Albert earns medal for reactivation efforts of Air Force facility

  • Published
  • By 200891
Former Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) Vice Commander (Ret.) Col. Vince Albert earned a NASA medal for his leadership in the reactivation of the National Full-scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC) at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) in Moffett Field, Calif.

In 2005, Albert had the opportunity to help transition another facility to Air Force control during his 30-year Air Force career. Previously, he helped AEDC obtain the Trenton, N.J., Navy Facility and helped transition Tunnel 9 from Navy to Air Force control. NFAC was reactivated in 2006 and began its first test in the fall of 2007 which included the Mars Science Laboratory parachute test for the next series of unmanned vehicles.

"This project was especially fun," he said. "They have a great group out there. It's a lot like AEDC--a unique facility, with a dedicated and motivated team. It was also a unique experience because major test facilities do not get reactivated very often after being closed for several years."

Upon hearing the news of his award, Albert was pleasantly surprised about his recognition.

"It certainly was an unexpected honor," he said. "I'm extremely gratified that NASA would consider or select an Air Force officer for one of their top awards. Although it is an individual award, it is really the result of having a great team to lead at the NFAC and great support for our mission from both AEDC and NASA Ames."

Albert also believes this award is part of the continuing recognition of the excellent work being done at both the NFAC and AEDC.

"I hope this helps continue collaborative efforts between NASA and AEDC, as both organizations have tremendous expertise in ground test facilities," he said.
Dr. William Warmbrodt, NASA ARC's Aeromechanics branch chief, nominated Albert for the award.

"I first met Colonel Albert at lunch in the AEDC cafeteria in 2004," Dr. Warmbrodt said. "I came to appreciate him as a leader, a gentleman, a peer and a friend. It has been an honor to work with him and AEDC for the past four years."

Since early 2006, the U.S. Air Force made dramatic progress in all aspects of the NFAC reactivation effort, Dr. Warmbrodt said.

"Colonel Albert's leadership to seek out and build a strong U.S. Air Force/AEDC partnership with NASA at Ames Research Center where no partnership previously existed will benefit the United States' aeronautics Research, Development and Test & Evaluation program, both military and civilian, for many years."

He continued, "By actively encouraging and welcoming participation by NASA technicians and engineers as members of the AEDC/NFAC team, he created a technically strong and motivated team that is willing to address and solve the toughest challenges and problems. By showing us all how true partnerships can be created and sustained, he made a significant impact in establishing a culture of true teamwork under very challenging circumstances."

With the recent NFAC full operational capability achievement, according to Dr. Warmbrodt, Albert's goal was successfully achieved.

"Now it is the challenge to all of us to productively use and benefit from what he has left us as his legacy - the world's largest wind tunnel. This Medal, given by NASA Headquarters, recognizes the importance of the NFAC to NASA's mission and erases the perception that the NFAC is not critical to NASA's and the nation's aeronautical RDT&E future."

According to NFAC Deputy Director Mark Betzina, reactivating NFAC was a big challenge.

"When Col. Albert took this assignment in the fall of 2005, the facility had been closed for more than two years and the previous operating staff had moved on to other jobs, he said. "So the task involved not only reactivation of dormant equipment and unique wind tunnel systems, but also standing up a brand new organization."

Betzina continued, "To make this even more challenging, NFAC is located at NASA
Ames Research Center, and this new organization had to operate as a geographically separated unit (GSU) from AEDC as well as integrate with the institutional support services provided by NASA," he said. "A new contractor staff had to be hired and trained. All the tunnel systems had to be inspected, refurbished or repaired in some cases, and activated one at a time."

Betzina explained that new policies and procedures had to be established for how this GSU would operate, including financial management, procurement, safety and security. New customer contacts had to be established and tests programs planned and a brand new state-of-the-art data acquisition system was required.

"He deserves much of the credit for the NFAC's success," Betzina said. "The new organization was expertly led through the reactivation process and Col. Albert established the proper course and set a high standard of excellence."

That course led to the successful achievement of Full Operating Capability for rotorcraft testing in January 2008, less than two years after the lease was signed between the Air Force and NASA. During that same time period, four customer tests were completed (non-rotorcraft tests that did not need the new data system) and NFAC is now providing valuable rotorcraft testing services to DoD and NASA customers.

Albert spent 12 years of his career at AEDC and held a variety of positions. He first served as chief of the Turbine Engine Testing Facilities branch. He also served as deputy chief of the Aerodynamics Test Division, technical area manager of the Engine Test Division and deputy chief of Plans and Programs directorate.

When he came back to AEDC in 2000, after a stint at the Pentagon, he became the chief of the Engine Test Division at AEDC. In 2002, he became the director of Test Operations and soon after was selected as the vice commander serving under Brig. Gen. David Stringer, now retired.

When Albert entered the Air Force through Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp. (ROTC) and after graduating from the University of Nebraska, he wanted to fly.

"My original motivation was to fly," he said. "It turned out the Air Force didn't need as many pilots as they thought so I was offered the opportunity to take an engineering position instead."

He took the offer with the intent of staying only for his four year commitment, but he
found himself retiring 30 years later in late 2007.

The Outstanding Leadership Medal is awarded to government employees only for notably outstanding leadership that affects technical or administrative programs of NASA at an organizational, directorate, agency, government or industry level. It is awarded for the sustained contributions of a leader's effectiveness in advancing the agency's quality result, and building the organization's capacity for future performance while exemplifying NASA values in the work environment.