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Academy professor earns state honors
Dr. Thomas Yechout was named Colorado's professor of the year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education on Nov. 17, 2011. Yechout is an instructor with the Air Force Academy's Aeronautics Department whose publications include "An Introduction to Aircraft Flight Mechanics" and who has involved Academy cadets with such research projects as NASA's Return to Flight effort and Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Academy professor earns state teaching honors

Posted 11/17/2011   Updated 11/17/2011 Email story   Print story


by Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

11/17/2011 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- An Air Force Academy instructor was honored as the top professor in Colorado Nov. 17 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, marking the second-straight year a member of the Academy's faculty has received the commendation.

Dr. Thomas Yechout, a professor in the Academy's Aeronautics Department, was recognized for writing an engaging flight mechanics textbook and for inspiring the Academy's cadets to become part of national-level aeronautics research projects.

Yechout consistently receives the highest ratings from cadets, averaging 5.8 on a six-point scale, Engineering Department Head Col. Douglas Barlow wrote in his letter of recommendation. Yechout also received the Heiser Award from the Academy's Class of 2005, recognizing him as the outstanding senior faculty educator for that year.

In another recommendation letter, fellow Aeronautics professor Dr. Aaron Byerley describes Yechout's classroom presence as "legendary."

"The word in the hallways here ... is that you are incredibly fortunate to wind up in one of Tom's flight mechanics classes," Byerley wrote. "He has the reputation for being the best in the department for (relating) complicated and difficult concepts" in an easy-to-understand fashion.

That does not mean, however, that Yechout is easy on his cadets. Just the opposite: One of Yechout's former students, Capt. Matthew Karmondy, wrote about Yechout's engaging classroom presence and demanding nature as an instructor.

"When my fourth semester researching under Yechout's supervision began, I offered to buy him a fresh package of red pens, knowing they would be put to good use," Karmondy wrote. "We joked (that) he bled all over the pages of the report drafts: the reports were invariably returned covered with corrections, comments and every student's least favorite question, 'Did you consider ...?'

"Yechout insists his students completely understand each facet of their research, demonstrated through several (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) International Student Conference winners and many more AIAA Regional Conference winners," Karmondy's letter continued. "One of Yechout's more recent undergraduates assured me he still 'bleeds all over report drafts' and concludes each practice brief with, 'Wonderful! I have a few comments; could you go back to Slide 1?'"

Gerald LeBeau, NASA's chief of applied aeroscience and computational fluid dynamics, praised Yechout both for his involvement with NASA research and for involving cadets in the research process.

"From the onset of our collaboration, Yechout has insisted that his Academy students also participate in our activities," LeBeau wrote. "My job as a NASA manager is to produce results, and I guarantee you that these young women and men produce! Over the years, I've had numerous opportunities to review formal reports and witness briefings by his cadets relating to our collaborative projects, and I can say without hesitation that they are among the most professionally presented that I have ever seen. ... These students are easily able to back up their polished precision with expert answers to questions put forth to them by my own aerodynamicists."

Yechout, along with a team of cadets, also contributed to NASA's Return to Flight program after the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed during re-entry Feb. 1, 2003. Karnody, now an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, was one of those cadets.

"During the fall of 2004, Yechout approached three other students and me with one of the most exciting projects an undergraduate aeronautical engineering student could hope for," wrote Karnody, a 2006 Academy graduate. "Hours of wind tunnel tests later, we presented our findings to NASA at the Johnson Space Center in the months prior to Discovery's first flight."

Yechout continued to seek out new research opportunities for his cadets, including NASA's Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle project, the Orbital Spaceplane and the Pad Abort Demonstrator vehicle, LeBeau wrote.

"Clearly over the years, Yechout has become less of a consultant and more of a valued team member on our most important work," LeBeau wrote. "His attention to detail, technical expertise and search for answers is not only exceptional, but his impact is magnified through his students' development, practical experience and future potential. Under his guidance, they have become lifelong learners and contributors."

That, Yechout said, is what matters most.

"Students will be inspired to learn if the educator is inspired," he said. "I feel so fortunate to have been a part of so many students' lives -- it truly has kept my passion for all this alive."

Yechout's recognition comes a year after Dr. Fran Pilch, deputy department head of the Academy's Political Science Department, received Colorado Professor of the Year honors in November 2010.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, sponsors the U.S. Professors of the Year Program along with The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement for teaching.

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