Growing base tech outside the fence
By Tom McLaughlin
October 2014
...FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. -- Col. Jimmy Doolittle flew into history at America’s
darkest hour when he led a bombing raid on the Japanese homeland in April 1942,
four months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
...But even before the raid that would boost U.S. morale and earn the future general
the Medal of Honor, Doolittle was already accomplished. He’d earned a doctorate in
aeronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and set multiple flying
records. One of his biggest achievements was developing instrument flying that’s
used to this day. He was the first to test the now ubiquitous artificial horizon in an
instrument panel.
...“He was maybe the only person who could have made that raid happen,” said
Steve Butler, director of the newly established Doolittle Institute in Fort Walton
Beach. Doolittle hallmarks of speed, innovation and solutions have provided the
institute with words to live by as it works to lift the entire region by fusing military
prowess, technological breakthroughs, business acumen and education.
...Conceived two years ago, the Doolittle Institute officially opened the doors to its
6,000 square foot Fort Walton Beach facility on Sept. 8. The hand full of institute
employees work under a roughly $1 million contract with the Air Force Research
Laboratory’s Munitions Directorate at nearby Eglin Air Force Base. It is one of a
select group of institutes nationwide. It’s the fourth military/business/educational
collaborative organization funded by the Air Force. The first, the Wright Brothers
Institute near Dayton, Ohio, funded by the AFRL at Wright-Pattterson Air Force
Base, was founded in 2002 following a study analyzing the scientific and technology
workforce needs of the U.S. entering the 21st Century.
...In Rome, N.Y., the Griffiss Institute was created through a partnership with the
AFRL’s Information Directorate at Griffiss Air Force Base before that central New
York base closed. Today, the Griffiss Institute continues as an AFRL partner with a
focus on cyber technology.
...Out west near Albuquerque, N.M., the Phillips Technology Institute is partnered with
the AFRL’s Directed Energy and Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force
Base. It has the same four goals as the Doolittle Institute, Butler said.
...“First and foremost,” among those goals, Butler said, the Doolittle Institute seeks to
assist in transferring Air Force technology into the community. Its location in the
middle of Fort Walton Beach provides a space for scientists and engineers from Eglin
to interact with a diverse business population that exists outside the base gates. It
serves as a link between the military science and technology community and their
civilian counterparts.
...Military scientists have tended through the years to cling to the technology they
develop, but once many of those technologies found their way into the private sector,
their uses expanded into areas never imagined, and the cost of the technology went
down. The GPS represents perhaps the best modern example of this, said Taylor.
...What makes all this collaboration work possible, and what helps push it into the
private sector, is the Bayh-Dole Act. Passed in 1980, it allowed academia and
companies to benefit from collaborative work funded by the federal government.
Before the act, the federal government retained patents, a system that provided little
incentive to businesses or scholars.
...Bayh-Dole led to a huge increase in the number of university technology transfer
offices, and more products eventually got out to the public. The Doolittle Institute will
be able to serve as a conduit for the intellectual property that results from
...“We see this as a way to help technologies from the base find their way to other
applications,” and that can bring prices down. “This way technology goes main
stream. The military, the business community and the region itself all benefit,” Butler
...The second goal of the Doolittle Institute goes hand and hand with the first,
providing a neutral “outside the fence” location for communion between the military
and civilian worlds.
...“It’s so hard for businesses not on the base to come onto the base to meet,” Butler
said. “We provide a facility that is connected to the base but not on the base.”
...High end small businesses, universities and educational organizations, aerospace
companies, all are welcome to access Doolittle Institute resources, Butler said. Those
resources include bountiful classroom space, state of the art technology, whole walls
of whiteboard to jot down ideas and nooks and crannies actually designed to
encourage personal interactions within the framework of scheduled meetings.
...The third goal of the Doolittle Institute is professional development. “We want to
help people be better at what they do,” Butler said.
...They do this by offering technical classes in things like finance, leadership,
marketing and career guidance. Butler calls it “the people part of helping a business
...Recently a class in personality type testing was offered at the institute with the
theory being that an understanding of personality can help business leaders mold a
better workplace, while knowing one’s own personality type can also prove beneficial.
...“We provide both the technical and the very personal, the touchy feely, what we
call soft skills,” Butler said.
...The fourth goal of the Doolittle Institute is to encourage education in science,
technology, engineering, mathematics and, in the case of Okaloosa County,
medicine (STEMM).
...The Doolittle Institute is directly involved with the Okaloosa County School District’s
STEMM Center in Valparaiso. “We help with the core curriculum,” Butler said. “We
want these students to learn through hands on experience.”
...By introducing students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades to the fascinating
world a science and technology education opens up to them, the Air Force and
Doolittle Institute want to “help create employees in the future, not just for the Air
Force, but in the community,” Butler said.
...“The Air Force has put its money where its mouth is to say STEM is important to
us,” Butler said. “If these students leave from here and go off and study STEM
subjects in high school and college, then eventually come back and help either in the
military or in business, this area will be better for what they do.”
...The Doolittle Institute was originally located at the University of Florida’s Research
and Engineering Education Facility adjacent to Eglin’s main gate just north of
Shalimar, and for a couple of years plans called for a permanent home to be created
...But Butler said it became clear that to do so would have placed a great space
burden on the center’s limited facilities. An important REEF Center tenant, the
University of West Florida, would have ultimately been displaced.
...Available space was found at Uptown Station in Fort Walton Beach at an office just
across the hallway from the Okaloosa County Tax Collector. Parking is plentiful,
restaurants are abundant and hotels and other amenities within an easy drive. The
REEF Center, while close to Eglin, is otherwise in a fairly isolated location, and could
not offer the access the Uptown Station location does, Butler said.
...“Instead of being in the woods this place was more centrally located,” he said.
...Butler emphasized the Doolittle Institute remains closely tied to both the REEF
Center and there is no desire to cut ties. Future plans still call for the creation of a
technology park on the local UF campus.
...“The REEF is still the center of our universe,” Butler said.

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