Tunnel 9 executing mission during COVID-19 pandemic

  • Published
  • By Deidre Moon

Arnold Engineering Develop­ment Complex leadership at the White Oak site and Hyperveloc­ity Wind Tunnel 9 have been im­plementing mitigation measures against COVID-19 over the last several weeks.

According to Gregory Fox, Tunnel 9 Branch Manager for the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor, the mitigation efforts continue to change daily.

“In order to be able to execute the mission during this crisis, several changes have been made to limit exposure,” Fox said. “Meetings have been reduced in size or eliminated and alternate means of communication are be­ing used, such as teleconferenc­es, Skype meetings, and using the phone and email more.

For the wind tunnel facility and plant, occupancy limits have been placed on the control rooms to only allow the minimum re­quired to execute this current test program, which is below the limit of 10, and to keep spacing without the use of PPE (personal protective equipment).”

Fox added that his personnel are adjusting to these new re­quirements and are looking out for one another.

“They are waiting their turn or communicating if they need to enter an area for mission-critical reasons,” he said. “Daily tasks are reviewed prior to execution by the team to figure out how to maintain the spacing required and still get the job done. Any risks are understood and if re­quired, a mitigation plan devel­oped for approval.”

The Tunnel 9 team is also looking ahead at what may be coming next and making assess­ments.

“While execution of some tasks is slower due to them hav­ing to be done in series rather than parallel, the team is execut­ing the test while maintaining safety and focus,” Fox said.

To help keep the site safe, visitors have been postponed or canceled and all non-mission es­sential deliveries or subcontracts that can wait are doing so. If on-site mission critical deliveries are required, a mitigation plan is put in place for each occurrence.

Hand sanitizer and wipes have been strategically placed around Tunnel 9 and are being utilized by the employees. The janitorial staff onsite has also in­creased its cleaning schedule.

“The theme here is to keep COVID-19 out of the site and keep everyone safe while at work,” Fox said. “The team is under pressure but overall under­stands the why and does not want any exposure so they are very ac­commodating to these changes. Keeping the site clean is impor­tant since the location of the fa­cility is inside and surrounded by hotspot counties in terms of the number-of-cases criteria.”

AEDC White Oak Air Force Site Director, Joseph Coblish, added his deep appreciation to the crew during this difficult time.

“I am extremely proud of the entire Tunnel 9 team for their ability to rapidly respond to the evolving COVID-19 pan­demic safety countermeasures imposed on them both onsite while at work, as well as in their personal lives,” Coblish said. “Even with all of the additional pressures that seem to be hap­pening almost on a daily basis living in a COVID-19 hotspot, they continue to professionally execute our important National Defense Strategy hypersonic test mission. I truly appreciate every one of our team members at White Oak for all they do to make this happen each day.”

As of April 3, Montgom­ery County, Maryland, where Tunnel 9 is located, had 566 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with Maryland having 2,758 confirmed COVID-19 cases statewide.