. 

This capability eventually led to the establishment of the Advanced Missile Signature Center at AEDC. THE AMSC supports Department of Defense programs.

In 2012, Simmons accepted the position of manager of the Technology Instrumentation and Diagnostics section. There, she managed engineers devoted to the development of advanced diagnostics and their applications to numerous national research facilities, including AEDC, the Air Force Research Laboratory and center within NASA.

Her staff was responsible for the development and operations of the Propulsion Research Facility, an Instrumentation and Diagnostics testbed for evaluating and demonstrating advanced diagnostic techniques in actual full-scale turbine engine environments.

During her later years at AEDC, Simmons served in a leadership role supporting Technology Program Strategic Planning and AEDC Capability Analysis and Risk Assessment, or CARA, for the Test Technology Branch Modeling and Simulation/Instrumentation and Diagnostics capability.

Dr. Bill Baker, retired AEDC technical director who was honored as an AEDC Fellow in 2004, wrote in a letter supporting Simmons’ AEDC Fellows nomination that he worked closely with Simmons while he served as the Air Force Manager of the Modeling and Simulation/Instrument and Diagnostics technology.

“Her knowledge of and technical support to the program was very valuable and contributed to the success of the Technology Program at AEDC,” Baker wrote.

In his letter of support for Simmons’ Fellows nomination, Dr. Rob McAmis, honored as an AEDC Fellow in 2016, stated he came to greatly respect her leadership style in his time working with Simmons.

“She was highly professional; direct with her message; always logical and factual, having technical details at the ready; and always exhibited a caring heart with each and every interaction,” he wrote. “In short, she was the type of leader that many of us strived to be. She engaged every engineer and technician around her to teach and coach and ultimately motivate us to care about our work, produce high quality results, and always look for shortfalls and associated ways of improving.”

Simmons retired in 2018.

During her career, Simmons authored more than 35 technical reports and papers. She was a member of the American Institute of Aeornautics and Astronautics for more than 35 years and served in various roles in the AIAA Tennessee Section, including chair, vice chair, treasurer, secretary, newsletter editor and member of the AIAA Propellants and Combustion Technical Subcommittee. She served as session chairperson at AIAA joint conferences, including JANNAF exhaust plume technology conferences, and actively assisted in preparing the nomination to declare AEDC as an AIAA Historical Site.

Simmons was the recipient of an AIAA Tennessee Section Technical Award in 2000 for the development and application of a model-based data extrapolation technique for plume signature analysis. She also received AIAA Booster Awards in 1998 and 1999 for outstanding contributions to Tennessee Section activities.

She served as a mentor to co-ops and interns at Arnold and was a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, volunteer. Simmons further served as a college campus recruiter, conducting interviews and presenting hiring recommendation to human resources. She also worked to foster AEDC involvement in local school and civic organizations.

“In summary, Martha Ann Simmons spent a significant portion of her lifetime supporting AEDC,” Howard wrote in his nomination. “She built a professional career grounded in technical competence, integrity and a leadership style that inspired others.

“Her influence on the AEDC workforce, along with her personal contributions to provide AEDC with state-of-the-art test capabilities and technologies, is her legacy to the AEDC Mission.”