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50 years in Orlando: Pete Engel here every step of the way
TOPICS & CATEGORIES
Submitted by NAWCTSD PAO Office
Following a flag-raising ceremony, NAWCTSD Commanding Officer, Capt. Wes Naylor presents Peter Engel with a certificate stating the United States Flag was flown over the de Florez Complex in honor of his 50 years of career service.
It’s been 50 years since the Naval Training Device Center (NTDC) — forerunner to today’s Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division — opened its first detachment in Orlando on Sept. 7, 1965.
Over the next three years, from 1965 to 1968, the command moved from the former Guggenheim Estate in Port Washington, New York, to the Naval Training Center, which opened at the site of the former Orlando Air Force Base in 1968. One current employee has been with the organization every step of the way.
After passing a career milestone that is reached by very few people — 50 years with the same employer — electronics engineer Peter Engel took some time to reflect on his career. Engel who started working with NTDC in 1965 said he loves working at NAWCTSD, but he is considering retiring at the end of 2015. At 73, he credits job satisfaction, and his coworkers as reasons he continues to work. “So long as I’m able to help the Navy and Sailors, I enjoy my work,” he said. “Plus NAWCTSD is an amazing place to work.”
Engel is the longest-serving employee at NAWCTSD, and the last who also worked at the Port Washington location. He reported to his new job at NTDC, which was then aligned under the Office of Naval Research, on June 14, 1965. A significant day, not only because he was about to start a career, but also because it’s the day he met his soon-to-be wife Alexanderia, who was the secretary for the Submarine Branch.
“(The guards) had me go over to the admin building, where the personnel people were that got you signed in,” he said. “From there, my (future) wife came and met me, and she took me from admin over to engineering, so I can tie everything to that first day.” They fell in love and were married the following March.
Only a few months after starting his new job with NTDC’s Fleet Tactics Group, Engel was among the first wave of employees to move to Orlando. “We all came down — 80 people or so — that first Labor Day weekend,” he said. “We did a lot down here for a small group; I mean we got the contracts awarded, we got things tested, and we got the claims settled. We did the work.”
From mechanical and analog computer-based trainers, to the digital computer-based training systems of today, Engel worked his way through a half century of technological growth. While many recognize significance of computers, Engel credits the transistor as being the most significant technological advancement of his electrical engineering career. “When I went to school I learned vacuum tubes,” he said. “The idea of pushing electrons through sand opened up the whole gambit of integrated circuits.”
Smaller circuits led to advancements in digital computers, which led to improvements in the capabilities of the Navy’s training systems.
He explained how reliable today’s computers are compared to the mainframe and analog computers that he used in the early 1970’s. “In 1970 one of the issues was these computers were difficult to keep online because of all the analog components. There were limits on how much computation capability they could do.”
Engel credits one of his mentors, Vince Amico, with moving the organization toward increased use of digital computers. “Vince Amico was our program manager and the idea was that we would replace all of these computers with a mainframe. We had two issues to look at, one was to get these trainers delivered (one in Norfolk and one in San Diego), and the other was to look at upgrading them into the new system. So for those first five years I was involved in going to the sites and testing them, and working on the upgrades.”
In 1972, their fondness of New York inspired him to take an opportunity to move temporarily to Bethpage, New York working on the original F-14A Tomcat trainer at Grumman Aerospace. “I knew very little about aircraft, but it was an opportunity to go to New York,” he said. “It was one of the early digital flight trainers that took advantage of the current technology of the time – an off the shelf computer,” he said.
He explained that his experience on the F-14A project allowed him to grow as an engineer. “I really got involved with what we were doing. We got to go out and see what the cockpit actually looked like and see how the paper translated into the trainer,” Engel said.
Following the F-14 project, Engel, his wife and son returned to Orlando in 1977.
In 1993, Engel was getting close to retirement eligibility, but his world changed unexpectedly when his wife, Alex, died of a brain hemorrhage. “My son was 18 and ready to go off and get a job, so I decided to just keep working. Looking back, I was lucky to have her. We had almost 27 years together.” Engel said that his co-workers and the nice working conditions are what keep him going.
Engel experienced many changes over the years, including NTDC changing its name to the Naval Training Systems Center in 1985, but he said the most significant change was when the command re-aligned under Naval Air Systems Command to become NAWCTSD on October 1, 1993. He explained that the training systems developed by the command always supported all warfare areas of the fleet.
“We started to realize that training systems is really a bigger thing than just a piece of logistics support. We became more aware of the needs of the simulation community. In the end NAVAIR came down and tried to help us out. It was probably the best for the organization.”
When asked if he had advice for anyone entering the workforce today he said, “Listen a lot. Listen to everything anyone tells you. Ask a lot of questions. That’s the way you learn what’s going on.”
Engel explained that NAWCTSD, which is currently ranked fifth on the Orlando Sentinel’s list of Top 100 Places for Working Families, is the kind of place where people want to work. “This is a nice place to work,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of families that encouraged their children to work here, and that speaks a lot for the organization.”
As the only employee at NAWCTSD with more than 50 years of service, Engel was formally recognized by Commander, Naval Air Systems Command, Vice Adm. David Dunaway on Aug. 13, 2015.
After he retires, Engel plans to work on his two Triumph automobiles, and he may look for some volunteer work to fill the time.
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