76th SMXG interns learn the ropes

Intern Michael Fleagle eyeballs the trajectory of an air cannon that fires practice golf balls at targets in a competition set up by the 555th Software Maintenance Squadron in Bldg. 9001.

Intern Michael Fleagle eyeballs the trajectory of an air cannon that fires practice golf balls at targets in a competition set up by the 555th Software Maintenance Squadron in Bldg. 9001. To aim the cannon, the interns used control system software the squadron routinely uses. “It’s what we use in engine testing to control the engines, so it gives them a nice little introduction to that and really shows them that the 555th is a nice balance between hardware and software,” said Kyle Hodges, a 555th engineer. Intern Tyler Cannon is sitting at the software controls while 555th SMXS Montell Wright observes. (Air Force photo by John Parker)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

Thirty-six university students are wrapping up summer internships with the 76th Software Maintenance Group.

The eight- to 10-week paid internships engaged mostly computer science and engineering students and immersed them in small projects, tours across base and the SMXG’s work on aircraft, missile, jet engine and other weapons systems.

Now in its third year, the program rotates interns through the SMXG’s five squadrons to give them a chance to demonstrate their skills and abilities to each squadron, said Darla LeBlanc, SMXG electronics engineer and internship coordinator.

Tinker Air Force Base’s largest engineering organization benefits by watching interns’ skills and aptitudes over time. The internships also give the growing enterprise an edge in the strong competition for top graduates, LeBlanc said. Some interns already have job offers.

“We are hiring a lot of engineers in the Software Maintenance Group, and this is a way to grab those good candidates early on in their college careers and grow them into Tinker engineers,” LeBlanc said. “The strategic goal is to offset attrition with the number of interns that we’re bringing in, on top of the large numbers of engineers we want to hire. Luckily, we have great support from all of our squadrons. I think everyone sees that there’s value in this - that we’re growing employees.”

Robert Hunt, a University of Oklahoma senior majoring in electrical engineering, is in his second internship year. With his instructors’ permission, he was allowed to work with SMXG part-time during the school year.

“I love it here,” Hunt said. “Since I was fortunate enough to work part-time, I’ve been able to get with professional engineers and learn more about what they do and get integrated in their day-to-day jobs. I’m working alongside my superiors now, working for them and completing projects and everything associated with that.”

The SMXG hosted 17 new interns and 19 who are in their second, third or fourth years. This year’s class included students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the University of Texas, Oklahoma’s three largest universities and Oklahoma Christian University. The majority of the interns are part of the federal Pathways and SMART (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation) internship and employment programs.

Each squadron prepared learning opportunities and short projects to highlight the specialized work they do. The 555th squadron challenged students to combine hardware, software and firmware to operate a small air cannon and control its aim with actual software the squadron frequently uses. Other projects by squadrons included:

Completing a test program set which includes hardware testing, electronic testing strategy, and fault isolation

Learning the Agile with Scrum software development process and using it to build a graphical user interface for weapons loading within the mission planning software

Exposure to JAVA, ADA, LabView, and C++ while doing several projects in each subsystem of the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System enterprise

Utilizing Linux and C++ to develop a low-observable radar cross section simulation.

The interns also participated in tours across base, met senior leaders, attended a series of lectures and workshops, and participated in local STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach activities.

Kehinde Ogunwemimo, a software engineering senior at Oklahoma Christian University, said she was thankful for the internship.

“My goal is to be a better software developer so I can help Tinker develop useful applications for our warfighters,” she said. “I want to be better and helpful.”

Leo Reges, a computer science junior at Oklahoma State University, said exposure to different types of squadron work was valuable.

“I would like to have the best idea that I possibly can of what to expect when I’ll be working here full-time,” he said. “Ideally I want to be able to do something that I both enjoy and can learn from, but is also the best-suited place for me within the Software Maintenance Group.”

Giving interns a big-picture overview of engineering work at Tinker AFB is one of the aims of the program.

“By the end of the rotational training program, the interns probably have a better idea of the scope of work in SMXG than an employee who has worked here for years but always in the same area,” LeBlanc said.