Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite May/June 2015

Jeffrey Lee Langhout, Director, U.S. Army Aviation Engineering Directorate

Within the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center (AMRDEC) at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Jeffrey Langhout leads the Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED) responsible for airworthiness and aeronautical design standards. His 850 engineering professionals oversee the safety of today’s Army aircraft and steer future developments. AED is, for example, a co-chair of the Boeing/Sikorsky safety-of-flight committee that will allow flight of the SB-1 Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstrator. Mr. Langhout observes, “I think many of the end-users may not know who AED is, but they do know our products -- the Airworthiness Releases that define the conditions and configurations for operating their aircraft, with all the known risks and safety concerns. What I hope our customers know about AED is that we are a tremendously dedicated workforce of engineering professionals who ensure our customers have the very best engineering analyses for their decision-making.” 

AED customers range from aircraft maintainers seeking guidance from Liaison Engineers (LEs) deployed with Combat Aviation Brigades to Army technical leaders managing the JMR Technology Demonstration.  Mr. Langhout explains, “While the soldier is our end-user customer, our first-line customers are the Program Offices, AMCOM, Army Special Operations Aviation, and the US Army Aviation Center of Excellence.” He adds, “Other end users include the broader technical community, as AED is a critical part of developing and updating aviation standards across DoD.”

Jeffrey Langhout grew up in Huntsville Alabama with a love of aviation. “I wanted to be either a weatherman or an airline pilot,” he recalls. “I built plastic models and hung them from my bedroom ceiling -- I think my favorite commercial plane growing-up was the L-1011.” Family and friends provided engineering direction. “My dad, Tom Langhout, was a Licensed Professional Engineer and a World War II Naval Aviator who flew Catalinas, Liberators, and Privateers, so airplanes and engineering were always a part of our family. My best friend's dad, Jim Kofskey, had a huge influence on my life as well. He was an engineer and also encouraged me to study engineering in college.”

Graduation from Grissom High School in Huntsville led to engineering studies at Auburn University in central Alabama. “My oldest brother had attended Auburn. It also had a very good reputation for its engineering school. Industrial engineering was a simple choice – my dad had a very successful career with the General Electric Company working with jet engines and later on the Apollo program, and it always sounded like very interesting work.”

Jeffrey Langhout graduated from Auburn in 1986 with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and some pointed career guidance from Jim Kofskey, then a senior leader at the Defense Intelligence Agency Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC). “I will never forget that day about three months before I graduated from college,” he recalls, “I had a job offer from a private company in Georgia. It was for quite a bit more money than a Federal job in Huntsville. When I went to my mentor and asked his advice, he said, ‘Jeff, I have been telling you since you were ten years old that you were coming to work at MSIC. MSIC needs people like you, and so that is where you are going to work. Got it?’ I recall I said, ‘Yes sir.’”

Learning to Lead
MSIC engineers and scientists characterize threat weapons, and Jeff Langhout found challenging work as a project director and analyst.  “While at MSIC, I was able to conduct extremely detailed analyses of threat radar systems using all types of resources available in those days.” The analytical experience led to a new job in 1993 leading a configuration management team at the Army Threat Systems Management Office (TSMO) developing and fielding threat simulators. “I’m not able to share any specific details about what we did at TSMO, but there is no doubt TSMO is where I learned the criticality of getting along. I recognized that you can't get anything done without help from many people and organizations. I am very proud to know that the products I helped put on the test and training ranges did make a difference by ensuring our aviators weren’t surprised when they flew into actual threat environments.”

While at TSMO, Mr. Langhout earned a Masters Degree in Engineering Management from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. “It was, in all honesty, my wife Jackie’s influence,” he explains. “She was getting her Masters in engineering and knew that having a Masters degree would be important for my career. I chose Engineering Management as my mentor and other leaders were telling me my natural abilities were in leadership.”

A chance meeting at an Army conference in 2002 brought a job offer from the Program Executive Office Aviation to be the technical chief of the CH-47F Product Management Office. The Improved Cargo Helicopter program taught Jeff Langhout more about leadership. “Then- Colonel Crosby and Lt. Col. Shufflebarger and their civilian deputies were tremendous leaders. Equally important were the tremendous leaders at the Boeing Company who actually built the CH-47F.  The war in Afghanistan had just started, and the Chinook would be perhaps the most critical aviation asset because of its ability to get troops and supplies anywhere in that country.”

Chinook program leaders also understood the Army-Industry team building their new aircraft. Mr. Langhout recalls, “The many suppliers that supported Boeing were brought into the inner circle of the family we called Team Chinook. I was lucky enough to be a part of that incredibly positive and focused environment. Our soldiers needed the Chinook in Afghanistan, and there was no way we were going to fail our soldiers.

“When I look back to the First Unit Equipped and the first wartime deployment of the CH-47F, there were, of course, many challenges, but to me, the credit for success goes to the Team Chinook logistics teams. It was those great professionals who took what the engineers delivered and developed all the critical trainers, training, documentation, etc. to ensure a successful fielding. The logisticians actually had full-up flight simulators and a very robust new equipment training program prepared before the aircraft rolled off the production line.”

The CH-47F experience led Jeff Langhout to his present role as director of the Aviation Engineering Directorate.  He explains, “AED is organized both functionally and by-product -- Apache, Chinook, Black Hawk, etc. Our functional engineers are the subject matter experts in their respective areas while our systems engineers are more broadly focused to work with all the functional divisions in supporting the customer base.”

AED has specialists working to advance Health and Usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS) and Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) for Army aviation.  “As the AMCOM implements Cost-Wise Readiness, our ability to develop Condition Indicators and continue to use HUMS to feed the CBM environment is certainly critical to saving our Army precious sustainment dollars.  But it’s just not as easy, quick, or inexpensive as many seem to think,” notes Mr. Langhout. “There are great examples of being able to predict failures and thus reduce unscheduled maintenance, but there is so much data that is being collected, and the process to analyze and develop Condition Indicators is neither cheap nor quick -- and therein lies the challenge. At AED, we have some brilliant minds that are pushing the envelope in machine learning, which should help with analyzing the petabytes of data.”

 AED also has experts in the field. “Our workforce responds to the needs of our customers,” says Mr. Langhout. “We’ve had LE’s deployed in theater for more than 12 years. From my chair, our aviators around the world are busy as ever. Our acquisition customers continue to be very busy as well. Yes, the funding continues to decline, and thus we continue to shrink.  The Aviation Restructure Initiative [ARI] will drive change to every corner of our branch, and AED will adjust to those changes as dictated by our customer base. Sequestration left unresolved, will be a major disruption to the entire ARI process, and I can’t begin to explain how AED would be affected. We are mostly funded by our customers and their need for our support.  So as our customers go, so goes AED.”

An aging workforce is another continuing challenge. “Building the bench has been a real concern for us at AED,” concedes Mr. Langhout. “Beginning this spring we will replace, to start with, 50% of the folks we lose each year with brand-new college graduates. So in FY 2015, we expect to hire about 10 recent college graduates.  The catch is they will all be ‘term’ hires.  Of course, our ability to convert ‘term’ employees to permanent employees will be dictated by Army hiring authority as we move forward. We are currently recruiting engineers with a desire to work on structural analysis and fatigue methodologies as they relate to composite structure; navigation aids and GPS technologies; maintenance engineering in support of depot level repairs and overhauls; flight controls and computational fluid dynamics.” 

The Aviation Engineering Directorate is already considering the challenges of Future Vertical Lift. “AED recently completed a program commissioned by the Aviation Development Directorate to begin the process to understand the affordability and technical challenges of these incredibly complex aircraft of the future. Over a period of nine months, AED along with industry, academia, and other government organizations worked together to understand the knowns and unknowns of advanced materials and processes -- auto code, additive manufacturing, model-based design, etc. -- as they relate to qualification.  What we have learned is that we have a very long way to go and we must continue to learn from the commercial sector on how they are qualifying highly advanced aircraft for the FAA.  Specs and Standards are having to be updated, and AED is in the middle of it all.

“Certainly, higher-speed, lighter aircraft with reduced fuel consumption, capable of fighting in all weather, will result in more combat power. As we plan for the future – mega-city conflicts, asymmetrical warfare, and all the things we can’t possibly imagine -- what we need most is to not get lost in all the cool technologies of the future and forget to ensure we build the most important asset we have: our people.” 

Mr. Langhout adds, “AHS continues to be a critical organization for our nation.  The Professional society of AHS is critical in sharing highly technical aviation information and bringing together the experts of the world to debate and grow from the interactions.  The scholarships are so important, especially for the bright young minds that don’t have the monetary resources to further their education. Our nation must continue to develop the best and brightest engineering minds and ensure they return their talents to our nation through industry or government service.  AHS can and should continue to lead toward that end.”