Many young boys dream of becoming baseball stars or rocket scientists or of working
on "top secret" government projects.
Few people ever fulfill a dream like that. But for Wallace Kern '62, top secret missions
are a reality - not as a member of the armed forces but as a weapon systems analyst
for McDonnell Douglas Corporation in Missouri.
"McDonnell Douglas has a product to sell - technical aircraft," says Kern. "It's
my job to improve on the product and to make it accurate and effective.
"Weapon systems have to be accurate. Technical aircraft have air-to-ground capabilities
and air-to-air capabilities. Fighter aircraft are built to destroy targets of other
aircraft, tanks, and command posts."
Kern has a broad background in physics and mathematics, having completed majors in
both subjects at CMU.
"I feel I can do a lot of broad technology," he says, adding he is in engineering
rather than physics because the "physics guy often works in a secluded environment.
Engineering is more social."
Kern went on to graduate school before settling down to work at McDonnell Douglas
but did not earn a graduate degree. He has advanced in his profession through education
at CMU and through proving himself in his job.
Working at McDonnell Douglas means working with security clearances. "A security
clearance is associated with the need to know," says Kern. "A security clearance
doesn't provide access to all classified material but only to material needed to
do one's work."
Kern began his relationship with McDonnell Douglas during the Gemini space program.
He was a test engineer, testing spacecraft to assure its proper performance, and
working with astronauts.
Kern also can boast of participating in the construction and operation of the Skylab
program. He engineered the electrical power generation system for Skylab, America's
first orbiting space station. Skylab's power was supplied by nickel cadmium batteries
and solar cells which produced electricity from the sun.
Kern tested the certainty of the size and power of the cells. Under Kern's direction,
simulation tests for operating conditions and characteristics of operation were performed.
According to Kern, the amount of power produced by the cells varies with the time
of day and the orbit of the spacecraft.
"Spacecraft are tested for failure as well as success to determine how much margin
there is for error," Kern says. "We need to determine what makes it fail when it
fails. We need to make it better. We test everything piece by piece, put it together,
and test it again."
Kern is the recipient of several awards for his work. In 1983, McDonnell Douglas
awarded him the Teammate of Distinction Award for his integration of an advanced
radar and forward-looking infrared sensor into the F-15 demonstrator aircraft. The
F-15 is a tactical aircraft used in the defense of the country.
When he isn't working at McDonnell Douglas, Kern can be found pursuing his family's
"If I have the time, I will trace my family's history back all the way," he says.
"So far I've gone back about 60 percent of the way before my grandparents."
Kern grew up on a farm in Frankenmuth, graduating from Frankenmuth High School in
1958. He has traced his family's Frankenmuth heritage to the 1800s and has found
information from the 1600s, when some of his ancestors were in Switzerland.
"All of my family came from Germany," he says. "They came to this country around
1850 and organized a colony to educate the Indians. My ancestors were very poor people
when they came here. It's interesting to know what they did."
Kern met his wife, Ann, at a church social meeting in St. Louis. They have discovered,
through his tracing their family tree, that their children are of pure German blood.
Kern has fond memories of Central and attended his 25th class reunion on campus last
"CMU was a very special school to me," he says. "It has a special place in my heart.
"Ken Wright was very influential for me. He taught about two-thirds of the physics
courses I took. We published an article together."
Wallace and Ann, a teacher, recently moved into their "dream home" with their two
children. They have traveled the United States and enjoy pursuing family activities.
Former Skylab engineer now a weapon systems analyst From the “Centralight; Central
Michigan University”, Spring 1988.By Toni MacKenzie.
on display at Central open houseFrom the Frankenmuth News on September 24, 2008.
By Susan McInerny