Beyond the speed of sound: digital engineering is enabling the future

  • Published
  • By Michael Glennon
  • AEDC Technical Management

Arnold Engineering Development Complex, or AEDC, has had several senior leaders visit recently, such as Gen. Arnold W. Bunch Jr., commander, Air Force Material Command, and Maj. Gen. Evan Dertien, commander, Air Force Test Center, who have emphasized the value of digital engineering. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Brown Jr.’s statement “Accelerate, Change or Lose” is the core driver for why we must change as our adversaries are leveraging innovation and technological advances in developing aerospace systems.

Our acquisition programs are faced with shortening the acquisition cycle time as adversaries are now capable of iterating faster. Digital engineering is widely seen by senior leadership as a key technology that enables the change required to accelerate weapon system development.

Over the past 18 months, the AEDC Technical Management Office, with support from the Integrated Analysis Branch, Test Support Division, and the 704th Test Group, has enabled the planning stages in identifying how digital engineering may be leveraged to improve AEDC test and evaluation, or T&E, and develop a plan for the future. 

Progress includes identifying and submitting digital engineering capability gaps to the AFTC knowledge management portfolio reliance panel, creating an integrated requirement list for planning and budgeting, and establishing a program objective memorandum request for funding and manpower starting in fiscal year 2024.

The AEDC Engineering Board has established a digital engineering working group to discuss, coordinate and foster digital engineering emerging technologies and approaches across the complex.

The digital engineering working group is an active participant in the recurring AFTC and Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, Summit discussions and part of several topic of concern panels connecting AEDC to the bigger digital environment initiatives with specific outreach to earlier testing efforts.

AEDC has seen several successes toward advancing our digital engineering capabilities during this past year, to include stronger collaborations with our AFRL counterparts in areas which include data management, infrastructure, business processes, tools and concepts, such as “Test as a Service.”

AEDC has been supporting weekly meetings with the other AFTC test wings which have been very successful in bringing together concepts for common architectures and data sharing.

AFTC is in the process of forming multiple supported programs in the cloud environment such as Platform One; GITLab open source code repository and collaborative software development platform; Visible, Accessible, Understandable, Linked, Trusted; and others.

In addition, an effort is underway for improved and more expeditious common software tools approval process throughout AFTC allowing AEDC to connect and digitize; optimize operations; and to innovate and scale efforts with our stakeholders.

The AEDC digital engineering working group is leading an integrated digital environment effort, or IDE, which defines a digital strategy roadmap for test business, test execution, test analysis, and modeling and simulation requirements. This spans the entire infrastructure, process and tools required to execute test and evaluation at AEDC.  The digital engineering working group is reviewing local, AF, DOD and cloud infrastructure data-driven development and decision making processes for the purpose of making test and evaluation more collaborative and value added to acquisition programs and test partners.

Many challenges remain to assess what is possible and scalable to larger IDEs which are being proposed at the AFTC, Air Force Materiel Command and Air Force levels.

At AEDC, we have projects in planning stages as well as pilot projects supporting the Air Force’s digital engineering efforts. Some of these include the Common Test Data Storage System; 16T Flight Cloud and expansion; asset performance management pilot; condition based management pilot; Standalone Cloud Hybrid Edge-to-Enterprise Evaluation and Test Analysis Suite prototype; and the potential cloud usage of T&E databases; common tools and analysis software; and business system integrations activities.

The AEDC team that participated in the November 2021 AFTC and Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, or AFOTEC, Data Hackathon took a local problem set, “A versatile open standard with a robust metadata capability,” and was allocated four days to discover possible solution sets. This team of 10 AEDC engineers and scientists from across several AEDC organization utilized the hierarchical data format 5, or HDF5, open source standard to capture necessary metadata details, improve the efficiency for sharing data, and reduce the number of AEDC test cells data formats. This tool fully supports Python and Matlab, and other current programming tools as well as outputs to a binary format with built-in compression capabilities.

This team successfully enabled change, defined the data fusion problem and produced a proposed HDF5 standard. The “AEDC Data Wrangling Team” was recognized as the “most impactful” solution for the AFTC Data Hackathon as determined by the AFTC Leadership panel.

The next event is scheduled for March 14-18. AEDC plans to expand to two teams in the next AFTC and AFOTEC Data Hackathon event.  The Team will work to solve current AEDC problem sets utilizing both local and cloud-based digital environments.  If you wish to get involved with the data science movement please contact

If this kind of work is interesting to you, you should join the AEDC digital engineering working group and be part of the “Coalition of the Willing.” The team will continue seeking out new opportunities and innovative ideas for advancing T&E capabilities, and foster the change required to be viable in an enterprise with accelerated acquisition cycles. Digital engineering increases our value to our test partners and keeps AEDC second to none.