Momentum Member Spotlight – December 2013
AIAA Congratulates Major Tucker R. Hamilton
By Lawrence Garrett, AIAA Web Editor
As many members are aware, a strong Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) pipeline is critical to the future of America’s aerospace industry. Efforts made in the nation’s K–12 classrooms to get a diverse group of students interested in STEM are particularly important. In light of this imperative, the Institute has selected an impressive and inspirational individual for its December 2013 Member Spotlight: Major Tucker Hamilton, USAF. As an AIAA Senior Member, Maj. Hamilton is actively involved with the Institute as an education outreach officer, overseeing section STEM outreach efforts in the counties surrounding Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, including organizing more than 30 events in just the last few months. He is actively coordinating future STEM activities and has recently called upon other AIAA Central Florida Section members to volunteer their time by assisting in the effort. Anyone interested is encouraged to learn more here.
In addition, Maj. Hamilton has founded a non-profit organization, STEM-ED, which fulfills local educators’ Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math needs by identifying local professionals – both AIAA and non-AIAA affiliated – who can volunteer to assist educators with STEM-related learning opportunities in and outside of the classroom. When asked what motivated him to form STEM-ED, Maj. Hamilton said he wanted a way to be able to easily reach out to other professionals who may not have an aerospace background, and that while he takes advantage of “AIAA as the partner organization for everything” he does, he also wanted a way to “market [his] efforts under a larger ‘STEM’ umbrella.” When asked where his enthusiasm for and dedication to STEM initiatives comes from, Maj. Hamilton said it “stems from knowing how fulfilling a career in Aerospace can be and how often the narrative presented by our culture does not accurately depict the exciting and wonderful opportunities for engineers. My dedication comes from knowing that the first step in making a difference is simply moving and not allowing laziness or distraction to corrupt that movement.”
Maj. Hamilton earned his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2002 from the University of Colorado, serving as the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Wing Commander during his senior year, and completing the program as a Distinguished Graduate. He also received the University of Colorado Thomas Jefferson Leadership Award, and was its only recipient from a class of 8000 graduates. Upon completion of his Undergraduate Pilot Training in 2004, Maj. Hamilton was selected to attend F-15C training at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, where he successfully completed training in September 2005. After his tour in the F-15C, Maj. Hamilton became an Air Liaison Officer (ALO) in Mannheim, Germany, where, after initially serving as executive officer and then flight commander, he quickly became qualified as a Senior Air Director for the Air Support Operations Center and became the squadron interim Director of Operations. While serving as an ALO he transformed Close Air Support by introducing digital communication between ground and air forces and introduced long-range command and control exercise capability.
While serving as an ALO he was hand-picked to stand-up the first MC-12W squadron in Afghanistan and served as the first flight commander for the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. In addition, Maj. Hamilton accumulated 450 combat hours as Chief Instructor Pilot and Mission Commander while flying combat missions in support of coalition ground forces in Afghanistan. For his contributions to the intelligence community he was awarded the Air Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Officer Contributor of the Year.
Following his tour in Germany, Maj. Hamilton was selected for the prestigious United States Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. While attending Test Pilot School he earned a Masters in Flight Test Engineering in June 2012, while flying 30 separate aircraft, including the F-16, F-18, A-10, F-15, Mig-15, HU-16, UH-1, among others. Maj. Hamilton moved to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, following completion of Test Pilot School, where he is currently serving as the Assistant Director of Operations—managing numerous million-dollar acquisition programs—in addition to his duties as an Experimental Test Pilot. In addition, in 2009, Maj. Hamilton earned a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Tennessee.
When interviewed for this article, Maj. Hamilton described the genesis of his interest in aerospace by crediting having watched episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as a 10 year old, where he was “enthralled with the idea of space technology.” While he cared very little about the plot lines of the shows, “the idea of new technologies allowing sustained space flight” had him hooked. As Maj. Hamilton summed it up, “That interest fueled a desire to be an astronaut which in turn led me to Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado.” Attempting to pinpoint the moment he knew he wanted to be a pilot, Maj. Hamilton suggested the following, “I never thought it was a possibility until right before college graduation because I didn’t have good enough depth perception. Two months before graduating I received an unexpected waiver for my astigmatism. The funny thing about it is I don’t love flying—don’t get me wrong it’s a lot of fun and very exciting—but in itself has always been a means to another end. Now employing a weapon system and interacting with technology to accomplish seemingly miraculous feats is what gets me fired up about flying!”
Touching upon his earliest flying memory, Maj. Hamilton initially mentioned a Cessna orientation flight when he was 15. While describing that first flight as “fun,” it nonetheless “didn’t spark anything” in him, and it would be years before Maj. Hamilton got another opportunity. As he put it, he “almost quit pilot training because [he] wasn’t convinced flying would fulfill” him. But after flying the F-15C for the first time he had a quick change of heart. As he put it, “After my first flight in the F-15C, I knew I was exactly where I was called to be.”
Before describing the ultimate memory in his aerospace career, Maj. Hamilton first cited a few runner-up moments: “Escorting Air Force One, flying inverted over the Red Sea, and flying 30 aircraft during my year-long training at USAF Test Pilot School.” As for his favorite memory to date, Maj. Hamilton maintains it was “standing up the MC-12C platform in Afghanistan which was a tactical Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) airframe.” He added, “I knew this ISR asset was going to be tactically relevant on my second flight when we found two vehicle-borne IED’s and a suicide bomber training camp. The excitement of developing tactics and building a squadron from scratch was a once-in-a-lifetime career experience that I cherish.”
When asked if he had any advice for his colleagues who want to stay relevant in the ever-changing aerospace industry, Maj. Hamilton suggested the following:
||“We are on the cusp of revolutionary changes in aerospace technology with the progress of robotics and AI spurred on by the commercialization of space and unmanned flight. This type of change needs to be heralded by our community. A vital factor in this transformation is AIAA reaching out to our youth. The innovation will come from them and they need our support as they move through school. The difficulty is typically lack of knowledge, from both aerospace professionals and teachers, on how and what types of support is available in STEM. Our AIAA section has started collaborating with other professional organizations to streamline volunteer opportunities. While it’s crucial that volunteers are willing and able, teachers also need to be brought into the mix so they know what type of support can be provided. Our section has lessons and activities already pre-packaged so the teachers and volunteers know what is being provided. We spend half our time just trying to make teachers aware of these lessons. Once the teachers know they have support through AIAA our outreach continually grows. We stay relevant by connecting with the youth, who in turn join AIAA and provide a voice for the future.”
As for high school students contemplating a future in the aerospace industry, Maj. Hamilton maintains that because technology will almost certainly transform our entire society in unforeseen ways in coming decades, the nation and the aerospace industry needs high school students to “dedicate [themselves] to an aerospace career and work hard at it.” He added, “Don’t be discouraged by tough classes. I didn’t like, nor do well, in half of my classes; and don’t be distracted by the pop-culture noise and/or the video game time-suck. I truly believe that your efforts will provide immeasurable impact to human kind.”
Explaining why in his opinion AIAA membership is valuable to the aerospace engineer, or to any young, aspiring aerospace engineer, Maj. Hamilton offered the following, “The networking, journals, the conferences, aerospace email updates, etc., all connect us so that we can lift each other up and, in turn, tackle the future together. We can’t do this alone and it is only valuable if folks join and contribute.”
AIAA congratulates Major Tucker R. Hamilton, not only for his many contributions to aerospace and for his leadership within AIAA, but also for his dedicated service to country, and for his selection as the AIAA Member Spotlight for December 2013.