SPOTLIGHT ON ARES III – Edwards AFB, CA
(Public Affairs Clearance Number 17490)
Sierra Lobo provides research and engineering services to support the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Rocket Propulsion Division (AFRL/RQR) at the “Rocket Lab” located on 65-square miles in the remote northeast corner of Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB), in California’s Mojave Desert.
AFRL Rocket Lab 65th Anniversary Celebration
The “Rocket Lab” celebrated the 65th anniversary of the activation of its first rocket test stands with four events held on June 8-9, 2017: The Rat Race and Family Day on the 8th, and a Golf Outing and Anniversary Dinner on the 9th. The famous Rat Race and Family Day were open to all AFRL and Main Base employees, as well as Family, Friends, and Alumni.
Rat Race participants chose between the Ridge Run, a gentle 2.2 mile loop featuring a slight incline (stroller-friendly, non-competitive), and the Hover Run, a challenging 4.2 mile loop along Leuhman ridge featuring a 400 ft. elevation change while passing several major rocket stands from pre-Apollo era to the present. Sierra Lobo’s President, Dan Lowe; ARES III Program Manager, Jim Eckmann; his youngest daughter, Tatyana; Senior Engineer, Bob Jensen; and Software Engineer Intern, Allison Cline, all took on the challenging Hover Run and earned their Custom AFRL Bottle Opener Medals.
Family Day included carnival events for the kids (and kids at heart), as well as educational tours of several facilities and demonstrations throughout the day from scientists and engineers. Participants had the opportunity to watch a Hot Fire Test of an 8-lb end burning Ballistic Test and Evaluation System (BATES) solid rocket motor. In addition to the many activities in and around the AFRL Gym, facility tour buses included stops at Area 1-120, the Electric Propulsion Laboratory, and the AFRL Fire Station. Area 1-120, with test stands 1A and 2A, is an active test area focused on liquid rocket engines and components. The area’s long history of testing rocket systems includes the Apollo F-1 engine, the Delta IV’s RS-68 engine, and even having blown up when it tested Atlas ICBMs. More recent testing includes the Upper Stage Engine Technology (USET) program and the on-going Hydrocarbon Boost (HCB) program. The Electric Propulsion Laboratory includes several vacuum chambers to enable testing in a simulated space environment. The AFRL Fire Station is key to the operations at the AFRL Rocket Lab. Keeping site personnel safe and facilities protected, they are challenged beyond your typical firefighter, having to deal with explosive rocket fuels and hazardous substances that tend to ignite too easily. The Heritage Room was also open, allowing visitors to see the rocket engines, motors, missiles, and test hardware on display. It’s all real test hardware, some worked and some are a little singed!
The 65th Anniversary Dinner was held at the Palmdale Country Club, with many Rocket Lab alumni in attendance. The Keynote Heritage Speech was given by Mr. Lee Meyer, who began his career at the Rocket Lab in 1963 as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force and retired from civil service in 1997 as the Associate Director, Edwards Site, Propulsion Directorate, AFRL. He took his expertise to the private sector in 1998 as the Vice President, Atlantic Research Corporation, Utah Operations. He transitioned to Aerojet/Rocketdyne in 2003 and became the Vice President, Technology, where he managed the company’s IR&D program and supported the marketing team with major prime contractors, Space Systems Division and AFRL. Lee then transitioned to part-time marketing and coordination with the Naval Weapons Center, AFRL, and the Air Force Space Systems Division until he retired from the work force in 2012.
Mr. Meyer’s speech touched not only on the programs he was directly involved in, but also many of the other programs and events that are a part of the AFRL Rocket Lab’s history. Lee also noted that not only has rocket propulsion technology advanced, but the technologies of the work place have also changed significantly; from slide rulers to computer mainframes that occupied a room, to desktops and laptop computers, from flip charts to view foils to PowerPoint, from landline rotary phones to digital phones to cell phones, much has changed to enable a more productive work force.
Several Sierra Lobo employees, including company President, Dan Lowe, and ARES III Program Manager, Jim Eckmann, participated in the festive and nostalgic evening, enjoying the good food, the Rocket Lab trivia competition between tables, and the opportunity to meet Lab alumni and hear their stories. Mr. Eckmann points to another event that was not in Mr. Meyer’s biography. In the fall of 1981, when Mr. Meyer was the Air Launched Missile Propulsion Branch Chief, he hired Mr. Eckmann as a co-op student, starting Mr. Eckmann’s own career in the Propulsion Engineering field and association with the Rocket Lab.
James B. Eckmann
ARES III Program Manager
Sierra Lobo, Inc.
Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Rocket Lab
Edwards Air Force Base, CA