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A Behind-the-Scenes Peek at a Feature Hypersonics Article

Hypersonics is a hot topic in the great power conflict and a modernization priority for the U.S. Army. Although hypersonics research began in the 1940s, a recent resurgence of interest in the field has compelled stakeholders across government, the private sector, and even academia to find ways to accelerate the rate of technical innovation across the country today. As a communicator in the defense industry, I was interested in presenting the story of hypersonics in a way that both demonstrated its multi-physics challenges and the epic story of collaboration across sectors.

Hypersonics leadership from academia and Lockheed Martin engage to train additional workforce (Photo credit: Lockheed Martin)

While working in the integrated communications department at Lockheed Martin,* I was assigned to write a feature article about the company’s involvement with the academic community on the heels of the Pentagon’s establishment of the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH). I knew I didn’t want to write a dry piece that only talked tech; I wanted to create a vibrant story that would excite both the security community and the layman.

So, I chose to focus on the word epic, highlighting the extraordinary scope of these national ambitions and the dedicated people involved. But when covering such a story, how do you achieve a balance between cool-headed tech and the human interest angle?

The answer to this was simple: interviews.

Throughout the discussion of the technical and policy aspects of hypersonics, I wanted to weave in the personal involvement and motivations of the key players. To do this, I conducted at least seven interviews, both inside Lockheed Martin and with Dr. Rodney Bowersox and his team at the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) responsible for managing UCAH.

The Mach 6 Quiet Tunnel at the National Aerothermochemistry Laboratory at Texas A&M

(Photo Credit: Texas A&M Engineering)

Through the stories of these scientific masterminds, the narrative around hypersonics was elevated to an epic effort to unite academic and industry brainpower to find solutions to a pressing national need.

Here are a few examples of the questions I asked the interviewees (the key is to keep it simple!):

1. What attracted you to hypersonics as a researcher and how did you first get started in the field?

2. When choosing industry partners to participate in the Consortium [UCAH], what were the key criteria?

3. How would you describe the ecosystem between the Consortium [UCAH], the DoD, and Lockheed Martin when it comes to prioritizing particular programs or capabilities?

4. What are some of the most pressing challenges your team is looking to tackle?

5. What are some of the key milestones that your team is hoping to achieve this year?

According to Gail Mercer-MacKay at Coruzant Technologies, impactful storytelling in the tech industry can persuade people to support a cause, relay key messages, and educate on key concepts in an easy-to-digest format. Narratives create connection and link thought leadership to multiple audiences in a way that is memorable. In a nutshell, stories get people to listen.

If done well, a single story can combine ideas, data, and connection—this was the key to this particular hypersonics piece. Find the people behind the tech and give them the mic so they can tell their own stories.

You can view the public posting of the article on Lockheed Martin’s website here.

* For the sake of full disclosure, I was a long-term, on-site contractor at Lockheed Martin, not a permanent employee. The views expressed in this article are mine alone.

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About Jessica Lauren Walton: Jessica is a communications strategist, video producer, and writer in the U.S. defense industry. She has written articles on a range of security and mental health topics and conducted interviews with military leadership, psychologists, journalists, CIA officers, filmmakers, and more. Jessica recently completed her memoir about her experience as an American woman struggling with mental illness while trying to get into Israeli intelligence.

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