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Air Force Academy cadet says summer research project is ‘dream come true’

Cadet 1st Class Nicholas Juhasz

Cadet 1st Class Nicholas Juhasz, an astronautical engineering major at the U.S. Air Force Academy, poses for a photo with a powered flight trainer aircraft at the Academy's airfield. Juhasz hopes to be assigned to pilot training school after graduating this year and to eventually become an Air Force test pilot. (Courtesy Photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Cadet 1st Class Nicholas Juhasz knew from a young age two things: he wanted to be an engineer, and he was fascinated by missiles and rockets.

“I loved taking apart things to figure out how they worked and, like most little kids, I always wanted to go into space,” he said.

Juhasz excelled in math and science, and growing up in Tucson, Arizona, many of his friends’ parents worked for Raytheon, a defense contractor specializing in weaponry and radar detection systems. As a freshman in high school, his father introduced him to the Air Force Academy.

“My father worked in the Department of Homeland Security, and I understood through him THAT public service and attending the Academy felt like a more meaningful way to achieve my career goals,” he said.

Juhasz chose to major in Astronautical Engineering and spent six weeks at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory last summer. He was assigned to a missile defense group and worked on a project to modify commercially available missiles to simulate enemy threats. His research has the potential to cut costs for the  Defense Department.

“It was a bit of a dream come true. I learned a lot from the [lab mentors] about their work and research experiences and had the possibility to have a direct impact on something bigger than myself,” he said.

According to Lt. Col. Luke Sauter, department head of Astronautics, summer internships benefit the academy, cadets, and sponsoring organizations.

“Cadets gain valuable research experience outside of the academic environment. They get to work hands-on with leading researchers in the field on challenging projects,” Sauter said. “And sponsoring organizations bring on bright and ambitious cadets to help with activities and projects while introducing future officers to what their organization does and helping to build lasting relationships.”

Sauter and his staff nominated Juhasz for the Moore Research Award, recommending him to the divisional round where his research was measured against the Academy's entire Engineering Department.

“His work resulted in modeling data that with only slight modification was ready to be used in influencing DOD level decisions,” said Lt. Col Daniel Burtz, assistant professor of astronautics. “Cadet Juhasz did an excellent job of summarizing and presenting his information visually to people not intimately familiar with his research subject.”

Juhasz said he was grateful to the Academy for the opportunity to intern at the Lincoln Laboratory, and despite his strong love for engineering, he admits he has shifted his priorities to flying. He hopes to be assigned a pilot-trailing slot and, maybe one day, the opportunity to become an Air Force test pilot.

“Whatever path I go forward on, I’m going to enjoy,” he said. “I’ll either be happy up in the air or talking about space.”