Keith L. Englander
Aerospace and Ocean Engineering
Class of 1975, BS
Keith Englander caught the “aviation bug” early in life. His father was a career naval officer and the family relocated several times in his early years to Carmel, California; Key West, Florida; and Norfolk, Virginia. When he lived in Norfolk, the family would often visit the Naval Station at Norfolk, today the world’s largest naval station. It was on that waterfront base that Englander first recalled becoming fascinated with fighter jets and other types of airplanes.
While his sister had inherited their father’s mathematical sense and their mother’s artistic talents, Englander became more interested in the ships that sailed the seas and the planes that guarded the skies.
When his family moved to Philadelphia in fifth grade, he spent a lot of time at the Franklin Institute. Founded in 1824, the institute, one of the oldest centers of science education and development in the United States, became Englander’s playground. “Frequenting the planetarium sealed my desire to enter the science field in pursuit of a career,” he said.
In Englander’s first year of high school, a visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with his family motivated his interests even further. He was fascinated by the Gemini and Apollo programs, and decided then that he wanted to work in the space program or in aviation.
During his high school year,s Englander joined a club called the Junior Engineering and Technical Society, otherwise known as the “JETS.” He was also member of the local Boy Scout Explorer Post focused on space exploration. Participating in these academic programs further developed his interest in aerospace engineering.
Later, Englander chose to attend Virginia Tech because of the excellent reputation of its aerospace and ocean engineering program and because he wanted to get back to Virginia.
Once on campus, Englander came under the tutelage of Joseph Schetz, the Fred D. Durham Endowed Chair Professor of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. “He was the one individual at Virginia Tech who had the most influence on me relative to the way I conduct myself as an engineer,” Englander said. “Joe set an example for me as to what a good engineer should be — technically astute and ethical.”
After he graduated in 1975 with a bachelor’s of science degree in aerospace and ocean engineering, Englander went to work for the Navy as a civilian supervisory mechanical engineer. And shortly after the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986, he was selected by the Navy as its representative on a team to determine the feasibility of devising an escape system for shuttle flights.
In 1988, he was named chief engineer (CHENG) for the A-6 Navy attack aircraft, a carrier-based jet. He was involved of all aspects of the airplane: the mission, upgrades, and new development programs. “That was the most fun I’ve had as an engineer,” Englander said. “I was able to apply almost everything I learned from my engineering education and experiences at Virginia Tech.”
Captain George ‘Gary’ Maxwell, his A-6 superior, and Rear Admiral Dana McKinney — both of whom he met while on the A-6 Program and worked with subsequently through his career at the Missile Defense Agency — provided Englander the training to evolve his capabilities and managerial skills. They helped Englander to embrace the characteristics he thought a true engineer should embody.
Englander moved to the Department of Defense to work on the National Missile Defense Program in 1992. He was systems engineering director for the Brilliant Pebbles space-based weapon program, and was eventually promoted to Technical Director for the National Missile Defense Program, where he worked with White House staff, members of Congress, senior Defense officials, and state and local officials.
In his spare time, the ambitious engineer earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from American University in 1996.
In 2001, he was promoted to Director of System Engineering and integration of the Missile Defense Agency, where he led a 500-person technical staff and managed a $300 million annual budget, coordinated missile defense efforts with foreign nations, and incorporated technological advances from the academic community into the missile defense program.
Englander was named Director of Engineering in 2005, a role he continues in today. He is responsible for recruitment, training, and retention of 2,000 engineers and scientists and serves as the technical spokesperson for the agency with the Department of Defense, State Department, Congress, and the international community.
“Keith has over 40 years of government engineering, culminating in a leadership position of single technical authority and functional manager for the agency,” said Eric Paterson, the department head of aerospace and ocean engineering, in his nomination of Englander.
Englander is the principal advisor to the director of the Missile Defense Agency on technical matters related to the Ballistic Missile Defense System. During his professional career, the studious engineer also graduated from the Defense Systems Management College.
Englander has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Rank Distinguished Award, the David R. Israel AIAA International Ballistic Missile Defense Achievement Award, and the National Defense Industrial Association Outstanding Leadership Award.
His immediate family has also chosen the government path for choice careers. Englander’s wife Jana works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. His son Alex recently graduated from George Mason University and has also selected a career in the federal government.
Englander continues to work — but to unwind, his family heads to the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda for rest and relaxation.
Class of: 1975
Year Inducted into Academy: 2016