Aerospace engineering alum receives Navy's Lead Tester award


Tom Briggs, a 1990 aerospace engineering graduate, won the 2015 Department of the Navy Test and Evaluation Award for Lead Tester.

Briggs was nominated for the award, but said he had no idea that a nomination had been submitted on his behalf. Each nomination is vetted first at the squadron level, then at the division level, then through the command level before the selections are made.

Nominations are submitted from across the different Naval Systems Commands and from Navy and Marine Corps Operational Test Agencies, he said.

Briggs said he believes he was nominated because of the work he does with his team and the F-35 test program at Patuxent River.

His responsibilities with the F-35 Test Team are to keep the engineering corps of approximately 225 flight test engineers ready to plan for, execute and report on all aspects of F-35 flight testing for the Navy and Marine Corps.

He said his team is preparing to take two F-35C aircraft on board the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN-73) for testing this summer, and also to take two F-35B aircraft across the country to go to sea and test aboard the USS AMERICA (LHA-6) in the fall. The team continues shore-based tests with new aerial refueling tankers and continues to meet the necessary test objectives for the Naval services to get the most capability out of this design.

“There have been a lot of late hours, weekends and holiday time spent at work, away from our homes and families,” Briggs said. “Our integrated team of civil servants, contractors, military members and foreign partners works together to perform high risk flight tests, keep a positive attitude, and tackle the day-to-day challenges posed by a program of this size. Being a part of a team that does so many amazing things every day can make anyone look good.”

Since graduating from Penn State, Briggs said he has been fortunate enough to land a job in the flight test field. It is a field where he had wanted to work from the time he took his first flight test class at Penn State with Hugh Smith, professor of aerospace engineering.

He started working at the Carrier Suitability Flight Test Department at Patuxent River right after graduation. In the years that followed, he ran flight test programs aboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, tested aircraft in Finland and has participated in flight tests aboard the United Kingdom’s HMS INVINCIBLE.

He completed a year of training and flying at the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School, obtained a master’s degree in engineering management, and had the good fortune to work with some of the most talented and hardworking engineers in the country, he said.

Briggs took a side journey in 1991 to try to fly for the Navy, but had a medical disqualification and could not be a pilot. However, while he was pursuing that, he said he met his wife, Wendy. They have been married for 22 years and have two children, Katie, 16, and Jack, 13.

He said he is incredibly blessed to have a family that supports the work he does and the long hours it takes to do it.

Briggs also said he was initially surprised when he received a text message from his Chief Test Engineer congratulating him on his selection for the Lead Tester Award, and he has been extremely humbled by the good wishes from both his current team and colleagues he worked with over the course of his career.

Click here to read the official press release.


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The Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, established in 1961 and the only aerospace engineering department in Pennsylvania, is consistently recognized as one of the top aerospace engineering departments in the nation, and is also an international leader in aerospace education, research, and engagement. Our undergraduate program is ranked 15th and our graduate programs are ranked 15th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, while one in 25 holders of a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering in the U.S. earned it from Penn State. Our students are consistently among the most highly recruited by industry, government, and graduate schools nationwide.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry. Through an innovative curriculum and world-class instruction that reflects current industry practice and embraces future trends, Penn State Aerospace Engineering graduates emerge as broadly educated, technically sound aerospace engineers who will become future leaders in a critical industry

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