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AF Lab Director Cites World Need for Carbon Fiber During UTSI Visit

The world is running out of carbon fiber, a director from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, said during a recent visit to The University of Tennessee Space Institute.

“There is a limited supply of carbon fiber in the nation,” David E. Walker added. “Boeing has sucked up all the carbon fiber.”

Earlier in the day he had visited UTSI’s “spin lab” where Ahmad Vakili is leading research into pitch-based carbon fiber production and applications.

In a seminar, Walker, Director, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, also cited self-healing in-flight aircraft, large space structures, and high temperature materials among challenges encountered at the lab.

“We’re focused on needs of today’s Air Force and technology superiority of tomorrow’s Air Force,” Walker said, noting the effort to “balance our capabilities.”

In his position, he oversees research projects totaling more than $450 million a year and assigns high priority to “making sure that industry is prepared to support the military.”

The laboratory focuses on basic research, advanced development and demonstration phase, leading to production, Walker said, emphasizing that “manufacturing is essential.”

The visitor credited Donald C. Daniel, UT associate vice president and chief operating officer of the Space Institute, for the Air Force’s decision to operate a single laboratory. (Walker is a former vice commander of the research lab, and Daniel, after serving as chief scientist at AEDC, was a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Air Force for Science, Technology and Engineering and former executive director of the AF research lab.)

While touring various UTSI labs, Walker expressed special interest in Vakili’s carbon fiber work and in materials and nanotechnology research led by Bill Hofmeister, director of UTSI’s Center of Excellence for Laser Applications (CLA).

“Materials is the foundation,” Walker said. “Without materials nothing else can be done.”

Before touring AEDC with Edward Kraft, two-time UTSI graduate and technical adviser to the AEDC commander, Walker heard presentations by Vakili and Hofmeister, and Lloyd Davis, whose presentation dealt with current research and future research in laser applications.