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Eglin scientist named best in Air Force

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An Eglin scientist was recently recognized as the Air Force 2013 Senior Civilian Scientist and Engineer of the Year by Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, Air Force Materiel Command commander, at an Oct. 23, ceremony here.

Under Dr. Don Grundel ‘s leadership, the Systems Integration and Interface Branch in the Air Force’s Armament Directorate here was responsible for many high-level achievements ranging from major cost saving initiatives to enhancing the way warfighters operate in the field.

“This award was simply not possible without the great leadership and the wonderfully talented team members I have had,” he said. “Sure the award is appreciated, but that is not what makes coming to work so great. The greatest reward is delivering capability to the warfighter and having fun doing it.”

One of three major branch achievements highlighted in the scientist’s award nomination package was improving the survivability of the BLU-109 hard-target warhead against several hard targets by 80 percent for a mere $50 per weapon.

“The BLU-109 is the 2,000-pound bunker buster used by the Air Force and the Navy,” said Grundel whose background encompasses a multitude of jobs ranging from facility designer and construction manager to positions in intelligence, weaponeering and acquisition. “It is ‘the’ work horse for engaging hardened targets.”

Improving the warhead’s target survivability for a substantially low cost not only saved money, but lives as well, as more can be delivered to the warfighter.

“With our limited budgets, an increase to a warhead cost results in fewer warheads that can be bought,” said the Florida native, who was employed by the Air Force right out of college as an engineering intern here. “We made incremental improvements to increase fuze survivability against very hard targets. Working closely with the manufacturer, we were able to cut the technology into production without impacting delivery timelines or supportability.”

The branch also supported the fielding of more than 500 BLU-129 munitions to combat, another achievement in the award package. The BLU-129 is a 500-pound guided bomb designed to destroy targets with the least amount of collateral damage.

“Because it uses essentially a fiber-glass case rather than metal, there is a much lower risk from fragmentation at longer ranges,” said Grundel, who knew he wanted to be an engineer since middle school.  “At close range, the BLU-129’s blast is very effective. It provides tremendous improvements to our warfighters in close air support where there are collateral damage concerns.”

The BLU-129 was fielded in just 18 months. It has the same shape and weight as the MK-82, a steel-cased bomb, making it compatible with the same guidance kits.

With so many similarities, the branch was able to streamline integration timeline and costs, resulting in a faster delivery to warfighters, allowing them to defeat threats much closer to coalition forces and civilians than with the MK-82.

“The combination of precision guidance and near-field effectiveness is a tremendous capability for our warfighters,” he said.

The third major achievement was the branch’s the qualification of the first medium caliber ammunition for the F-35 Lightning II.

“Our Medium Caliber Ammunition Program Office led the way in qualifying a new 25mm non-energetic tungsten penetrating round on the F-35 gun,” Grundel said.
The qualification pushes the F-35 one step closer to being a fully operational weapon system.

“The next steps are to certify the round for the Air Force platform and verify its effectiveness,” he said.

Whether he is leading the office on duty or operating his pig farm off duty, the branch chief engineer attributes his success to those around him.

“Seeing young engineers grow and seeing the capabilities delivered to the warfighter makes [my job]worth it,” he said.

Article by Jasmine Porterfield
Team Eglin Public Affairs

PHOTO (above): Dr. Don Grundel, Armament Directorate lethality engineer, was named the Air Force Senior Scientist and Engineer of the Year Oct. 23 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Grundel was recognized for instituting cost-saving measures in weapons development and streamlining weapons support to the warfighter.

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