While tech hubs such as Silicon Valley draw engineers and scientists hoping to score big money with flashy apps and gadgets, the nation’s military bases take those seeking to apply their skills in the interest of national security.
The Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC) at Tinker Air Force Base [in Oklahoma City] is home to about 1,500 scientists and engineers, and the base has targeted another 200 for hire this year, said Kevin D. Stamey, director of Engineering and Technical Management.
“The fastest growing sector of the Tinker population is our scientists and engineers,” Stamey said. “Last year, our software organization executed a million hours of workload. This year, they’re going to execute 1.2 million, so that’s a 20 percent growth in workload in just one year.”
AFSC employs about 1,000 software engineers, or double that of a decade ago. Unlike the weaponry of yesteryear, modern systems of war are software intensive. For example, the new KC-46 aerial tanker requires 3.2 billion lines of code and the personnel to manage it.
Software engineers also spend their time adding new capabilities to aging weapons systems or figuring out how to make things better and faster. That includes the nascent use of 3-D printing. Also known as additive manufacturing, the process enables engineers to produce parts for aircraft, which translates into less time planes spend grounded for repair.
The increase in software research means Tinker increasingly partners with the business community. Innovative research funding is set aside for those companies that offer best solutions.
“It’s not always an Oklahoma company that offers solutions, but we at least have about $6 million worth of resources that we offer up to the small businesses in the area,” Stamey said.
Add subcontractors that support industry partners, and there is an economic “trickle effect,” he said.
And if the state of Oklahoma and aerospace companies are willing to partner with Tinker, research and development in additive manufacturing might prove fruitful in cost-sharing and applications.
“If you’ll bring them in, it’s a win-win for us,” Stamey said. “We can improve the state of additive manufacturing in our depot as well as the industry here in Oklahoma. We can grow that capability. We can learn faster if we’re all learning together, rather than each company going off and figuring out how to do additive. If we do it together, we share lessons learned. We can come up the learning curve much quicker.”
Need for more engineers
Tinker hires about 60 percent of its engineers out of universities in the state. With a bachelor’s degree, new engineers earn at least $40,000 and incentives. Journeymen earn more. Tinker offers a program to pay for engineers to earn their master’s degrees.