Momentum Member Spotlight — February 2012
AIAA Congratulates Dr. David A. Whelan
By: Duane Hyland
AIAA has selected David A. Whelan, for its Member Spotlight for February 2012. Dr. Whelan is vice president of research and development at Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Seal Beach, CA. Dr. Whelan, the Boeing Defense, Space & Security Chief Scientist and Vice President – Strategic Innovation for the Phantom Works advanced development group, is also an AIAA Fellow.
Like many of his contemporaries, Whelan was attracted to the aerospace field as a way to help better our nation’s defensive posture to the Soviet threat during the Cold War. Whelan stated: “After graduating with my PhD in Physics, I was offered opportunity to work on the B2 stealth bomber program as one of the stealth designer/scientists. The challenge intrigued me and I thought a good way to serve our countries national defense at the time of President Reagan's Defense build-up to counter the Soviet Union.”
In fact, Whelan’s time on the B-2 project yielded his favorite career memory, as he related: “I was leading a team of physicists and engineers to create a new diagnostic instrument to characterize the stealth qualities and performance of the B2 bomber while flying its mission. Prior test techniques proved inadequate to validate the performance and issues of stealth signature remained unsolved and the program was under congressional pressure to perform or be terminated. Our solution was a flying synthetic aperture imaging RADAR. When we finally created the first high quality images that confirmed the stealth design of the B2 was sound and the anomalies identified, that was a very satisfying moment for our team, a moment that I will remember forever.”
When asked what advice he would give to younger people who were just starting out in the field of aerospace engineering, Whelan counseled them not to lose sight of the following advice during their early career stages: "Technical breadth is as important as technical depth in engineering disciplines as we create more and more complex systems. So, work at broadening your experiences and skills while you are young and mobile. Remember to, keep an open and curious mind as things once impossible become possible as new science and technology is discovered.”
Whelan concluded the interview with some advice to young students who are thinking about pursuing an aerospace degree, by calling aerospace engineers some of the luckiest people alive because they get to do what they love to do every day. Whelan’s stated: “The luckiest people in the world are the ones that do what they love for a living, so engage engineers and scientists in the fields you are most excited about, and learn from their experiences to develop a passion for what you do and do everything as best you can.”
Whelan is currently a member of the National Academy of Engineering and serves as the Vice Chair of the Naval Studies Board of the National Research Council. He is Fellow of the American Physical Society, and Senor Member of the IEEE. Dr. Whelan was honored for his government service and received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Civil Service in 2001, the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 1998 and the Department of the Air Force Medal for Exemplary Civilian Service in 2008.
Whelan’s outside interests include physics, photography, scuba diving, golf, and reading. AIAA congratulates Dr. Whelan for his many contributions to the aerospace industry and to the Institute, and for his selection as AIAA's member spotlight for February 2012.
*Editor's note: In the portion of this Member Spotlight piece that appears in February Momentum (linking to this full story), it was erroneously stated that Dr. Whelan is an AIAA Associate Fellow. Dr. Whelan is an incoming member of the 2012 class of AIAA Fellows. We regret the error.