Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Fall 2011

Dr. William D. Lewis,  Director of Aviation Engineering, U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development & Engineering Center (AMRDEC)

At the head of the US Army Aviation Engineering Directorate (AED), William Lewis leads more than 540 government engineers and 350 contractors who ensure the flight safety of Army aircraft.  He explains, “I have liaison engineers assigned to every Combat Aviation Brigade in the Army.  Every day, we are supporting soldiers with information to repair aircraft or modify procedures for operating aircraft around the world.”  The Directorate at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama also verifies the design and performance of all Army aircraft and aviation equipment.  “Everything that goes on an aircraft, manned or unmanned, for the fielded Army goes through our shop for approval of design, ” summarizes Dr. Lewis.   “We’re roll-your-sleeves-up engineers who solve real problems today so that tomorrow – or tonight in most cases – we can do something a little differently.”

AED engineers helped qualify the M3P machine gun on the Kiowa Warrior and the Common Missile Warning System across the fleet.  They amended helicopter operating procedures for combat theaters.   “Anytime you have someone shooting at you, you don’t want to fly exposed,” says Dr. Lewis.  “We developed methods to conduct power checks below 500 ft; they historically were conducted at high altitude.  You must tailor tasks to keep soldiers out of harm’s way.”

Growing up on a farm near Hillsboro, Ohio, Bill Lewis dreamed of flying but had little interest in being a soldier.  “I never considered a military career until late in high school,” he recalls.  “I realized we were not a family of means, and if I was going to attend college, I had to develop a plan.”  The US Military Academy provided an option.  “It was a value proposition.  West Point seemed like a pretty good education for the money they paid you.”  The education ultimately provided opportunities to fly more than 4,500 hours in 50 different aircraft and fulfill successive test and program management positions.   “My career development was enabled by Army education programs and mentors that provided incremental increases in experience and knowledge towards an aerospace leadership position.  The only way I was able to do all those things was via Army programs tailored to increase your expertise and knowledge towards being a leader in aerospace.”

Second Lieutenant Bill Lewis graduated in 1975 with a degree in applied science and engineering with a concentration in aeronautics and weapons sciences.  He spent two years as a field artillery officer before he was accepted to flight school.  Dr. Lewis says, “I always had an interest in aviation at West Point because of the aircraft flight labs and demonstrations.  I was a member of the sport parachute team.  I was riding in helicopters daily in order to skydive.” 

Flight school graduation led to immediate assignments at Fort Rucker, first as a Huey instructor pilot, then as aide-de-camp to the Commanding General, Carl McNair.  “General McNair was a champion for the Aviation Branch,” notes Dr. Lewis.  “He was a hard-working soldier’s soldier and passionate about Army Aviation.”

After graduating from the infantry advanced course at Fort Benning, Georgia, then-Captain Lewis earned a masters degree in aeronautical engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) in Dayton, Ohio.  In 1983, the officer/engineer/pilot became responsible for the airworthiness of the new OH-58D Aeroscout at the Aviation Systems Command (AVSCOM) in St. Louis.  “The ‘58D was a product improvement.  We took an analog aircraft and made it a digital system.  It went from being a simple analog reconnaissance aircraft to having 80 black boxes in the back seat.” 

The OH-58D engineer-pilot continued to fly helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.  “While conducting the flight tests, there were lots of problems integrating the engine into the aircraft because of the doghouse – the upper cowling.   At low speed, the engine would surge.  This required changing the cowling to make it suitable for the airflow.  Late in that developmental program, we were still modifying the airframe for compatibility issues.”  The OH-58D program also studied TOW or Hellfire missiles on the scout and launched an effort to integrate Air-To-Air Stinger.  Dr. Lewis acknowledges, “Mr. Charlie Crawford was the Tech Director who was asking for all this information on these developmental projects.   He was Mr. Army Helicopter.” 

While assigned to AVSCOM, Bill Lewis won a spot in the Naval Test Pilots School (NTPS) at Patuxent River, Maryland.  “In the early days of my career, I wanted to be an astronaut, and that seemed to be a logical path – in those days astronauts were test pilots.”  The NTPS curriculum provided the Army pilot new perspective.  “Being a test pilot is more about having a disciplined methodology for every flight you take because being a test pilot is being an experimental scientist.”  Dr. Lewis adds, “NTPS is a national asset. Bob Miller and J.J. McHugh are the best instructors I’ve ever seen, in the military or academia.”

NTPS provided opportunities to fly aircraft from gliders to the C-5 jet transport.  “Probably the best flights that I had when I was at TSP were on the variable stability aircraft that were unique to the engineering curriculum at the Navy school,” observes Dr. Lewis.  “We flew on a Learjet that was owned by Calspan.  Those flights provided more insight into stability derivatives and effects of time delay or phase lag than any education I’ve ever had.  I think those demonstrated the value of in-flight laboratories.”   

The graduate Army test pilot went to Edwards Air Force Base to fly numerous UH-60 test programs.  “We flew a lot of modifications such as an external mine-dispensing system on the Black Hawk.  I flew and managed the icing test in Duluth, Minnesota for the EH-60 helicopters -- I believe we managed to break every antenna off of the aircraft in ice.”  

Much of the flying was for routine performance verification with minor modifications.  “The flight test business is hours and hours of boredom highlighted by seconds of adrenaline rush,” observes Dr. Lewis. Other assignments were more interesting.  “The flying at Edwards was all safety-focused.  You got to fly many, varied aircraft in performance envelopes that few pilots experience.  This prepared you for the day a test resulted in an inadvertent inverted spin.  You could recognize the condition and recover the aircraft using a learned technique.”

Commanders at Edwards also taught by example. “I worked for Colonels John Hagen and Al Todd.  I still think fondly of the lessons learned through their leadership.  They commanded an organization full of high-strung pilots conducting risky experimental flight test tasks, yet they remained patient, calm, and deliberate. They were the best leaders you could ever have.”

Bill Lewis earned his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at the Georgia Tech Rotorcraft Center of Excellence.  “Those Centers of Excellence paid dividends for the development of the rotorcraft workforce and officers in the United States Army,” he observes.  “When I attended the AFIT, they never mentioned helicopters.  The Rotorcraft Centers develop a critical mass of relevant disciplines and provide a comprehensive understanding.  When I left Georgia Tech, I knew more about designing and building a helicopter than could have been achieved at other universities.  Dr. Dan Schrage possesses a comprehensive knowledge of rotorcraft and the rotorcraft business.  He is the consummate rotorcraft designer and engineer.  He is without peer.”

The Army officer/Ph.D. joined the Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis to work Special Operations projects. “John Shipley taught me about innovative business processes -- looking at the problem differently and still making it right.”

Bill Lewis retired from the Army in 1996 as a Lieutenant Colonel and taught flight testing, flight control theory and VSTOL aerodynamics at the University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma.  There, his flight research department undertook applied test work.  “We started experimenting with placing deflectors on Little Birds so that the soldiers, who sat outside during missions, wouldn’t be beaten to death by the wind.  That was an interesting project that resulted in application of the deflectors operationally.” 

The Army nevertheless called Bill Lewis back as chief engineer on the sophisticated Comanche.  “The Army had provided me with so much; I felt I needed to give back as best I could.”  Dr. Lewis remembers.  “At that point in time, we really didn’t understand how big a job it was going to be to build, validate, and qualify a cyber-physical system with as much software involvement as was in the Comanche,“ he acknowledges.  “I used to have a moniker at the bottom of every email.   It said: It’s the Integration, Stupid.” 

The architecture of the RAH-66 made the job tougher.  “We employed a central processing unit.  An architecture of that nature by its very design is prone to latencies.  The latencies that we were seeing were affecting pilotage; they were affecting targeting.  Because the aircraft was so dependent on software, it was affecting everything that was going through the system.”   Dr. Lewis adds, “In retrospect, a hybrid system would have been better.  That system would have had a central computer for things that needed to be collated and distributed processing closer to the capabilities.  That sort of architecture allows for an eloquent system solution when you qualify it by criticality level.” 

Comanche nevertheless achieved significant technical success.  Dr. Lewis notes, “I think that we proved you can make a LO helicopter.”  The complex program was nevertheless canceled.  “Technical dependencies will kill you.  I believe that was part of the failings of the Comanche -- we had many programs, a lot of components, with high technical risk that had to be integrated for the Comanche to be a success.”

After the Comanche cancellation, Bill Lewis reported to AED as flight controls branch chief and soon became the leader of the Directorate qualifying the UH-60M, AH-64D Block III, MH-47G, and other improved Army aircraft.  He observes, “We would be busy even if we didn’t have two wars going on right now, just with all the Comanche dividend programs.”

The scope of the job broadened with the UH-72, Gulfstream G5, and other off-the-shelf Army aircraft.  The IA407 (Iraqi Armed) helicopter is now under development at the AMRDEC Prototype Integration Facility (PIF).  Dr. Lewis explains, “We have written detailed policies on how to take a commercial derivative aircraft and use them right in a military application.  People have done that in the past, but no one has defined what right looks like.’”  AED recently met with the Russian MOD.  “We’re trying to understand the Russian airworthiness process because we’re buying 21 Mi-17s from Russia.  In that same regard, we’re developing a methodology such that airworthiness is conducted consistently throughout our NATO partners.  This allows us to accept their data and reduces testing requirements.” 

Future Army aircraft offer opportunities to leverage existing technology.   Dr. Lewis observes, “We have been playing around with fly-by-wire since the mid-80s.  We have developed processes and techniques to design and implement control systems, but we’re still rolling helicopters over because pilots are trying to fly in a cloud of dust with inadequate augmentation for these conditions.  That makes no sense to me.  We should be doing more with flight control applications than we’ve done in the past.  The technology is on the shelf.”

The AED director routinely flies his 1960 Piper Tri-pacer 150 to work.   “I fly an airplane because helicopter maintenance is costly and extensive. I want helicopters to be easier to maintain,” says Dr. Lewis.  “I believe we’re on the right path with Condition Based Maintenance (CBM), but we have a lot of work to do in application and right-sizing our CBM efforts.   Today, we’re trying to apply CBM on legacy aircraft.  On Comanche, we were looking at building a new aircraft with diagnostics and prognostics built into the system. Those capabilities are going to be essential in reducing the maintenance burden on soldiers.”

AED is diligent in supporting soldiers.  “Each day we attempt to develop a rotorcraft workforce with comprehensive engineering expertise.  I am grateful to our past aviation leaders for providing the infrastructure and opportunities for growth, and I thank my personal mentors who dedicated their time and effort to guide my personal development.”