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Space Institute Alum Named USAF Chief Scientist

Professor Werner J.A. Dahm, a 1981 graduate of the University of Tennessee Space Institute, has been named the Chief Scientist of the U.S. Air Force. Currently a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, he will take a leave of absence from this position to assume his new post at the Pentagon on October 1.

“The Air Force today must rely more than ever on leading-edge technologies to accomplish its mission. My role is to help the Air Force get the most out of its science and technology investments,” Dr. Dahm said recently. Once a research engineer at Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, we may see Dr. Dahm at AEDC again as he will be visiting Air Force sites across the country and around the world in his new capacity as AF Chief Scientist. “The view of science and technology that one gets in this position is absolutely amazing,” Dahm said.

Dahm is already a member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board’s Executive Committee, working with Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), university research communities and industry across the nation to address issues relevant to the Air Force. As Chief Scientist, Dr. Dahm will be the principal science and technology advisor to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff. The AF Chief Scientist is also a member of the Air Staff and, as such, will provide assessments to Air Force leadership on a wide range of scientific and technical issues that affect the Air Force mission.

Dr. Dahm has 30 years of experience in science and technology, including defense science. As a research engineer at AEDC, Dr. Dahm worked in the Transonic Wind Tunnel Section of the Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility focusing on adaptive wall transonic wind tunnels and high-incidence missile aerodynamics. “As a graduate student at UTSI working on my MS degree, I had the opportunity to work as a Research Engineer in the PWT/4T Analysis Branch,” Dr. Dahm explained. “I joined as a full-time employee of ARO, the operating contractor at the time, and later Calspan when they took over the operating contract. AEDC is one of the best places that a young aerospace engineer can work, and being a student at UTSI made that possible.”
Dr. Dahm recalled, “Most of my work dealt with high-incidence missile aerodynamics – especially the AMRAAM missile, where we were providing analytical support to wind tunnel tests and computational simulations – and with adaptive wall wind tunnel development, where we were developing instrumentation techniques for control surface measurements. I also got to supervise a series of tests of this instrumentation in the 1-foot supersonic tunnel, and was involved in tests in the 4T tunnel as well. In all of these projects, it was great to bring together the analytical work we were doing with the “real-world” environment of wind tunnel testing and data analysis.”

Dr. Dahm has fond memories of the three years (1979 to 1981) he spent at UTSI and AEDC. “It was a fantastic experience for a young engineer, and UTSI played an important role in my career. I left in 1981 to go to Caltech to get my PhD in aeronautics, but the experience I gained at UTSI and AEDC has always stayed with me, and gave me a perspective that few in the academic research community have.”

“Since then I have worked on fundamental research problems that have the potential to impact a wide range of applications in a big way, but I have always sought to ensure that we were working on things that would be relevant to “real-world” problems,” said Dahm.

For the past three years, Dr. Dahm has served on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), chairing two major studies on spectrum management and thermal management and participated in two additional SAB studies. He has also chaired SAB reviews of AFRL propulsion and air vehicles research and development. Most recently, he served on the SAB review of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. He has also been involved in four studies for the Defense Science Board (DSB), and is a member of the Defense Science Study Group (DSSG).

Dr. Dahm studied Mechanical Engineering at the UT Space Institute, earning his master’s degree in 1981. His roots also extend to Huntsville, AL, where he grew up the son of Werner K. Dahm, one of the original German rocket scientists who helped to build NASA. Dr. Dahm earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and later pursued his doctoral degree from Caltech, receiving his PhD in 1985, the same year he went to work for the University of Michigan. Dr. Dahm has remained with the University of Michigan for the past 23 years, researching and teaching fluid dynamics, aerodynamics and propulsion. Currently, Dr. Dahm is the Head of that university’s Laboratory for Turbulence and Combustion.

The author of over 180 technical publications, Dr. Dahm has given more than 220 technical presentations in locations all around the world, including over 100 invited and plenary lectures. Dr. Dahm has been named a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics (AIAA), where he has also served as Associate Editor. He has been a recipient of Caltech’s William F. Ballhaus Aeronautics Prize and has been honored at the University of Michigan with the 1938E Distinguished Achievement Award and the George J. Huebner Research Excellence Award.