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

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite, January/February 2023

Michael Fallon, Program Executive Officer, NAVAIR

At NAVAIR headquarters in Patuxent River, Maryland, Michael Fallon doubles as assistant program executive officer (PEO) overseeing vertical lift science and technology (S&T) for air, anti-submarine warfare and special mission programs, and as the vertical lift portfolio manager for NAVAIR’s Chief Technology Office (CTO). He explained, “I support the program offices [PMAs] — H-53, Presidential, V-22, H-1 and H-60, and also the new PEO(A) Advanced Development Team where Future Vertical Lift [FVL] resides right now for both the Marines and the Navy. Sometimes, I help out with the other program offices like Fire Scout. Anything vertical lift, if they have something special, they can come to me.”

The APEO(A) for S&T continued, “The program offices have more near-team problems, obviously, because they’re in the business of acquiring and developing aircraft. In the CTO role, I also help manage Navy S&T programs like small business innovative research (SBIR), and Office of Naval Research (ONR) programs. I coordinate with Office of the Secretary of Defense [OSD] joint capability technology demonstrations [JCTDs], rapid defense experimentation reserve programs and things like that.” Fallon added, “I also have an external role, interacting across the Navy, the Marine Corps, all the other services, DARPA, NASA, academia and industry to represent naval aviation and ensure a balanced S&T vertical lift portfolio. I’m trying to find out what they’re doing, and they’re trying to find out how we can fit in with each other’s programs.”

NAVAIR S&T investments are driven by Navy and Marine Corps needs. Fallon said, “We try to put those things into four interest areas. We’ve got enabling technologies, which includes artificial intelligence, space-weight-and-power [SWAP] reduction and things like that. We’ve got technology to improve warfighter performance — that’s where you’d see degraded visual environment [DVE] aids and things like live-virtual-constructive [LVC] training technologies. We also have technologies to improve readiness and sustainment — repair, corrosion, manufacturing, prognostics through artificial intelligence or machine learning. And we work on things to improve warfighting capability — things to improve range and speed, mission planning and, of course, survivability.”

Fallon cited, “We have had tiltrotor S&T going on since the beginning of the V-22. We have a program that’s ready to wrap-up called DIVE — Dynamic Interface Virtual Environment — which is trying to get CFD [computational fluid dynamics] and simulation to develop flight envelopes and perhaps also be used for training fleet pilots to keep their qualifications. There’s a big V-22 component in that, and we’re trying to improve CFD codes for V-22.”

NAVAIR collaborates ONR, the US Navy Test Pilot School, the US Naval Academy, and university-based Vertical Lift Research Centers of Excellence (VLRCOEs) on vertical lift and tiltrotor research. “We’re doing flight tests and CFD and some wind tunnel tests showing that there’s a performance degradation for sloped surfaces. That directly relates to ship decks, showing if you hover over a sloped surface, you’ll lose some power. The test pilot school will provide pilots to the VLRCOEs — a lot of them have their own simulators. We’ll get better results that way with trained test pilots.”

Into the Fleet
Mike Fallon grew up in Cairo, New York, near the Catskill Mountains and scored high in math and science in a high school class of just 70 students. He recalled, “I did have an early interest in engineering. My dad had worked on a dairy farm and taught me how to fix machinery and my cars.”

Teachers Edward and Carol Fallon would ultimately run their own farm in New York’s Finger Lakes district, but their son was drawn to flight. The NAVAIR APEO(A) for S&T recalled, “My first real interest in aviation and the military happened when I saw the Blue Angels at a local airshow. As a recruiting tool, those guys are great — I’m a case in point. That got me interested in seeking out an ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] scholarship. My parents were very supportive and even made a deal with me that if I got a full scholarship, they’d pay for room and board. I applied to both the Navy and the Air Force for an ROTC scholarship, and as fate had it, I got the Navy ROTC scholarship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [RPI].”

Mike Fallon entered RPI focused on electrical engineering. “When I was in high school, personal computers were just coming out, and I had a Radio Shack TRS-80. I spent a lot of time programming in BASIC and saved my programs on cassette decks. My summer before my senior year in high school, I was accepted into a summer program at RPI and took a course in programming microcomputers. When I got to RPI, I was very interested in electrical engineering and concentrated on image processing and control systems, especially control systems for aircraft.”

On graduation in 1987, Fallon reported to the Navy. “I got selected for aviation and went down to Pensacola and then into primary training. At the end of that, you choose rotorcraft or fixed-wing, and luckily, I did get rotorcraft.” Fallon explained, “When we were going through school as midshipmen in ROTC, they gave you training in the different communities — the submarine community, the surface community, the Marines and aviation. When I did the aviation week, I got a ride in an H-3 [the Sikorsky Sea King helicopter]. That just blew me away, that you could sit in the air, 10 or 50 ft above the ground, and not move. Then they picked us up out of the water with the H-3. Just seeing the cool things that it could do, that’s what made me want rotorcraft.”

Fallon was designated a naval aviator in 1988. “You put in your ‘dream sheet’ for the aircraft you wanted. I put in for the H-60 because it was the newest aircraft at the time, but I got the H-46. That was probably one of the best things that happened to me.” The nugget pilot joined helicopter combat support squadron HC-6 at Norfolk, Virginia, and immediately deployed to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Hugo relief. “It was great flying. We brought emergency supplies to villages. After that, I did anti-drug support down in the Caribbean and Panama, and a little while after that, Desert Storm happened.”

Wartime helicopter operations were eye-opening. “We were just flying so much because the H-46 was doing VERTEP [vertical replenishment] bringing bombs and food and mail to everyone. One of the biggest challenges back then was we didn’t have any night vision goggles. We had a couple of aircraft lost at night. From a safety standpoint, it was disappointing to lose so many aviators to mishaps. They weren’t wartime related. I think it was just the pace of operations.”

The aviator-engineer subsequently earned an advanced degree in Monterey, California. “When I went to the Naval Post-Graduate School, mid-career, I got my EE [Electrical Engineering] Masters [degree] and had a really good time furthering my control systems knowledge. I started studying artificial intelligence and neural networks there. I had a really good thesis advisor, Hal Titus, who was an expert in missile and aircraft systems.”

Fallon subsequently served as safety officer on the amphibious assault ship USS Saipan and concluded his military career in 1998 as the H-46/V-22 mishap analyst in the Naval Safety Center at Norfolk, Virginia. “At that point, I made the decision to leave the Navy. I needed to do something related to aviation, and I looked for a job here at NAVAIR hoping I could use some of my degree and my abilities to fix the things that caused those mishaps.”

NAVAIR Knowledge
Fallon joined NAVAIR as rotorcraft team lead in the flight dynamics branch. “When I first started out, I worked basically all the helo programs seen in the Navy and Marine Corps in the late 1990s — the H-60 Common Cockpit, H-1 Upgrades, V-22, CH-53K, Fire Scout, unmanned K-MAX and Presidential. The main job was doing airworthiness for handling qualities. Handling qualities is a special discipline because you have to interact with the aerodynamics folks, the flight control people, the performance and engine people. You interact with the crew systems people, the ship suitability people, the structures group.”

Fallon noted, “I worked with the Army on the new ADS-33 handling qualities design standard. I got to go to NASA Ames Research Center and work with Chris Blanken and do some flight testing. We helped develop the standard at NAVAIR and helped make it better. We actually used it on the CH-53K, I believe the first program to use ADS-33 from the ground up.”

Fallon graduated from Naval Test Pilot School at Pax River in 2000. “They let me fly a lot of the test points, and also expected me to do engineering-level analysis on the data and report. It was really cool because it drove home the theories I had learned to that point as far as control systems, stability and things like that. You write discrepancies against the aircraft system and put yourself in the seat of the fleet pilot, not the test pilot with the ‘golden arm,’ so the engineers can fix those things for the fleet pilot.”

NAVAIR science and technology today leverages program office and Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) engineers. Fallon observed, “Other services sometimes have a dedicated body or group that does S&T. A lot of our guys who are doing S&T are also doing airworthiness and flight clearances.” Investigations also leverage partnerships outside the Navy. “We recently re-energized the OSD Community of Interest (COI) for vertical lift. We did that just a couple of months ago with the Army [at Redstone Arsenal] in Alabama. We also have a number of project arrangements with various countries.”

NAVAIR’s vertical lift portfolio manager noted, “One of the things we’re just starting in is eVTOL [electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing] and hybrid-VTOL technologies. We’re working with the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab folks because they may have some applications with the VTOL Family of Systems. We’ve been working with Air Force Agility Prime and NASA. For us, eVTOL opens up the design space and perhaps reduces your sustainment and maintenance functions. On the other side, it may have some limitations for us — batteries that are not approved for a ship and where do we put the hydrogen. Naval Research Laboratory has a lot of pretty good programs in hydrogen fuel cells. It’s starting for all of us, and we’re all very interested in it.”

Mike Fallon joined the American Helicopter Society (AHS), today’s Vertical Flight Society (VFS), in 1999. He is currently NAVAIR Liaison to the VFS Board of Directors. “VFS is a unique organization. You get the most out of the interaction with the people in industry, academia, the other services. A lot of times, that’s where I’ll meet the person who has something that would help benefit one of my programs.”