AFRL engineer receives sought-after Fellow recognitions

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) – Air Force Research Laboratory principal aerospace engineer Dr. Khanh Pham was recently bestowed two prestigious honors within days of each other, in his selection as a Fellow of both the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

Pham is a newly minted U.S. Space Force member at AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate located on Kirtland AFB. Joining AFRL in 2004, the now experienced scientist, engineer, and technical lead also excels as an innovation collaborator, disclosing 46 technologies and receiving 21 patents during his 17 years of service to his adopted country.

In 2021, NAI awarded fellowships to 164 distinguished innovators from across DOD, industry and academia. According to their announcement, NAI recognizes inventors who have demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.

“AFRL has given me a rare opportunity to focus on the development of actual new and far-reaching innovations through required basic science and R&D activities that make a difference for the warfighter,” Pham said. “For comparison, China has far surpassed the U.S. with a patent application rate of four to one, and their patent activity continues to grow year by year, while the U.S. patent activity has plateaued.”

A series of patent endeavors that Pham is particularly proud of, involve the development and transition of state-of-the-art anti-jam tactical wireless technology that can operate across multiple domains for our nation’s multi-billion dollar satellite communications systems.

“In this technology, I have five licensed patents, two of which are joint; the other three are with a small business that has resulted in the creation of 19 jobs and over $20 million in revenue,” Pham said. “The licensed patents with the small firm has allowed them to team with a large defense contractor to bid on the U.S. Space Force’s Protected Tactical Satellite Communications program.”

Pham explained that his work involves exploring innovative operational concepts by which advanced autonomous systems provide competitive advantages and further applications in protected satellite communications, resilient satellite navigation, space domain awareness, and space control autonomy.

“I am interested in enabling adaptive and innovative R&D activities and leading high tech small business, academia, and other agencies,” Pham said. “My public servant position has allowed me to meet and connect with many outstanding students and faculty across the U.S., while at the same time allowing me to communicate, influence, and collaborate with many entrepreneurs.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology presents fellowships to individuals who have been critical in assisting the advancement of building partnerships throughout engineering and technology to raise industry standards and to engineer a better world. Pham was among 16 internationally recognized recipients that IET announced in November.

“I am honored to receive the international award from the IET,” said Pham. “It recognizes the vision I have for the foundation for an ecosystem designed to develop and advance innovation from high tech small business, academia and government labs.

“One of my favorite things about working with small businesses is the many fresh Ph.D. graduates who venture into industry — they have modest resources, but are still able to come up with innovative research and technologies,” Pham continued.

AFRL senior leaders recognize the importance of Pham’s many technical and scientific contributions to the nation.

“Dr. Pham has been one of our most prolific innovators as his award of 21 patents and ongoing collaboration with small high tech business and academia exemplifies,” said Erin Pettyjohn, who leads the Geospace Technologies Division. “Khanh’s technical outreach has impacted multi-million dollars of DoD’s science and technology investments in the global innovation ecosystem, where he has managed more than 100 research contracts, and interacted with more 70 companies.”

Pham’s recent recognitions share the spotlight with two other fellowships he has received. He became an AFRL Fellow in 2020 and was selected a Fellow of the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers in 2015.

image of award winner

Air Force Research Laboratory principal aerospace engineer Dr. Khanh Pham with his wife Huong Nguyen at the National Academy of Inventors induction to the rank of NAI Senior Member in a ceremony held earlier this year in Tampa, Florida. (Photo/courtesy of NAI)