Coblish leading AEDC Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks

The facility where Joe Coblish began his wind tunnel testing career is now in his charge.

Coblish officially assumed the role of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex White Oak site director early this spring. Since then, he has been responsible for directing all activities associated with the AEDC White Oak geographically separated unit (GSU) and the Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 test facility. These include operations, maintenance and sustainment, as well as technical direction associated with the completion of the hypervelocity test mission at the facility located in White Oak, Maryland.

“I was honored and excited about the opportunity to continue my career at White Oak and lead this outstanding Tunnel 9 team,” Coblish said.

Coblish began his career at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak as an undergraduate co-op student in the fall of 1994. He completed two U.S. Navy co-op work assignments at NSWC Tunnel 9 between his sophomore and senior years at Syracuse University where he worked on instrumentation development and numerical analysis studies that directly supported the Tunnel 9 mission. Coblish transitioned to working full time at Tunnel 9 with the Navy in the summer of 1996 following his graduation from college.

He earned his Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from Syracuse University in 1996 and his Master of Engineering in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park in May 2003.

In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure commission closed the Navy White Oak site though Tunnel 9 remained open. In October 1997, the wind tunnel became an Air Force facility and, with that, part of the AEDC. Coblish transitioned to AEDC that same year.

From his full-time hire to April 2006, Coblish worked as a test projects engineer at Tunnel 9. He moved from this position to lead projects manager, a role he held until September 2019 when he was named AEDC White Oak deputy director. He would hold this post until being named site director this year.

“During my career here at Tunnel 9, I’ve led numerous hypersonic test programs executed in the facility,” Coblish said. “My interest and experience covers hypersonic aerodynamics, hypersonic aerothermodynamics, computational fluid dynamics, numerical analysis and instrumentation development. I’ve served on several program-level integrated process teams over my career as a subject matter expert on hypersonic ground testing. I’ve also mentored junior test project engineers at White Oak, as well as undergraduate and graduate interns.”

As AEDC White Oak site director, Coblish works to ensure the facility continues to provide a world-unique test capability. He directs test and evaluation activities conducted in Tunnel 9 and oversees the development and management of the White Oak GSU and Tunnel 9 facility budgets. He has authority for all projects associated with operations, maintenance and modernization efforts, as well as responsibility for all safety and environmental activities at the facility

Since AEDC White Oak resides within the Federal Research Center at White Oak and not an Air Force base, Coblish is also responsible for the coordination of all base support necessary to operate the AEDC White Oak GSU. This support includes interacting with multiple government agencies to provide the required security, emergency response, base maintenance and repair, and site utilities.  

Coblish is responsible for a team at Tunnel 9 that includes nearly 20 Air Force civilians and more than 30 Test Operations and Sustainment and Base Communication and IT Services contract personnel.

In the National Defense Strategy (NDS), the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense has directed the nation’s Department of Defense to place an emphasis on the development of hypersonic systems. Coblish said Tunnel 9 will continue to play a key role in these efforts.

“Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 is a critical component of the national hypersonic test infrastructure required to support the National Defense Strategy’s refocus on hypersonic system sustainment and development,” he said. “Tunnel 9 provides critical risk-reduction test data for all hypersonic systems being developed by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Missile Defense Agency.”

Coblish said one of his immediate goals is to ensure a seamless leadership transition while continuing the safe and efficient execution of the White Oak facility and the Tunnel 9 mission. He also wants to make certain Tunnel 9 can meet the increased demand for its services. With the refocus of the National Defense Strategy on hypersonics, the Tunnel 9 test schedule is fully booked through fiscal year 2022 and test inquires continue to come in for first available slots thereafter. 

 “This increased test demand requires a doubling of nominal capacity at Tunnel 9 to efficiently meet the known test requirements,” Coblish said. “In addition, as DOD transitions these new systems from ground test to flight test, we may encounter anomalies that require further ground testing to resolve. Our capability will need to be agile and prepared to adapt to quickly respond to these unknown requirements. Therefore, my near-term goal is to continue our efforts to work towards an expansion of our capacity to meet this critical NDS mission requirement.”

As for the long term, Coblish said he would like to refocus on strategic improvements needed at Tunnel 9 to support the expanded NDS hypersonic mission requirements through and beyond the Future Year Defense Program.

“Facility Service Life Extension Program efforts, test capability enhancements and critical infrastructure improvements will be my priority to ensure the Tunnel 9 capability is ready and available in the future to support the important hypersonic test and evaluation mission we provide to the nation,” he said.