2004 Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement

Elizabeth Martin

Thirty-year career developing smarter and safer simulation-based combat training systems to save the lives of American pilots.

Take a deep breath. It’s the dead of night, and you’re an Air Force pilot flying over enemy territory to locate a downed compatriot. As you sweep the area, you must stay constantly aware of the terrain and potential enemy targets. Any wrong moves could spell the difference between life and death for you or your fellow airmen.

Now exhale. The scene you’ve just experienced is not real, but part of an elaborate exercise designed to get you in top shape for nighttime navigation, surveillance, and rescue missions on behalf of the U.S. military.

The night vision technology used for this larger-than-life video game comes compliments of Dr. Elizabeth Martin, a scientist at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Warfighting Training Research Division who has spent her career studying and developing smarter and safer simulation-based combat training systems to save American lives. Considering that well over half of all combat missions are conducted during the night, improving the accuracy of simulated training missions with night vision technology gives aviators a valuable edge.

Flying with night vision goggles is challenging, at best. Depth perception is skewed because pilots have no peripheral vision, and the presence of too much or too little light can sabotage the mission. But practice makes perfect. Martin’s role in adding night vision capability to the training programs used by Air Force, Marine, and Navy pilots has prevented innumerable accidents and saved lives.

Another of Martin’s groundbreaking achievements is the creation of a “synthetic task environment”—a physics-based representation of reality used to simulate unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations, which are used by the military for surveillance of enemy territory. The model she developed proved so effective that it is now being used in universities and research labs across the country.

By the late 1990s, Martin had expanded the UAV tool and designed a prototype training system for the Predator, the pilotless surveillance aircraft which has been used in military operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Predator, which can stay aloft for up to 40 hours, beams live pictures to military officials so they can get an immediate grasp of what’s happening in designated area.

Despite an impressive list of accomplishments that have made Martin a world-renowned scientist, her colleagues say that one of her most admirable characteristics is mentoring and sharing her knowledge with others. “She has always taken the extra time, even during tight deadlines and busy travel periods, to teach, guide and help our younger scientists and engineers,” says Lt. Col. Stuart Rodgers, Deputy Commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, who nominated Martin for the award. “Dr. Martin epitomizes the best qualities of mentorship we desire in our public servants.”