Les Winfield, general engineer and Federal Aviation Manager with NNSA’s Nevada Field Office (NFO), credits his U.S. Army experience with giving him the knowledge to oversee the acquisition of three fixed-wing Aerial Measuring System (AMS) aircraft to support the Department of Energy’s (DOE) nuclear incident response mission. As a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot in the Army —who also worked in maintenance and logistics— Winfield notes that his military service and experience and training at NNSA provided administrative and technical know-how to lead the aircraft acquisition.
“I’ve always been interested in how things work and how to improve things, and getting things done,” Winfield said.
The AMS program is an element of NNSA’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST), which encompasses all DOE/NNSA nuclear and radiological emergency response functions. AMS aircraft provide rapid, wide-area assessments of radiological or nuclear events anywhere in the continental U.S. The specialized radiation detection systems aboard the aircraft provide first responders with critical information about radiation levels in an area following a nuclear or radiological accident or incident allowing them to focus their efforts.
I’ve always been interested in how things work and how to improve things, and getting things done.
The three King Air 350 ER that Winfield helped acquire have replaced aging assets and will improve AMS’ reliability and range. The average age of the replaced aircraft was 37 years, and increasing unscheduled maintenance was limiting mission availability and incurring greater costs. The aircraft could have been maintained in airworthy condition, but there was no potential for increases in mission capability. To add additional equipment, for example, would have meant taking on less fuel to save weight, which reduces the aircraft range and survey time. In 2017, NNSA conducted an Analysis of Alternatives to identify the optimal path forward for the AMS aircraft and elected to replace them. The three older aircraft will be dispositioned by the General Services Administration (GSA).
The multiyear acquisition process entailed support from the management and operating contractor (M&O), NFO, the NNSA Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation (NA-80), and ultimately, the NNSA Administrator. Teams were formed to accomplish all aspects of the acquisition.
“Many people and organizations worked together for a common purpose, and through hard work, all of the requirements, design, equipment fabrication, installation of critical components and acceptance testing was completed on time and under budget,” Winfield said. “This is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of everyone who supported this effort.”
The additional capabilities of the new AMS aircraft greatly enhance DOE’s nuclear incident response mission. The old aircraft needed to refuel approximately every 2.5 hours, while the new aircraft can stay in the air for 7.5 hours and will fly 30 knots faster. These capabilities decrease the time from launch to reaching the location of an incident and beginning to gather information. This information in turn reaches the incident managers more rapidly, enabling them to make earlier informed decisions to protect public health and property.
AMS teams conduct measurements of air and ground contamination and conduct baseline surveys for normal levels of radiation in the environment. For example, AMS equipment and personnel have supported key domestic and international missions, including identifying potential medical or industrial radioactive isotopes following Hurricane Katrina in 2005; ground mapping after the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in 2011; and monitoring Las Vegas during New Year’s Eve 2020 as a preventive action.
“It’s a way to rapidly cover a large area through aerial measurement,” Winfield said. “Our people are trained to identify what isotopes are detected during a survey which further guides the response of emergency response personnel on the ground.”
The NFO Aviation Program has been recognized numerous times for excellence in safety and operations. DOE recognizes aviation programs and professionals with annual awards for accomplishments in aircraft management/administration, operations, maintenance, training and safety. Since 2010, under Winfield’s guidance, the program has won six Safety Professional Awards, four Operations Specialist awards and four best Small Program awards. In addition, Winfield has won five managerial awards.
The NFO and its management and operating partner, Mission Support & Test Services, LLC, Aviation Team has been awarded the top Federal Aviation GSA Award in the Small Aviation Program Category three times, with Winfield being recognized for his managerial accomplishments twice.
I evaluated the workflow and ergonomics for the scientists and technicians in the old aircraft, and developed workstations with multiple large monitors and more comfortable seating for the new aircraft.
The greatest program accomplishment is a safety record of more than 24 consecutive years of accident- and incident-free flying, Winfield noted.
For the aviation program, a dual qualified pilot program was established to give more scheduling flexibility for operations. Tablets were introduced into the cockpit to reduce pilot workload, enhance situational awareness and eliminate about two tons of paper navigation charts each year.
“I evaluated the workflow and ergonomics for the scientists and technicians in the old aircraft, and developed workstations with multiple large monitors and more comfortable seating for the new aircraft,” Winfield said.
Winfield has supported DOE’s nuclear incident response mission in various roles for 12 years and currently provides contractor oversight for AMS. Prior to his current assignment at NFO, he also worked on environmental management, the Underground Test Area (UGTA) Project, construction oversight, federal oversight for the hazardous spill test facility, the U1a Complex and subcritical experiments, nuclear facility safety basis and readiness assessments and nuclear explosives safety.
Winfield obtained degrees in geological engineering, physics and geology from the University of Missouri in Rolla, Missouri. He is married to his college sweetheart and prides himself on getting four children through college. While many dream of retirement, he’s perfectly fine with continuing to serve his country at NNSA for the foreseeable future. He has homes waiting for him in Wyoming and the Ozarks in Missouri. As an outdoors enthusiast, he enjoys passing on his hobbies to his children and grandchildren.