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

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Summer 2006

Sandra M. Hoff, Deputy Commander, US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate

Within the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD) at Fort Eustis, Virginia develops, demonstrates and applies technologies that enhance and sustain Army Aviation. AATD has three technical divisions – Power Systems, Platform Technology, and Systems Integration supported by a Rapid Prototyping Division. The Directorate’s five-year Program Objective Memorandum (POM) from Fiscal 2008 to 2013 includes $330 million for 6.2 exploratory research and $529 million for 6.3 advanced development. The primary AATD customers are Army Aviation Program Executive Officers and Program Managers, and the Special Operations community.

Sandra Hoff came to AATD as an intern in 1982. In 2002, she became the deputy commander of an S&T organization with around 240 people, two-thirds of them engineers.

As a graduate from Old Dominion University in 1979 with a bachelors’ degree in mathematics, Ms. Hoff discovered “There wasn’t a lot of need for math majors. A lot of the places I went to commented, ‘Well if you were an engineer, it would be another story.’” With two brothers already pursuing engineering careers, Ms. Hoff returned to school and along with one sibling applied for a co-operative experience offered by the university and AATD (then the aviation Applied Technology Laboratory). “We were both hired as a result of the interview,” she explains. “I went to Power Systems and Keith went to the Platforms Division.”

As a mechanical engineer intern and later an aerospace engineer intern, Ms. Hoff worked in the propulsion technical area managing contracts and writing proposal specifications. Her primary focus was 6.2-level turbine component research for Army gas turbine engines. She adds, “That also included staying abreast of what the Air Force and Navy were doing in that area to leverage whatever we could.”

With a BS in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion in 1983, she chose to stay with the Army. “I think I liked the idea that, as a government employee, you see what all of industry is trying to do . . . what works, what doesn’t work.”

As a project engineer, Ms. Hoff was part of the technical evaluation team for the T800 turboshaft then under development for the RAH-66 Comanche. She worked on the H-60 Competitive Production Engine and the Multi-Purpose Small Power Unit. She joined in the first stages of the Joint Turbine Advanced Gas Generator (JTAGG I and II) program under the umbrella of the Department of Defense Integrated High-Performance Turbine Engine Technology (IHPTET) initiative.

In 1995, Ms. Hoff served a tour in Washington as the liaison for AATD, the Advanced Science and Technology Directorate (ASTD), and the Aero Flight Dynamics Directorate (AFDD) in the Army Office of the Deputy Assistant for Research and Technology. In that role, she coordinated rotorcraft S&T efforts with the broader Army and DoD budget perspective. “Sometimes, when Aviation gets cut, you think you’re being singled out when the reality of the situation is everybody’s in a financially constrained environment.”

The Washington experience taught her the value of expediting contracts and executing programs quickly when funds are available. “If you wait ‘til the fourth quarter to start awarding contracts, there’s no way you’re going to execute all your program . . . There are other people who are executing, and they may end up with your money.”

Back at Fort Eustis, Ms. Hoff served from 1996 to 1997 as Team Leader for the Propulsion Division engine component group and ran the JTAGG III research effort following the typical AATD model. “Most of the S&T work that we do is contracted out or partnered with industry. We define the technology goals, select the contractors that offer the best approach to achieving our goals, and then monitor schedule, cost, and performance of the effort.”

JTAGG III continues. “We set the goals up for this program 18 years ago, probably 20 years ago now, when we were envisioning “unobtanium” would be available when we got around to doing the program,” says Ms. Hoff. “We are validating some of the aerodynamics, but we’re not getting the durability out of the components that we had originally envisioned. So I think we’re identifying areas over the next 10-plus years where we’ve got to put more emphasis to get some more durability and robustness into our designs.”

From 1997 to 2002, Ms. Hoff served as Chief of the AATD Power Systems Division, planning and directing exploratory and advanced development programs in turboshaft engines and drive systems. The division is also responsible for the development of ground support equipment.

In September 2002, Ms. Hoff became the deputy commander of AATD as the Global War on Terror changed Army aviation priorities and made new demands on the organization. Support for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom became a priority for the Rapid Prototyping Division. “We have done a tremendous amount of work out of that division,” says Ms. Hoff. Rapid Prototyping technicians quickly integrated the Common Missile Warning System (CMWS), Blue Force Tracker, satellite communications, and other battlefield enhancements into Army aircraft. The Rapid Prototyping Division draws people from the S&T groups as needed and practices “protoduction” to build short runs of needed items for deployed units. “Since 9/11, there have been a lot more requests from the PMs and others to get things done and get them rapidly into theater,” notes Ms. Hoff.

AATD engineers also worked with Boeing to improve the deployability of the AH-64 Apache. According to Ms. Hoff, “It used to take us days once we delivered the Apaches in-theater to get them unloaded and ready to go. We got that down to hours with the solution provided.”

The AATD rapid prototyping division has design expertise, fabrication shops, ballistic test ranges, a structures lab, and flight test aircraft to support the technical divisions and outside customers. The current fleet includes UH-60A and L and AH-64A and D test aircraft, a King Air utility turboprop, and UH-1H, AH-1G, and T-34 chase aircraft. A CH-47D Chinook was borrowed from the Army Reserve for integration of the Brown-Out Situational Awareness Unit, and other aircraft can be brought in on loan for special programs.

The Fort Eustis fleet also has a Vigilante Unmanned Air Vehicle, and AATD is trying to get a Shadow and other UAVs. Ms. Hoff explains, “Many of the technologies we are working are applicable to both manned and unmanned systems – i.e. structures, drives, engines, etc. However, the Systems Integration division is working several technologies which are unique to UAVs.”

Included in the UAV efforts are AMUST-D (Airborne Manned/Unmanned System Technology) and the Hunter Standoff Killer Team (HSKT) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD). The Systems Integration Division is also developing behaviors under the Unmanned Autonomous Collaborative Operations (UACO) program. The directorate has also teamed with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on the A160 Hummingbird, and contracted Boeing Mesa to use the optionally piloted Little Bird as an Unmanned Light Attack Reconnaissance Testbed (ULART).

AATD has limited Airworthiness Release (AWR) authority to qualify experimental and new equipment on aircraft in specific units for contingency operations. It works with Aviation Engineering Directorate in Huntsville to expedite AWRs. Ms. Hoff explains, “We try to bring them in early to the process so whatever we are doing is consistent with what they would need to do for full qualification.” AATD Field teams also continue to deploy to combat theaters to install and support CMWS and other equipment in field units.

Post 9/11 commitments also made new demands on AATD from a Science and Technology perspective. Ms. Hoff observes, “I think the biggest thing there was a new emphasis on survivability. The AATD Systems Integration Division is the Aircraft Survivability Equipment leader for the Army and has developed a survivability roadmap coordinated with the other Army elements of RDECOM and DoD as appropriate. The division leader is consequently pursuing more generic countermeasures to evolving threats. A new 6.3 program, APAS (Active/Passive Aircraft Survivability), will integrate a suite of survivability technologies onto a platform to demonstrate and validate a significant improvement in overall system survivability. According to Ms. Hoff, “As a result of that effort, a PM can select those technologies he would need to spin on to his specific platform.”

The AATD Platform Technology Division meanwhile continues SARAP, the Survivable, Affordable, Repairable Airframe Program. Working with Bell, Boeing, and Sikorsky, it aims to reduce the weight of ballistically tolerant airframes 25% and cut both schedule and cost 40%. “We’re trying to reduce the development time, which in turn makes the aircraft more affordable,” says Ms. Hoff. Future work in the Platform Division will include more durable rotors, self-healing systems, and active vibration control.

The AATD Power Systems Division achieved notable success with Boeing and Sikorsky on RDS-21 – the Rotorcraft Drive System for the 21st century. The efficient face gear technology from that effort improved horsepower-to-weight ratios 35% and will transition to production on the AH-64D Block III Longbow Apache. The Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engine (VAATE, the successor to IHPTET) initiative is pursuing small heavy fuel engine technology to provide a 700 hp engine applicable to the Fire Scout UAV, Special Operations Little Bird, and the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, and provide a foundation for other Army platforms. The VAATE program, starting in 2008, aims to reduce specific fuel consumption 25%, increase power density 80% and trim operating, support, and production costs 35%.

Such programs aim to continue US leadership in rotorcraft technology edge. “We look at what the state of the art is and make a technical judgment with our next four to five-year program on how far we can push the technology,” explains Ms. Hoff. AATD issued five concept refinement contracts last year for a vertical takeoff Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) aircraft. The contracts are meant to identify the art of the possible and technologies to support a JHL joint requirements document in Fiscal 2007. A transition program could fly a JHL concept technology demonstrator around 2012 and a prototype around 2015 for a first unit equipped around 2022. A Joint Multi-Role rotorcraft may be the subject of a similar program in the next five years.

With such efforts, does the US still lead the world in rotorcraft technology? Ms. Hoff says, “Yes, but with budget limitations, there are a few areas in the past couple of years we have not had 6.3 demonstrations in. You basically need the 6.3 demos to mature the technology to the point where it’s ready for a PM to transition it.” Advanced development programs are needed in both flight dynamics and flight controls. “If we don’t start doing something soon, we have the potential to fall behind. We are currently working on a program restructuring to ensure we do not lose our edge.”

Has the widely reported engineering shortage in US universities hurt Army rotorcraft S&T efforts? “I believe there is a shortage, but I think we’ve been pretty lucky,” says Ms. Hoff. “We’ve hired a number of interns over the past five years or so who have been very good. They’ve been enthusiastic; they’re smart.”

The contracting specialties are also crucial to the AATD mission. “We’ve probably got one of the best contracting groups in the Army or DoD,” says Ms. Hoff. “They are very quick. . . They find a way to make it work.”

Ms. Hoff sees the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate as a small but highly integrated organization. “All the various disciplines work well together, which helps us execute our Science and Technology mission and provide a rapid response capability to help the soldier in the field.”