Anthony Vila

A photo of Anthony Vila
In my short time at the Laboratory, I have already seen the impact that our work has and am humbled to work with such an amazing team of people.

What do you do at the Laboratory?

I am the technical lead on the mission systems architecture for the Tactical Defense Systems Group’s aircraft. My job is to design, integrate, and test the aircraft infrastructure around the group’s various airborne sensors so that we can effectively conduct the Laboratory’s Air Vehicle Survivability mission. This mission is to understand air defense issues and assess the vulnerability of U.S. Air Force aircraft. We are currently upgrading our aircraft test capabilities, which has been the focus of my work in the Laboratory so far.

I take pride in this mission and would say we fill a critical role not just in the U.S. Air Force, but also in the Department of Defense as a whole, and it is an amazing opportunity to be a part of the work this group conducts.

Why do you think the Laboratory is a good fit for you?

When I interviewed in February 2023, the running joke was that the Laboratory operated as a part-academia, part-industry organization. Being here for a year, I can definitely say that this statement holds true. We build state-of-the-art systems, but we also focus on learning what the next state-of-the-art systems are going to be. The amount of opportunities to learn and grow at the Laboratory has been overwhelming (in a good way), and I enjoy the freedom to find areas that I enjoy working in.

What has been a standout personal achievement in your career at the Laboratory?

In the summer of 2023, the group was tasked to prepare new capabilities and sensors for our Gulfstream G-IV aircraft in order to conduct a customer test in the fall. While the new capabilities had been tested in a lab setting and the sensor had flown on our previous aircraft, this had been the first opportunity to integrate them end-to-end — from sensor to aircraft system to operator interface — for a full customer test. To complicate matters, I had just started working for the group and had a very sharp learning curve to integrate all the systems while also learning my way around. Ultimately, the team integrated the systems in time, and we successfully conducted the test, in which I was able to play a crucial role.

How did you get into your field of study and what advice do you have for those who are early in their careers?

Initially I was interested in pursuing a degree in aerospace engineering, however, I ended up majoring in mechanical engineering to set myself up for multiple career paths. This decision ended up foreshadowing how my career would progress. I was initially a test engineer at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, working on various radio-frequency and infrared sensor systems, and then a flight test engineer at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River testing communication, network, and interoperability systems for unmanned aerial systems. Ultimately I was hired at Lincoln Laboratory to develop and test state-of-the-art airborne sensor systems. Having a diverse set of experiences has set me up to tackle challenges from different angles.

My biggest advice to anyone looking to follow a similar career path is to always be open to new opportunities and to continuously look to take on challenges. Everyone progresses through their career differently, and there really isn’t one “right” way to build your career. However, the best way to keep yourself prepared is by looking for opportunities to broaden your skills. Even though there may not be an immediate payoff, you never know when you might use those skills in the future.