Photo of awardee

Douglas L. Bowers

Director, Propulsion Directorate,
U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory

In recognition of his extraordinary technical, policy and managerial leadership accomplishments with the U.S. Air Force propulsion and air vehicle efforts

With anticipation, Doug Bowers took his gaze to the sky as a child growing up in southwest Ohio. He could view the nighttime passage of Sputnik in the beginnings of the Space Race. He heard and felt window-rattling sonic booms whenever a military jet passed overhead. And he could tell you exactly where he was when first hearing about President Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon by the end of the 1960s.

The heady dreams of aeronautical engineering would begin to materialize quite early in his young adult life. After his freshman year at Purdue, Bowers began working near his home as a co-op student at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He rose as a civilian through the Air Force ranks to senior executive at the Research Laboratory and today is responsible for $4 billion in research facilities dedicated to power, propulsion and aero, controls and structural sciences. A decade ago he spent 18 months in Washington, D.C., supporting the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry.

“I gained new skills in every one of my co-op experiences,” Bowers recalls of his beginnings at Wright-Patterson. “One term I taught myself computer programming and in another I worked as a wind-tunnel mechanic. When I graduated from Purdue, the aerospace industry was in a recession, so it was a good thing I worked because it gave me an edge.”

These days, Bowers is looking for an edge in the area of innovation. In addition to being the director of the Propulsion Directorate, he was recently named the acting director of the Air Vehicles Directorate. In these dual director roles, he’s helping consolidate those organizations into the new Aerospace Systems Directorate. A large undertaking with 1,800 people in his charge and a $500 million annual budget, Aerospace Systems will cover all the Air Force research for aerodynamics, flight controls, structures and propulsion.

Bowers says they are looking out before looking within. “We’re benchmarking innovative companies across the country,” he says. “We’re looking to see what they do to create an innovative culture. What are they doing with policy, communications, technology and even facilities. We’re not just consolidating these two organizations; we’re remaking them.”

Many times honored with prestigious national awards for his civilian accomplishments with the Air Force, Bowers is ever more adamant about developing his successors in challenging times. “The biggest motivator for me at this point is aiding others in their careers,” he says. “The industry as a whole is facing uncertainty with restrictions due to national efforts to reduce debt and deficit. Yet the technical challenges, which include unmanned aircraft in national air space, the return of lighter-than-air vehicles for cargo and overall energy efficiency, remain.”

A proud Boilermaker graduate, he says Purdue continues to offer the best foundational education for engineering — bar none. “To the outside world,” Bowers says, “to be a Purdue engineer is to be something special. It’s a person who has been through the best training and education and is the best.”

Career Highlights

2008-present Director, Propulsion Directorate, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
2003-2008 Associate Director for Air Platforms, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
2002-2003 Special Assistant to Director for Air Platforms, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
2001-2002 Air Force staff member, Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry, Washington, D.C.
1999-2001 Chief, Aerosciences Division, Air Vehicles Directorate, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
1999 MS Engineering Management, University of Dayton
1972-1998 Various positions, U.S. Air Force Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
1976 MS Aerospace Engineering, The Ohio State University
1972 BSAAE, Purdue University