Voices from DARPA

Episode 43: The Sky Master

April 26, 2021


Voices from DARPA podcast, Scott Wierzbanowski, a program manager since 2016 in the agency’s Tactical Technology Office, recounts how he came of age in a family of test pilots and then embraced the mission of fostering technologies for amplifying the capabilities of airmen, their aircraft, and other defense assets in the sky. Recorded in March 2021, a month before the end of his tour of duty at DARPA, Wierzbanowski, a retired Air Force test pilot, opens windows in the podcast on a lofty and ambitious portfolio of programs that reach even to space. One program delivered hard-won lessons on what it will take to engineer and build an unmanned reusable vehicle that can ferry payloads to low earth orbit with the ease and agility of an aircraft. Another program furthered the ability of human pilots to seamlessly team with automated and robotic systems to achieve complex mission needs with more dexterity than could either team member alone. Two of Wierzbanowski’s programs have been taking steps toward aerial capabilities in which a host aircraft and its crew work, in one case, with multiple sensor-bearing, unmanned, aerial scouts that depart from and return to the mother ship, and in another case, with unmanned weapons-bearing aerial vehicles that can project force in forward positions while enabling expensive and exquisite defense aircraft and their crews to remain out of harm’s way. When he sums up his vision, Wierzbanowski says it’s all about “distributed air operations” in which “UAVs are the ones going into high threat areas and manned aircraft are the ones that are overseeing the complicated air battle.”


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