Lt. Col. Prahl brings understanding of test enterprise to new role

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  • By Deidre Moon

In an official ceremony in June, Lt. Col. Dayvid Prahl took on the role of Arnold Engineering Development Complex Space Test Branch chief at Arnold Air Force Base.

Prior to his assignment at Arnold, Prahl was serving as the Program Control Integrated Product team lead within the eT-7A Division of the Mobility and Training Aircraft Directorate at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. There, he led a team of 26 military, civilian and contractor personnel in defining processes and procedures for managing the development of the eT-7A Red Hawk jet trainer aircraft, which will replace the T-38C Talon as the primary vehicle for teaching specialized pilot training and fighter fundamentals to student fighter and bomber pilots.

According to Prahl, his past experiences will be beneficial to his new role in a couple of ways.

“While I’m definitely not an expert on the capabilities we have here and systems we’re testing, I have a lot of experience working on diverse test teams, and I think that will help in this position,” he said. “I also have experience within the test enterprise. I have worked in an operations test detachment and have been in the program office environment.

“So I have that understanding of the test enterprise at large, as well as an understanding of customers’ needs.”

Prahl, who commissioned into the U.S. Air Force in 2005 through the ROTC program at the University of Kansas, stated he joined the military for career stability.

“Many people will say they joined because they wanted to serve and had a strong sense of patriotism,” he said. “But those were not my motivations at the time. I was much more concerned with getting a scholarship to pay for college and the guaranteed employment.

“So even though I joined for somewhat selfish reasons, I found the desire to continue to serve because so many in the Air Force do have that sense of service and patriotism as their motivation.”

He finished at the University of Kansas with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. When looking at where he would go next, Prahl said Edwards Air Force Base, California, caught his eye.

“I was interested in getting into test right away, and I ended up getting my first choice and joined the 418th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards,” Prahl said.

He added that he went into that job with certain expectations of what the job would be like and who he’d be working with, but soon realized expectations aren’t often reality.

“I expected my first supervisor would be an active duty officer, but he was actually a civilian, and he had been in a severe car accident and had lost his legs at the knee so he had different physical abilities,” Prahl said. “I learned a lot from him as someone who had a lot of adversity to overcome. The adversity led to his tenacity and success. He has continued in positions of leadership and is now in SES [senior executive service].

“So this just opened my eyes to the diversity of experiences that exist and the advantages that brings to every team.”

In his job at Edwards, Prahl was able to fly on C-17 Globemaster III test missions and would watch data streams on a laptop while the aircraft was in flight.

“We basically had a control room in an airplane,” he said. “I was able to look at data in real time while on the aircraft.”

In his third year stationed there, he was the executive officer for the test wing commander.

“I was able to get a high-level perspective and got a broader look at all the missions across the wing,” Prahl said.

From here, Prahl applied to the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) to get a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

“It’s a funny story, because when you apply, you get an acceptance letter,” he said. “But I received both acceptance and rejection letters from different programs of study. I wanted to do guidance, navigation and controls, but I had been selected instead for the general electrical courses.

“During new student orientation we were introduced to faculty, and they asked who was selected for the general electrical program. About a dozen of us raised our hands, but we were told there was no such thing and could choose our course of study. Well of course, I chose guidance, navigation and controls, and I ended up graduating from the program I had been rejected from.”

Prahl explained that this taught him that there’s something to be said about perseverance.

“Your first ‘no’ shouldn’t be the point where you give up on something, and you shouldn’t always listen to the naysayers,” he said.

In addition to AFIT, Prahl is a 2012 graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School and has flown over 240 hours as a non-rated crewmember during developmental testing of C-17A, Combat Talon II, MC-130J Commando II, and CV-22 Osprey aircraft. He has also directed operational testing for system upgrades to the F-22 Raptor, F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, and F 35A Lightning II aircraft valued at $9.6 billion, and has served as Test and Evaluation Policy Branch Chief at Headquarters, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

From October 2019 to June 2020, Prahl served as the Deputy Chief of Plans and Programs for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. In this capacity, he was responsible for managing plans and processes for the Air Force’s largest counterterrorism wing.
With this background, Prahl said he is ready to tackle his latest tasks as head of the AEDC Space Test Branch.

“Of course, right now I’m learning and not trying to lay down any areas of improvement just yet,” he said. “But my goal will be to efficiently provide quality data to our customers.

“The overall mission here is to deliver war-winning capabilities to Airmen and Guardians, and the Space Test Branch focus is on space capabilities and multi-domain service. We must be able to dictate terms and to overcome our adversaries’ abilities in order to preserve our superiority and national interests.”