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Engineering Week Feature Series Wrap Up: Imagining tomorrow

Engineering Week

Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy test an egg conveyor during an introduction to systems engineering course in Fairchild Hall. Most cadets seen here are seniors scheduled to graduate later this year. Cadets and faculty took part in Engineering Week Feb. 21-27, 2021 to highlight engineering advances the school makes for the Air and Space Forces. (Courtesy photo)

Engineering Week

Capt. Martin Span, a systems engineering instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, stands between Cadets 1st Class Josh Sayers (left) and Brynn Feighery during a systems security symposium. Cadets and faculty at the Academy took part in Engineering Week Feb. 21-27, 2021 to highlight engineering advances the school makes for the Air and Space Forces. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Engineering Week at the Air Force Academy wrapped up Feb. 27 after seven days of showcasing cadets and faculty engineers working on a slew of projects to benefit the Air and Space Forces.

The theme of this year's event was 'Imagine Tomorrow," something Dean of the Faculty Brig. Gen. Linell Letendre said cadets and faculty engineers at the Academy do every day. 

"Every day our engineering faculty and cadets impact the warfighter in aeronautical, astronautical, civil, electrical and computer, mechanical, and systems engineering and computer and cyber sciences arenas," she said. "We should thank our Total Force engineers and tech-transfer partners because we would not be able to build or maintain a lethal and ready force without them."  

Capt. Martin Span, a systems engineering instructor, said Engineering Week allows Academy cadets and faculty to acknowledge their achievements.

“The innovative mindset our cadets have never fails to impress the faculty or our research sponsors due to their novel solutions to engineering challenges,” he said. “We foster innovative thinking that expands our solution space and helps us solve complex, undefined problems.”

Cadet 1st Class Brynn Feighery, a systems engineering major, shares her dean’s perspective.

“There isn’t a fighter jet or satellite in an operational capacity that hasn’t been backed by a brilliant team of dedicated engineers and scientists,” she said. “The next time you see a fifth-generation fighter jet or a Rover landing on Mars, thank the hundreds of engineers and scientists who dedicated incalculable hours of work leading up to those moments.”

Col. Cory Cooper, head of the Academy’s mechanical engineering department, said the school’s engineering faculty teaches and trains cadet engineers to be innovative leaders in their fields.

“We often blend or combine topics from courses in any one of these specialties to be applied to their final year capstone projects,” he said. “By the time our cadet engineers graduate, they’re extremely accomplished. Their research often flies under the public radar while they’re here, but they leave the Academy with problem solving skills they’re very eager to apply as officers.”   

Systems Engineering: Solving Complex Problems with Novel Solutions
Most of Span’s work as an instructor might occur under that radar, but one of his current projects is working with scores of cadets to improve the security of cyber platforms

“We take a top-down approach to systems security,” he said. “The security of our physical cyber systems used in aircraft, satellites and etc. is of paramount importance to our national security, but traditional approaches to security by IT personnel are insufficient.”

Span said cadets and their instructors take a holistic view of cyber security challenges.  

“Cadets apply innovative thinking to generate unique approaches and solutions,” he said. “We have a great team who fosters creativity and innovation and pushes boundaries to support any engineering challenge.”

Feighery’s first systems engineering project was working with cadets and faculty to improve the security of computer-based systems the Air Force relies on.

“Our goal was to evaluate a preexisting operational system for security weaknesses and develop ways to protect the vulnerabilities,” she said.

Another project involved improving the DOD’s security analysis platforms, and Feighery’s senior capstone had her working with other cadets and subject matter experts to prototype a radiofrequency geolocation system for special forces. She said working on systems engineering projects at the Academy has been “invaluable and enriching.” 

“The Academy works hard to develop technically-minded Airmen and Guardians who will continue to maintain and develop military readiness and competitiveness with the help of engineering and technological tools essential to modernizing our force.”