On Sept. 11 — 18 years after terrorists attacked the United States killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring more than 6,000 — Brig. General E. John “Dragon” Teichert told of innovative safety measures being implemented at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., when he attended the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon as the keynote speaker, an event sponsored by Aerotech News and Review.
Efforts to thwart any current or future assaults are an ongoing priority at Edwards along with other endeavors such as educating today’s youth and forming more bonds with the surrounding civilian community, according to Teichert, commander of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards.
Unmanned aircraft systems pose a particularly difficult threat, he said. A would-be assailant can go to the store, purchase an unmanned system, strap a grenade to it, then fly over the B-2 compound or the presidential aircraft compound at Edwards and drop the grenade with the intention of causing destruction.
“We are actively working at Edwards today to find ways to detect and neutralize in a safe way those types of systems,” Teichert said.
He experienced one of his proudest moments recently was when Edwards received the annual Collier Award, this nation’s most prestigious aerospace honor. Teichert described the award as a 525-pound trophy that sits at the National Aerospace Museum in Washington, D.C. Recipients of the Collier have achieved the greatest improvements for performance, efficiency and safety in air or space vehicles.
Edwards received the Collier for lifesaving, anti-collision software, called Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, or Auto GCAS, integrated into the first F-35s seven years ahead of schedule, Teichert said.
If a pilot becomes disoriented or blacks out, the plane won’t crash. Nine pilots were saved by that capability. Recently a young pilot in Japan blacked out. Just before he hit the ground the aircraft took over. Auto GCAS was not only installed on Air Force F-35s, but also the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and international partners versions of the aircraft. The original date for this innovation had been scheduled for 2025.
Edwards has made history throughout the years with technological advances, Teichert noted.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy fueled the space race against the Soviet Union with a speech aimed at putting an American on the moon — a concept that kicked off the Apollo program. Teichert quoted Kennedy as saying,” We chose to go to the moon, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”
In July 1969, America achieved the moon landing with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on board the spaceship. Tests for Apollo 11 were conducted at Edwards.
For years Edwards has been the catalyst for solving or resolving difficult issues that arise in government.
“They send us hard problems. They know we can handle those hard problems because we have historically,” Teichert said.
He identified four areas of concentration that are necessary for the Antelope Valley to move forward on a worldwide perspective — connectivity; education; marketing and branding; and true collaboration.
When it comes to connectivity, in many ways the Valley stands alone like an island when it comes to ease of transportation. Teichert said it takes him one and a half hours to get from the Valley to LAX “on an average, no traffic day. There is no such thing as a no traffic day.” So, he must leave home around 4 a.m. for the journey.
“We need to work on roads, we need to work on rail.” But, he added, what’s truly necessary is economically viable air transportation out of the Valley, travel that’s inexpensive. He estimated that 30 seats a day on a plane can be filled for the business travel needs of EAFB personnel alone. That figure does not include other local travelers who choose to fly to their destination. Efforts are currently underway to partner with government entities to address the challenges of bringing viable air transportation options back to the Antelope Valley.
Improved education is essential to recruit and retain the type of people needed in this Valley for local employment in the fields of science and technology. Teichert said he recently hired a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, coordinator as a contact point at Edwards. In addition, the STARBASE program at Edwards launched in March for fifth- and sixth-grade students from area schools, to offer an intensive five-day course in STEM related subjects. Thirty-four area schools have signed up to participate in the program.
This year for the first time, Edwards joined the STEM exhibit at the Antelope Valley Fair & Alfalfa Festival.
When it comes to marketing and branding “Aerospace Valley,” Teichert appealed to business leaders at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon to assist with outreach programs. Air shows will resume at Edwards in October 2020. That’s a chance to help this Valley “get back on the map” and refresh its reputation as the premiere location for all things cutting edge, not just in the world of flight test, but in aerospace technology as a whole. “It’s not enough for us to know that the world’s most impressive aviation feats get done here in this Valley. We need the world to know, because we need the world to send their best to come work with us here. We need them to know that if they want to work on the coolest things in aerospace, then they need to come here and they need to stay here.” And, Edwards will be cooperating with the Los Angeles County Air Show at the Gen. William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, as part of the effort to boost the reputation of Aerospace Valley.
True collaboration is needed to break down the barriers that exist in the Valley in order to work together, he said. Edwards has opened air space and ground resources to civilian partners like Virgin Orbit and Stratolaunch, to help further their flight test and technology development efforts.
Also, Edwards is trying to help spouses of military members find jobs in the Valley – those are spouses whose careers require a state license such as teachers, nurses, doctors and attorneys, as well as other highly talented spouses who are looking to find employment and extend their ties into the community. Teichert said California is one of nine states that does not have professional licensure reciprocity for military spouses.
As far as young military recruits Teichert said, those that enlist today have known a world that since Sept. 11, 2001 has been constantly at war.
“They will continue to enlist and serve our great nation,” he added.
Teichert paid tribute posthumously to Aida O’Connor who passed away in August 2019. He acknowledged her efforts in founding the Edwards Air Force Base Civilian-Military Support Group in 1989.
“We can’t do anything at Edwards without a community that supports us. You are making us feel necessary and supported. You are making history today,” he told the luncheon attendees.
Former U.S. Rep. Steve Knight and wife Lily were among the people at the chamber luncheon at the John P. Eliopulos Hellenic Center.
Knight listened intently as Teichert spoke about the advancements being made. “The highest level of sophistication in flight is being worked on at Edwards,” Knight said. “I love Edwards. It is my favorite place. It is the people that make Edwards.”
In a question and answer session, former Antelope Valley Press editor Dennis Anderson, a military veteran now working as a clinical social worker, inquired about whether it is a good idea to build a nuclear-powered hypersonic missile. Such a missile is widely believed to be the source of a recent nuclear accident in Russia.
“Speed absolutely matters in warfare,” Teichert said. If a target can be hit in the needed time, then the requirement has been met, he added. A missile need not be nuclear powered to meet the need for speed and accuracy.
Lisa Kinison, co-owner and business manager of Aerotech News, reflected on the Apollo 11 moon landing, saying the idea of space as a contested domain is a scary notion.
“We’re returning to near peer competition,” Teichert responded. “The near peer threats have caught up to us. China and Russia have developed domains that can do us harm.”
If they destroy a communications satellite, they can interrupt this nation’s communication network. If the satellite enables the United States to gather pertinent information about adversaries, that too has potentially detrimental outcomes.
“We need to make out capabilities more resilient. Our adversaries are serious (about) finding ways to harm us in a way that we can’t harm them back,” he said.
Kinison asked whether that was justification for forming a new military branch.
Teichert said to accomplish that, a new branch must be resourced sufficiently to avoid the various branches competing for the same dollars.
“We have common problems that we can solve without cashing in our values,” Teichert said. “We don’t have to wait for a crisis to solve some of these problems.”