Just east of Dayton, Ohio, the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base uses its laboratory researchers to discover new developments for war-fighting technologies for the United States air, space and cyberspace forces.
On this team of researchers is UCF engineering student Thomas Bouchenot, who spent the summer dedicated to the Air Force Research Laboratory.
He became interested with the aspects of engineering since playing with Legos as a kid. “Of course later, I realized that engineering was not so much about tinkering and more math, but that didn't bother me,” Bouchenot says.
With his bachelor's in mechanical engineering in one hand, Bouchenot decided to reach for his master's in mechanical engineering with the other.
“The truth is I don't mind working during my 'vacation' time as long as the subject is interesting, and working on a next-generation hypersonic aircraft for the Air Force Research labs definitely qualifies as interesting," Bouchenot said.
These new designs for hypersonic planes are directed in the area of high-speed structures. The next-generation planes are one of the AFRL’s key projects for game-changing technologies for the Military.
Bouchenot took this summer to work strategically for the Air Force in their hopes to develop a more organized and equipped militia for the future.
For the aspiring engineer, it’s a dream come true.
“Working on these projects during the summer has been a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with researchers from the Air Force and other universities in-person for an extended period of time,” Bouchenot said. “It also allows us to have access to state-of-the-art equipment and expertise that wouldn't normally be at our disposal.”
While at UCF, Bouchenot won the best thesis for Honors in the Major in 2013-14 and has a journal publication to his credit. He was referred to the Air Force Research Laboratory summer program by his adviser, Ali Gordon, associate professor at UCF in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
“Thomas displays all of the attributes representative of UCF’s best researchers: intelligent, well spoken and listened, creative, diligent and a team player. The combination of attributes that he brings is obligatory for the work required at the base," Gordon said.
AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate, Dr. Ravi Penmetsa, said Bouchenot has been of immense help to the program.
“This summer, Thomas helped us establish our in-house testing capability for thermo-mechanical fatigue in a very short time he was here at Wright-Patt. That clearly demonstrates his level of expertise and dedication to the work he supports," Penmetsa said.
Paired with his passion for mechanical engineering, Bouchenot’s high competency has prompted Penmetsa to bring him to the base for the past three-consecutive summers. Bouchenot says the experience is still “surreal” to him.
The Wright-Patterson base is one of the Air Force’s largest facilities in the nation. Bouchenot and his team are currently committed to research that supports the Strategic Master Plan, as released by the U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.
So can we expect Bouchenot to make a permanent move to the Air Force Research Laboratory when he graduates this fall?
“To be honest, I am not sure. There are a great wealth of opportunities for engineers in both the private and public sector that cover a vast array of research topics. I would like to explore more of these topics before I commit to a full-time job," he said. "I intend to use the experience gained in this effort for those topics, so that they too may provide useful experience for the future.”
Tiffani Daniel is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.