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David Finkleman

B.S. Aerospace Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1963
M.S. Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT, 1964
PhD. Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT, 1968

For 18 years, David Finkleman served as chief technical officer and director of analysis for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOMM), as well as U.S. Northern Command following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He was the top civilian in these commands, from 1985 to 2003, trusted advisor to 12 four-star generals, including the U.S. Air Force’s Chuck Horner of Desert Storm fame. He remains the only civilian ever appointed to USSPACECOM’s Battle Staff. His work, to this day, is admired by those inside and outside the operation.

Long before that, during the late 1950s, Finkleman was a teenager in Washington, D.C. participating in his high school’s ROTC program.  Finkleman had interest in a military school, and Virginia Tech offered the right combination of affordability, military, and academics.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1963 in aerospace engineering, Finkleman earned a master’s degree in 1964 and a doctoral degree in 1968, both at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Future astronauts who were his classmates at MIT convinced Finkleman to transfer his Army ROTC commission to the U.S. Air Force. During the Vietnam War, Finkleman was assigned to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, where he taught as an associate professor of aeronautics, and conducted research and analysis in aircraft aerodynamics and control. He and his colleagues developed optimal maneuvers to evade surface to air missiles in Vietnam.  He was an early member of the Air Force’s High Energy Laser Project and the Airborne Laser Lab.

Finkleman left active duty with the Air Force for the reserve after being recruited by the U.S. Navy Directed Energy Weapons Program. He served an additional 20 years in Air Force Material Command, where he retired a full colonel, assistant director of laboratories. His other accomplishments are far reaching. He helped lay out the orbit architecture behind GPS, Defense Support Satellite and Space Based Infrared Satellite launch detection systems, space surveillance networks, and more. He also led development of North American and overseas theater missile warning algorithms still used worldwide, which his organization developed during Desert Storm.

Since leaving federal service in 2003, Finkleman has served as senior scientist of the Center for Space Standards and Innovation and convener of the International Standards Organization Space Operations Working Group. Finkleman and his colleagues formed and operate the Space Data Center, the first and only nongovernmental satellite traffic management capability. He also contributes to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the International Communications Union, as well as the European Space Policy Institute, the United Nations’ Institute for Disarmament Research, and the Eisenhower Institute for Space and Defense. His expertise is sought internationally, including from China.

Select Awards and Recognitions
Legion of Merit
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Force Commendation Medal
Air Force Achievement Medal
Air Force Recognition Ribbon
1975 Outstanding Young Scientist and Engineer, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
1981 Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award
1984 Defense Superior Civilian Service Medal
1988 Fellow, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
1989 Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award
1994 Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award
1994 Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award
1996 and 2001 Distinguished Executive Presidential Rank Award
1999 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

David Finkleman