746th TS flight chief reaches career milestone

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
The year was 1961, during which John F. Kennedy succeeded Dwight Eisenhower as the 35th President of the United States, the first U.S. astronaut went to space, the Vietnam War began, the construction of the Berlin Wall took place, and the first Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement occurred.

For George Gregory, 746th Test Squadron Operations Flight chief, 1961 marked the beginning of his career at Holloman and in the 46th Test Group.

Born in Techuacana, Texas in 1938, Mr. Gregory would go on to graduate from Prairie View University, with a degree in electrical engineering. The fresh-faced 22-year-old then set out for Alamogordo, N.M. and Holloman, where he had accepted a job offer at the High Speed Test Track 50 years ago.

"After high school, I was sort of in an ambiguous state, so I just listened to what my parents had to say and they said I was going to go to college," Mr. Gregory said. "After college, I had one local company in Waco, Texas offer me a draftsman job, but it didn't come anywhere close to being an electrical engineering job. So I declined it and took the job out at the test track."

Boarding a Greyhound bus in Waco, Mr. Gregory observed a sign in the bus that read "blacks in the rear," which was a common sight during the time, he explained.

"When I would travel from my home town to Prairie View, all the black people would have to ride in the back of the bus," he said. "That had been the way since I was a kid. I grew up like that, so there wasn't anything unusual about it."

However, when he arrived in El Paso, Texas, on the way to Alamogordo, he noticed there were no more signs that displayed the racial inequality of the time, Mr. Gregory said.

"That's one of the reasons why I liked Alamogordo," he said. "Don't get me wrong, (as a nation) we hadn't reached the maturity point where that sort of thing had gone away. It was prevalent, but it was more relaxed in Alamogordo. You could go to the theater and not have to sit in the balcony."

During the course of his first eight years at Holloman, Mr. Gregory worked as an instrumentation engineer developing instrumentation solutions for rocket sleds.

"We did a lot of the same things they do today," he said. "We did egress testing to simulate pilots ejecting from aircraft under controlled conditions to determine what the impact would be on the pilot in a real environment. We did a lot of things that involving monitoring sensors placed at specific points of interest to get information on results that could be evaluated in the controlled environment."

While working at the test track, one of Mr. Gregory's first assignments was to provide instrumentation support for the evaluation of the Atlas Missile's inertial navigation system. The Atlas Missile was the first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to any target on Earth, guided by its sensors and navigation aid computer.

Also during his time at the test track, Mr. Gregory was a member of the Telemetry Standards Working Group, which included some of the most prestigious members of the scientific and engineering communities at the time.

"They were charged with writing telemetry standards that were used by the test ranges throughout the Department of Defense," Mr. Gregory said. "They wrote the transcripts to standardize the telemetry used for testing in the DoD and I was very fortunate to be a part of that. Through their efforts, they directly influenced the advancement of state-of-the-art for telemetry systems for the DoD."

Although successful, Mr. Gregory was still faced with ethnicity obstacles throughout his first decade at Holloman, he said.

"At the time, we were going through a major cultural change in the workplace," he said. "There were general, unwritten rules that you would abide by and many of my co-workers stepped across the line and helped me during this time period. I'm sure they were ridiculed and talked about, so I give credit to God and them for helping me through this critical time period in my life. I would not have succeeded had it not been for their support."

In 1969, Mr. Gregory was transferred to the guidance division, where he worked with the squadron's 260-inch centrifuge and designed an instrumentation system for the Minuteman Missile guidance system.

"One of the highlights of my career was the centrifuge test we did for Minuteman," Mr. Gregory said. "We took the guidance system from the Minuteman Missile, which was removed from the missile itself, and brought it here and tested it on the 260-inch centrifuge. I was completely awed by the whole thing; I had never seen anything like it. Every day was a new experience for me during that time because there was so much to learn and get acquainted with."

Also during his time at the guidance division, Mr. Gregory used digital computers to perform data acquisition tasks. He was involved in fielding one of the first digital instrumentation systems to support laboratory and centrifuge testing using a Hewlett Packard 2100 computer.

"That was something else," Mr. Gregory said. "Hewlett Packard produced one of the first computers that could be used to perform data acquisition, so to go from analog to digital instrumentation was an eye-opening experience."

In the 1980s, he developed a variety of digital data acquisition systems for inertial systems and components testing in the Advanced Inertial Test Lab.

During the 1990s, he played leadership roles during a sequence of lab consolidation efforts that culminated in the integration of various inertial navigation component labs, reference systems labs and two sled test instrumentation branches.

In 2001, he was promoted to the flight chief of the 746th TS Instrumentation Flight and was responsible for leading all aspects of instrumentation for laboratory, sled and flight test systems for the 46th TG.

"When I first got here in 1961, I could have never dreamed that years later I would be performing the tasks that my boss at the time was performing," Mr. Gregory said. "I think the accomplishments I achieved were due to the other people around me. Everything that happened was because of the inputs of other folks. If they hadn't helped me, I would have failed."

Although Mr. Gregory is currently the flight chief for the 746th TS Operations Flight, where he's doing work for the F-35 Lighting and F-22 Raptor, he has had a hand in working with the different strategic weapons systems over the course of his career, said Lt. Col. Stephen Russell, 746th TS commander.

"You can bridge the gap from things that were critical 50 years ago to things that are frontline, high-tech today and he's worked all of them across the years," he said. "His role has been critical not to just the 746th but really to our nation. If you go back to when he got here in 1961 and see the early programs he was working on, they were the strategic weapons of the time. He's worked everything from Atlas, Minuteman to Peacekeeper through the years."

Colonel Russell attributed Mr. Gregory's success and longevity to the mentality he lives his life by.

"Mr. Gregory is man of great integrity; he's incredibly technically competent but he also has a great character," he said. "You know whatever you ask him to do, he's going to work at it diligently and he's going to work at it until he gets the right answer, but he's also going to do it humbly. (His recognition ceremony) is an example, he didn't want us to recognize him, but we felt like it was the right thing to honor him."

Colonel Russell also recognized another facet of Mr. Gregory's career is dealing with the difference in society from 1961 to now.

"He started out in a time that was very different in our society but he worked within the constraints, he excelled in everything he did," Colonel Russell said. "Because of that, he's been successful in everything he has done and even still today."

Even with the recognition that has come his way, Mr. Gregory remains humble.

"I was just a vehicle that was used at the right place at the right time and it was very fulfilling for me, but I can't claim any of that," he said. "It was the whole team -- all the technicians, engineers and administration staff that I have worked with -- that have led to my success. When you wanted to write reports you needed them, because everything had to be hand-generated. I look back and I feel very privileged to have been a part of everything that I was a part of."