Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America
From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Summer 2010
Colonel Thomas H. Bryant, Commander, US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate
At the head of the Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Colonel Thomas Bryant leads a focused science and technology organization with integrated test, fabrication, and contracting functions. “It’s a national-level capability,” he explains. “If you were going to create an acquisition organization that could get critical technology to Army aircrews fast, it would look like AATD. We have a co-located engineering staff; we have pilots; we have designers; we have machinists; we have contracting personnel; we have maintainers; we have safety people; we have logisticians; we have lawyers on-staff. We have aircraft. It’s a just an amazing set of capabilities.”
AATD capabilities address the range of Army Aviation requirements. (See “Filling the Gaps,” Vertiflite, Spring 2009.) Last fall, the Datalink for Manned/Unmanned Systems (DMS) demonstration carried a datastream from a simulated Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to manned OH-58D and AH-64D helicopters that exchanged data with each other and the ground. Follow-on work will test a bi-directional remote video terminal for use on Black Hawks. “Manned-Unmanned teaming is huge at this organization,” says Col. Bryant. “The biggest potential payoffs are in the area of air-to-ground integration, how that ground commander can see the battle and stay connected to it while he’s in the aircraft.”
Though the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has concluded its A160 Hummingbird effort, AATD continues to fly the innovative UAS. Col. Bryant says, “We have a program to characterize the aircraft and to determine optimal rotor speeds – a whole series of data points to see what the real military benefit of a slowed rotor is – and there’s great benefit. We’re working with the Marine Corps, with the Navy, with other parts of the Army, and with SOCOM to characterize the airplane because everyone wants those 18 hours of endurance now.”
AATD structures, propulsion, and drive system work likewise aims to enhance future rotorcraft. Colonel Bryant notes, “All the different things we’re doing with structures and rotors are going to be where we get significant performance benefits – reduced parts count, less weight, reduced complexity, more speed. What’s going on now is going to help 15 years from now.”
Rotary Wing, Fixed Wing
Raised in Westfield, New Jersey, Tom Bryant shared in his father’s 36-year career in the Army National Guard. Following active duty in World War II, Lawrence Bryant worked his way up from private to Colonel without a college education. “He did all kinds of jobs, but he was always a Soldier.” At the New Jersey Military Academy in Sea Girt, the citizen-soldier taught in and ultimately ran plans and training at the school. “We did tons of things together,” recalls Colonel Bryant. “I remember one time he took me to where CH-54 Tarhes were lifting old M48 training turrets. They used to set them on old buses behind berms as defilade targets. We were there under the Tarhes with flags making sure things were clear. I was all of about 15.” The father of the future AATD commander also passed along his fascination with aviation. “He got me and my brother building models – I learned a hell of a lot about airplanes by building them.”
With offers of Army and Navy ROTC scholarships and a nomination to West Point, Tom Bryant chose Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to stay near home and support his family. Army ROTC and a major in Chemical Engineering fit his interests and career goals. “I loved chemistry, loved engineering, loved math and science in high school. What better to do than chemical engineering? I was not planning on serving longer than my four-year commitment, so I was going to be a chemical engineer, go serve, come out of the Army, and go work in the local refinery and live near home.”
With a regular Army commission on graduation from Bucknell in 1983, the young officer was assigned to the Military Intelligence Branch and found himself leading a mock Soviet Spets
naz team at the National Training Center. “I spent a lot of time walking at night at Fort Irwin,” he recalls. A transfer to an infantry battalion marked time until Lieutenant Bryant was accepted to flight school. “In 1985, I went to beautiful Fort Rucker, happier than Hell.”
Initial training in the TH-55 and instrument training in the UH-1 preceded specialization. “When you got to tactics, you were either a Scout guy or a Utility Guy,” explains Col. Bryant. “I’d been doing a lot of scout-like missions at Fort Irwin. My father was Cavalry for most of his 40-year military career. I absolutely loved being in the Scout track.” Flight school standings earned the new OH-58 pilot a Cobra transition and an assignment to Korea flying AH-1Fs. When back from Korea, Tom Bryant attended advanced military intelligence and electronic warfare courses and accumulated fixed-wing time in RU-21s and RC-12s over Honduras, some with the Military Intelligence Battalion for Low Intensity Conflict.
At the urging of his commanding officer in Honduras, the engineer-pilot started applying to the Army Aviation Engineering Test Pilot Program and the Naval Test Pilot School (NTPS) at Patuxent River, Maryland. Meanwhile, an assignment to an Aerial Exploitation Battalion afforded more fixed-wing experience. With time in more than 45 different aircraft today, Colonel Bryant has no rotary- or fixed-wing preference. “It’s all mission-based. It was all what the aircraft was designed to do and what you needed to do. Pax River teaches you that every aircraft has faults, and no aircraft is perfect. I don’t think there was an aircraft I have flown that I didn’t come to like.” The Army test pilot co-operative tied NTPS with studies at the Naval Postgraduate School to earn a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering. “The third time, I got in.”
Test and Acquisition
The NTPS flying syllabus in the early 1990s included TH-6B and UH-60 helicopters, U-21 and P-3 turboprops, and T-2 and T-38 jets. A trip to Aberdeen Proving Grounds enabled the Army student pilot to write a Qualities Evaluation on a Russian Mi-24 Hind. Patuxent River also taught the student engineer the business of testing. “It’s not just one thing to take data, but to do it in a manner where you save taxpayer dollars – you save the number of hours on the airplane – because all test programs are generally tight for both time and money,” observes Colonel Bryant. “It’s a qualitative product, but it’s also a very quantitative business. The key is how do you backward-plan to ultimately get the soldier and the aircrew the product they need.”
After graduating as the outstanding student in NTPS Class 105, the new Experimental Test Pilot joined highly-experienced Special Operations aviators to co-test the MH-60K Black Hawk with the Army Airworthiness Qualification Test Directorate based at Edwards Air Force Base. “The MH-60K I really enjoyed,” recalls Colonel Bryant. “I was fortunate to be on a test program for both performance and the qualification of the terrain following/terrain avoidance radar – flying at a hundred-foot set clearance plane in the clouds.”
The experience led to an assignment as assistant product manager for the MH-60K at the Army Special Operation Command’s (USASOC’s) Technology Applications Program Office (TAPO) at Fort Eustis. Colonel Bryant observes that SOF testing and acquisition has its own special character. “There is to this day a tremendous sense of ‘I’ve got to get this right or somebody may get hurt, or worse, and my work may embarrass the nation.’” SOF programs also involve clear and constant interaction with a few very knowledgeable users. “These folks hold the acquisition process and you brutally accountable.” A subsequent Pentagon tour as the Department of the Army Staff Coordinator, time in Huntsville as Product Manager for Aircrew Integrated Systems, and an assignment as Project Director for Rapid Fielding taught more acquisition lessons.
Back at Fort Eustis in charge of the SOF TAPO in 2006, Colonel Bryant became the Project Manager charged with taking the new MH-47G Chinook through operational testing, fielding and production modifications quickly. The TAPO was simultaneously testing the MH-60M Black Hawk for SOF equipment integration. “It was really paramount to get more SOF aviation assets out there because we had deployed SOF since late September 2001. We needed to get the new capabilities out there.” The MH-47G went to war in 2007, and the MH-60M is due to achieve Initial Operational Capability in 2011.
Colonel Bryant took command of AATD on June 30, 2009 and notes, “This unit was formed in World War II to do what we’re doing today.” The directorate has 244 people, including engineers, test pilots, maintainers, craftsmen and support personnel with 19 years of average time in their respective career fields. “We’ve got people who know what they’re doing, who like being here, and are doing the job,” says Colonel Bryant.
The job of the AATD Platform Technology, Power Systems, and Systems Integration Divisions is to address aviation capability gaps identified by Army leadership through science and engineering. The very capable Rapid Prototyping division is charged with the infusion of key technologies and then flight-testing them. AATD provides solutions needed in the next month or the next decade. According to Colonel Bryant, “Making our aircraft more survivable and less vulnerable is very high on the list.” To answer that need, AATD has several Hostile Fire Indicator programs underway. “Knowing when you’re getting shot at, by whom, with what, and from where is a complex problem we’re trying to solve.”
AATD systems engineers are also working on Condition-Based Maintenance technology that has the potential to enhance fleet readiness. “We’re doing a number of Condition-Based Maintenance systems that will make aircraft less maintenance intensive or make that maintenance easier and reduce O&S costs.”
Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom continue to tax Army aircraft in high-hot operations and Degraded Visual Environments. AATD propulsion and drive systems developments now aim at density altitudes of 6,000 ft at 95°F. “The engine programs that we have, the drive programs – gears and drivetrain components – those are full-steam ahead. We’re doing down to the material science on how we can get engines to burn hotter, the fracture-fatigue characteristics of transmissions and drivetrains.” The high power-density transmission technology in the Block III Apache Longbow emerged from AATD research.
AATD systems engineers have meanwhile demonstrated DVE countermeasures, including the Brownout Situational Upgrade symbology and Helicopter Autonomous Landing System radar. No matter how effective and desirable such systems may be, engineers need to minimize their impact on the host aircraft. “We need open architecture where it’s easier to get things on the airplane,” says Colonel Bryant. “And we need to get things smaller. Yes, you can probably get a 120 lbs cable warning device today. We probably need it to be 10 lbs or less.
“We look at how do we get all the things we want today – FLIR, radar, the latest radios, brownout radar and symbology, cable warning, aircraft survivability equipment – how do we get all that and get our payload back for our ultimate customer, the ground commander.”
With its rapid prototyping shops, ballistic ranges, crash-test rigs, and other specialized facilities, AATD is uniquely equipped for rapid technology application. The strength of the organization nevertheless remains in its highly experienced workforce, says its commander. “I think people love working here. All of my division chiefs, my deputy commander, all have between 25 and 28 years of experience, most of it here. I have a number of team chiefs who have been here since the early eighties.”
The AATD Commander explains, “We focus on constantly improving our ability to support the customer, so we continually improve our flight test engineers’ knowledge, our engineers’ knowledge and our pilots’ qualifications. We also modernize our design, analysis, and instrumentation capabilities.” The technology organization is meanwhile refreshing its ranks with new-hire engineers. “Actually, average age of our workers has gone down over the last five to six years. We have a tremendous young influx across our science and technology areas that is just dynamite.
“We recruit from the high-quality aviation schools – University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, Penn State, UVA, Georgia Tech. Those don’t only have aero programs, some have Centers of Excellence for Rotorcraft. We’ve gotten tremendous folks from those institutions, and we get folks from all over.”