Robert F. Phelps, Ph.D.
Class of 1966
Hall of Honor 2007
Since graduating from Grand Island Senior High School in 1966, Robert Phelps has pursued an engineering career in government and industry. He received the Bachelor of Science (1971) and Master of Science (1972) degrees from the University of Nebraska and earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree from Purdue University. All degrees are in electrical engineering. Dr. Phelps is also a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and the Air War College.
Joining the U.S. Air Force in 1972, Dr. Phelps served tours of duty in Alaska, Colorado, Nebraska, Maryland, Mississippi and Alabama. At Offutt AFB, near Omaha, Nebraska, he designed and built a telemetry and data processing system for the Air Force’s satellite program that provided weather information to the nation’s strategic forces. As a Tenure Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at the United States Air Force Academy, Dr. Phelps revised the electrical engineering course and laboratory curriculum and served on cadet advising and admissions committees. His peers selected him as the first winner of the General Roland E. Thomas Award for excellence as an officer instructor. He was named as recipient of the 1984 Clements Award as an Outstanding Military Educator at the Air Force Academy.
Dr. Phelps wrote the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) integrated tactical warning and attack assessment system architecture used to upgrade the nation’s missile warning system while preventing catastrophic system failures and false missile warnings. In 1986, he developed a Space Defense Command & Control architecture that incorporated existing assets and reallocates space defense roles among the military commands to improve the capability of the United States to control and operate in space.
In 1991, Dr. Phelps joined the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) where he managed the Battle Management, Command & Control and Communications (BMC3) program office. He reduced the high risk associated with developing this software-intensive portion of the Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) system by structuring a strategy to satisfy all congressional and Department of Defense critics. Dr. Phelps established the first-ever BMC3 laboratories at the Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center (MDIOC) in Colorado Springs to demonstrate and refine missile defense BMC3 development concepts.
Dr. Phelps established the program to upgrade our nation's early warning radar system (known as the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System). Through presentations to the Congress, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Defense Department, he convinced senior leadership to use the significant capabilities of these existing radars for missile defense. The BMC3 software and upgraded early warning radars are now the heart of the ballistic missile defense system now in-place in Alaska, California and Colorado.
After nearly 22 years of active duty, Dr. Phelps retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1994. He then joined the Schafer Corporation and later the Boeing Company. In 2002, he was selected as a founding member of the Missile Defense National Team, a distinguished group of industry engineers charged by the Missile Defense Agency to chart the future of missile defense for the United States. There, he engineered a set of simulations of the global missile defense forming the common suite of industry analysis tools adopted by the six largest U.S. aerospace companies on the National Team.
Currently, Dr. Phelps is Chief Engineer for National Security Programs at Boeing’s Annapolis Junction, Maryland facility. He is actively involved in engineering education, teaching short courses in Systems Engineering to engineering professionals worldwide. For the past twenty years, he has served as a program evaluation visitor in electrical and computer engineering for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Robert Phelps is married to Karen Lunberry, GIHS Class of 1967, and has four children, Christopher, Timothy, Stephanie and Gregory. He resides in Columbia, Maryland.