Sensors and Sensibility

Jacqueline Janning leads the Air Force in sensors research

A cavernous room for testing sensors is just part of the complex world Jacqueline Janning manages as a division chief for the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Janning has a second-floor office on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with large windows that look out over the base.

It isn’t an easy place to visit. Besides being inside the base’s well-protected fence, Janning’s office is inside a locked building of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL’s) Sensors Directorate, where she is a division chief. To gain access, a visitor needs a control badge and an escort.

But once inside, you find her college diplomas hanging prominently on her office wall—bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wright State in systems engineering with concentrations in human factors, and a second master’s in business administration from MIT.

While she’s proud of her degrees, Janning said she doesn’t show them
off out of vanity. In an office that manages world-class scientists and engineers, Janning needs intellectual credibility—and she knows the diplomas carry weight.

“These guys are simply brilliant,” Janning said of the men and women who do groundbreaking research in sensors technology within the Sensors Directorate’s secure walls. “Their credibility is based on academic achievement and their work.” She said the diplomas help her establish credibility quickly.

Janning’s interest in science and technology isn’t surprising. She’s the youngest of the seven children of John L. Janning, a noted Ohio inventor. Growing up, “I had a lab in the basement,” she said.

But when she was attending Beavercreek High School, Janning wasn’t sure what kind of technical career she wanted to pursue. A classmate showed her some information about Wright State’s program in human factors engineering.

“I found out Wright State was the only institution across the United States that offered a Bachelor of Science in human factors,” she said. Human factors was a hot topic at the time because a subset known as ergonomics was sweeping commercial industries as companies sought to make products from hand tools to cars more user friendly. “It sounded intriguing to me,” she said.

Janning graduated from Beavercreek in 1983 and enrolled at Wright State, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1988. There she was inspired by the late Anthony J. Cacioppo, Ph.D., who chaired Wright State’s biomedical, industrial, and human factors engineering program after retiring as chief scientist of the Foreign Technology Division (now National Air and Space Intelligence Center) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB).

“He was the epitome of what I wanted to be. He was intelligent, kind, and wanted to make the world a better place,” Janning said.

Cacioppo made a natural connection to WPAFB, where the Air Force had pioneered human factors engineering as it sought to improve the safety and performance of its airmen in ever more complex aircraft.

Janning already had some sense of WPAFB. After graduating from high school, she spent a summer working on base as an engineering intern.

But she found that big employers looking for human factors skills were interested in her, even without a master’s degree. “My first job offer was from Commonwealth Edison to help with nuclear reactor displays,” she said. “They gave me a great offer in Chicago.”

But the Air Force offered “intriguing” work, Janning said. She took a position doing modeling and simulation for aircrew training systems. She found herself sitting in the cockpits of fighter or trainer simulators, flying through virtual skies projected on surrounding domes. “How cool is that?” she asked.

Having a university just outside the base gate quickly proved to be a key benefit. “One of the things they told us when we got here—I say ‘we’ because several of us came in at once—was that we had to go back and get our master’s degree,” Janning said. She started taking classes part time. “It was convenient. It was close by,” she said. She earned her master’s in 1994.

Janning’s systems engineering education was really aimed more at managing engineers than at being one. Modeling and simulation were just her first steps in learning about what she calls the “corporate Air Force.” She wanted to experience and understand all facets of Air Force research, development, acquisition, and support—the lifecycle of Air Force weapon systems from cradle to grave, as systems engineers call it.

After training systems, Janning worked in the Aeronautical Systems Center, the Air Force’s acquisition center for major weapon systems, and Air Force
Materiel Command headquarters, where she influenced policy decisions.

“The last part of the great frontier for me was AFRL,” Janning said. She took the job as chief planner for AFRL’s $2 billion science and technology budget. From there she came to her present position as one of Sensors Directorate’s division chiefs.

Janning calls AFRL the Air Force’s “gold nugget.” It’s where scientists and engineers make basic discoveries and develop them into advanced technology to protect airmen or destroy enemy targets. The Sensors Directorate employs technology such as radar and lasers to give Air Force weapons better eyes and ears. “In my opinion, the future can’t happen without AFRL,” she said.

But AFRL isn’t likely the last stop in Janning’s career. She aspires to a more senior position, which will require her to keep broadening and deepening her knowledge of the Air Force.

To that end, the Air Force supported Janning’s second master’s degree, a business administration degree she earned at MIT in 2004 through a Sloan fellowship. She considers it a major milestone in her career.

But Janning still treasures her Wright State degrees—her daughter is a current undergraduate marketing major—and she serves on an advisory board to the university’s College of Science and Mathematics.

Janning said having Wright State next door to WPAFB is a powerful advantage to anyone interested in a technical field. “You have the ability to practice right across the street at Wright-Patterson,” she said. “There’s so many exciting things you can do.”

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