The new director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s (GTRI) Electronic Systems Laboratory (ELSYS), McDermott specializes in the design and development of high-performance avionics hardware and software systems that make modern aircraft and other weapons systems do their jobs.
“Everything involves computer architectures today,” said McDermott, who has 22 years of technical and managerial experience at both GTRI and Lockheed-Martin Aeronautical Systems in nearby Marietta, Ga. “When I went to work for Lockheed, the first project I worked on was a local area network that ended up in the F-22 Raptor.”
Computer hardware and software for military systems are the bread-and-butter of ELSYS, which focuses on systems architecture, defensive avionics, and command-and-control systems. The lab is perhaps best known for modernization programs aimed at updating military systems such as the venerable C-130 transport, the first variant of which flew more than 50 years ago.
When McDermott joined GTRI four years ago, he took over leadership of the C-130 Avionics Modernization Program (AMP), the lab’s single largest project. As a subcontractor to Boeing, ELSYS supports updating critical systems with modern digital equipment, work that has been worth $16 million so far.
But updates to radar and defensive systems aren’t the lab’s only vital defense work. McDermott sees growth areas ahead in command-and-control systems, part of the military’s efforts to move information closer to the people who need it.
“There is a general focus in the Department of Defense to push the information flow out to the users at the tip of the spear. We are seeing a lot of initiatives to take traditional command-and control information and put it onto the systems in the field – aircraft, tanks and even soldiers’ backpacks,” he said. “Because we have such broad experience with the systems that are in users’ hands today, GTRI has unique capabilities to offer that can help quickly transition information technologies from the command centers to the field.”
He figures his experience with Lockheed can help ELSYS in its collaborations with large defense contractors.
“I was in senior management at Lockheed, so I understand the business models that these large commercial companies use,” he said. “When they ask us to do something, I understand why. It may make a large contractor more comfortable if the person they’re working with in GTRI has been in their shoes.”
Opportunities to work with commercial companies reinforce the importance of the lab’s continuous process improvement program, which resulted in a CMM Level 3 rating in 2003 under the Software Engineering Institute Capability Maturity Model®. Work is now underway to attain a rating under the new CMMI® integrated model by the end of 2007.
“Documented processes are a requirement for many of the larger system integration projects that we have,” McDermott noted. “It’s important for GTRI to keep a focus on continuous improvement of our processes, because that’s what our customers expect.”
But ELSYS researchers have become known for much more than defense work. Through a long-term collaboration with the state of Georgia, its researchers help Georgia companies understand what they must do to meet OSHA regulations. And the lab’s program on accessibility for the disabled recently won national acclaim that has fueled interest from organizations worldwide.
For McDermott, joining GTRI after an 18-year career at Lockheed was like going home. With an M.S. degree in electrical engineering and a B.S. in physics – both from the Georgia Institute of Technology – he was comfortable at the home of the Yellow Jackets, and had even played drums in the marching band.
“One of the things that attracted me back to Georgia Tech was the opportunity to teach,” he said. “Being involved in the academic process helps bring us closer to the schools and colleges that make up Georgia Tech.”
In a collaboration between GTRI and the College of Engineering, McDermott has been part of developing the new professional master’s degree program in systems engineering. He also teaches short courses on such topics as electronic warfare principles, systems engineering team leadership, and earned value principles.
McDermott took over as lab director on September 1, replacing the retiring Bill Rogers. “We have a great group of people here in ELSYS, and the transition has been a smooth one,” he added. “Bill Rogers developed a great management team, and we owe a lot of credit to him and his predecessors for building a strong lab.”
McDermott is married to the former Susan Ellis. They have three children: Christopher (age 17), Anna (15) and Bonnie (12), and live in northeast Cobb County.
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