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April 17, 2008

Media Contacts:

Kristi Marren
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
240-228-6268 or 443-778-6268

Hopkins APL Aeronautical Engineer Receives
Missile Defense Agency Pioneer Award

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View the MDA Technology Pioneer Award Excerpt

Alvin Eaton, a former Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) associate director and current senior fellow working on special assignments for the Laboratory, was among a small group presented with the Missile Defense Agency's (MDA's)Technology Pioneer Award for contributions to ballistic missile defense. The presentation, made by MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering, took place at the sixth annual U.S. Missile Defense Conference held March 31 in Washington, D.C.

Eaton, whose work has spanned more than 60 years, was honored for his "overwhelming breadth and depth of technical contributions to ballistic missile defense" and his "leadership that contributed directly to the success of the Standard Missile, and the Patriot and THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile interceptors" used in missile defense today.

The award recognizes contributions that began in 1945 with Project Bumblebee, a research program launched by the United States, in the closing days of World War II, to develop a supersonic guided-missile defense for Navy vessels against Japanese kamikaze attacks.

Eaton was lauded for meeting engineering challenges within the (then) new field of supersonic aerodynamics. He was credited with being a "true pioneer" in the field, personally formulating a new concept that fully explained why the first missiles rolled the wrong way at supersonic speeds, leading to "instant loss of control and disastrous flight failures, confounding all experts in the field." The award notes that he "identified the specific solution used for the production design of the first [Navy antiaircraft] Terrier missiles" and that he "subsequently invented and supervised the development of a revolutionary tail-control configuration" that avoided earlier control issues and enabled much higher performance.

MDA indicated that Eaton has "few peers in the quality and quantity" of his missile defense technology advancements and that he has "played an invaluable role in the development of our nation's missile defense capabilities" through his leadership and exceptional technical ability.

"His revolutionary tail-control aerodynamic configuration not only solved the initial supersonic missile engineering challenge," says Conrad Grant, head of APL's Air and Missile Defense Department, "but has since been incorporated into every version of the Standard Missile, including the advanced interceptors used in the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program today."

As a result of his work on a new "responsive threat' methodology in the design of U.S. military systems," in the 1970s, Eaton was asked to chair a Defense Science Board Task Force chartered to review the Patriot Air Defense System. As chairman of a follow-on Patriot independent review panel, his "professionalism and technical expertise gave the Army confidence in the decision to continue developing the advance capability program that would upgrade the system to counter ballistic missile threats." MDA notes that he also led the panel in considering fundamental operational issues that have led to the success of both Patriot and THAAD.

MDA created the Technology Pioneer Award to recognize significant contributions in missile-defense science and technology, engineering or program management. Several current and/or former APL staff members have been presented this award, including Max Peterson, a 2007 award recipient and the Laboratory's original project manager for the Midcourse Space Experiment satellite, the first space-based platform to track missiles in their midcourse flight and collect vital data for designing space- and ground-based missile defense systems (http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2007/070404.asp).

An APL team was also recognized in 2006, when the first Pioneer awards were presented, for its contributions to the Delta 180 program, part of President Ronald Reagan's mid-1980s Strategic Defense Initiative to defend the United States against ballistic missiles (http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2006/060405.asp).

For more information on MDA's Pioneer Awards, visit http://www.mda.mil/mdalink/html/pioneers.html or see their press release at http://www.mda.mil/mdalink/pdf/08fyi0002.pdf.

Eaton, who has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the California Institute of Technology, is a resident of Clarksville, Md. He and his wife, Ellen, also live part time on Hilton Head Island, S.C., in the Village of Skull Creek, where he is active in the Hilton Head Island chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.


The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.