New Rank, Same Dedication for AE Alumnus Michael S. Warner, Ph.D. AE '96

New Rank, Same Dedication for AE Alumnus Michael S. Warner, Ph.D. AE '96
Atlanta, GA

AE alum promoted to Colonel in the U.S. Air Force

In March of this year, Michael S. Warner, Ph.D AE '96, was promoted to the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, a move that recognizes his lifelong achievements - most recently  in the Air Force Research Lab's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate.
 
But for this career Air Force officer, the new title is only as important as the work it performs - something he discussed with us by phone from his current assignment at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
 
"I have oversight of the AFRL's energy research portfolio and colleagues whom I refer to as our 'CSI' agents - the pros who figure out what went wrong with material or electronics when there is an aircraft accident," he said.

"Others of our quick reaction teams specialize in coatings, corrosion, erosion, and specialty materials.  We have four Tech grads among the 130 of us - all PhD’s. Not bad for the middle of Ohio."

 
If he sounds a bit like a proud parent when he mentions his alma mater, it's intentional. As he reflects back on a Air Force career that has sent him on multiple assignments all over the world, Col. Warner gives a lot of credit to Georgia Tech (and to his mentor Professor Dewey Hodges), for expanding his ambitions.
 
"You may not think of Georgia Tech as prepping you for a career in the Air Force, but my education at Tech gave me entry into a lot of assignments where I was able to solve problems because I could translate the geekiest thing, and make educated recommendations," he said. "Researchers and program officers here are best led by people who have technical backgrounds."
 
As the chief of AFRL's $45 million Systems Support Division, Warner directs structural and electrical failure analysis for aircraft accident and safety investigations, production, and fleet sustainment. He is responsible for corrosion, erosion, composites, adhesives, elastomers, non-destructive inspection, and coatings technology application programs. The work takes many forms, he explains.
 
"When an airplane crashes because a propellor keeps breaking, and they don't know why, our team goes into the wreckage to investigate,like a team of crime scene investigators. Was the damage done by hitting the ground or did the problem arise while it was it was in the air? We give  them an unbiased analysis of what's going on -- is it overheating and cracking? Is it a fuel problem? - because we are not associated with any manufacturer or program office."
 
Warner's team is also called upon to give advice on how to repair and substitute materials on the Air Force's existing aircraft inventory - a task that requires them to remain current in material development. Others are looking at developing next generation ('nextgen') aircraft using new materials.
 
And example: the adhesives and composites team has created tools that allow maintainers to remove elastomeric coatings, sealants, gap fillers, adhesive residue, and other materials quickly and without damaging aircraft surfaces.  Made from Torlon (polyamide-imide polymer), the tools and related accessories are now used for a wide variety of applications -- not just by the Air Force, but by commercial entities as well.
 
"Sometimes, we refer to my phone as the Bat Phone [the land-line used by the fictional super-hero Batman to receive super-critical assignments] because they only call us when no one else can find a solution. And we find it," he quips. "My job is to lead those experts, the engineers, who are doing that investigation."
 
That's his job now, but it wasn't always. In the 20+ years since he was commissioned, Warner has taught college-level aerospace engineering classes at the Air Force Academy, served as the military deputy to the director of engineering at the F-35 Joint Program Office, worked as deputy director for Space and Sensor Systems at the Pentagon, and was appointed as a staff officer to the Defense Science Board.  Among other things.. He's been deployed to Jerusalem to oversee the development of building security on the West Bank.
 
"Every two or three years, the Air Force sends you on a new assignment - something that develops in you a little bit of restlessness, wondering what the next challenge will be," he said. "And I've never been disappointed."

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