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Test track hosts more than developmental weapons systems

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – Clinton, Travis and Dr. Michael Hooser pose for a photo May 21. Travis, a former welding supervisor of what is now the 846th Test Squadron, became the first of five Hoosers to work at the Holloman High Speed Test Track in 1956. Travis’ sons Michael, who retired in December 2011 as the 846th TS chief scientist, and Clinton, the current 846th TS technical director, followed in their father’s footsteps and eventually became the top two ranking civilians in the 846th TS. With Clinton’s projected retirement date in 2013, more than 56 consecutive years of a Hooser family member serving the squadron will come to an end. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika/Released)

Clinton, Travis and Dr. Michael Hooser pose for a photo May 21. Travis, a former welding supervisor of what is now the 846th Test Squadron, became the first of five Hoosers to work at the Holloman High Speed Test Track in 1956. Travis’ sons Michael, who retired in December 2011 as the 846th TS chief scientist, and Clinton, the current 846th TS technical director, followed in their father’s footsteps and eventually became the top two ranking civilians in the 846th TS. With Clinton’s projected retirement date in 2013, more than 56 consecutive years of a Hooser family member serving the squadron will come to an end. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika/Released)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Editor's note: This is the second installment of a series that will provide an in-depth look at the Holloman High-Speed Test Track and the people who work there.

For Travis Hooser, a former welding supervisor of what is now the 846th Test Squadron, the year 1956 marks the beginning of his family's legacy spanning more than half a century, and the beginning of a truly great American success story.

In 1956, Travis became the first of five Hoosers to work at the Holloman High Speed Test Track.

"I was working in Lubbock, Texas, as a welder and I tried to get a job at the air base out there, but they said I had to have experience working on aircraft, which I didn't have," Travis said. "So I put in for a welding job out here and got it. I was 29 when I first came here, but I met and married my wife Sue in Lubbock. She's from Tularosa, so her mother was very happy when I got the job ."

As his second welding job, Travis immediately noticed the benefits of working at the test track.

"In Lubbock, I was making 60 cents an hour, and I wasn't satisfied with that working more than 50 hours every week," Travis said. "When I put in for the job out here, they said I would make 90 cents an hour, but on my first paycheck I got a cost of living raise, so I was up to $1.20 an hour. I thought I was rich, but even if I didn't get the pay that I did, I still never would have worked anywhere else. I really loved going to work every single day."

The love Travis experienced from his job also rubbed off on his eldest son, Dr. Michael Hooser, former 846th TS chief scientist.

"When I was a kid, my dad would take me here a lot, and as I got older and more into engineering, he would tell me more about what they were doing here and it would mean a lot more," said Michael. "It became apparent when I was in school that this would be a fantastic place for a mechanical engineer to work. I tried all through my college career to get a position here as a summer hire, or a co-op, but never could. When I got my degree, an engineer position finally opened up out here."

Although Michael first started working at Holloman in 1978, his younger brother Clinton Hooser, the current 846th TS technical director, became the third Hooser to work at the test track in 1982, succeeding his late uncle Dub Hooser, who also worked at the track for several years.

"As soon as I graduated college, I came to work out here," Clinton said. "They got all of the paperwork done, so I graduated on a Friday and came into work on Monday. I've been here ever since May 1982."

Since Travis didn't retire until 1985, he often found himself working side-by-side with his two sons.

"I really enjoyed working with them even though they never worked for me; I always worked for them because they were engineers, so I built what they designed," Travis said. "They never really gave me a hard time. I know my boys worked hard and were serious about what they were doing just as I was, so I was happy."

Because of his hard work, Travis played a major role in the test track's heyday, said Jim Daniel, 846th TS mechanical engineer.

"He had a hand in the welding projects that would prove out the capabilities we used to beat the Soviets in the space race and in the arms race," Daniel said. "He placed the welds on [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] guidance tests, which made targeting any place on the globe possible. He built sleds that proved the safety of pilots during ejection sequences from supersonic aircraft. And, possibly most notably, he was responsible for welding the sleds that proved out many aspects of the Apollo space program that made Neil Armstrong's famous walk possible."

Although Clinton has also played a major role in several noteworthy projects at the test track, one will always stick out in his mind.

"My favorite project that I worked on was the [Guided Bomb Unit 28] project in 1991, when we went to war with Iraq," Clinton said. "We learned real fast that we didn't have the capability to penetrate deep into the ground and destroy command and control bunkers. So at [Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.] they were developing the bomb, and within six weeks, it was developed, brought out here, we designed and built the sled, and tested it. And it was used in Iraq, like, the next day. I designed the sled and saw it through fabrication, and to see the shots on the news, really validated the work we had been doing out here."

For Michael, validation is one of the biggest perks of working at the test track, he said.

"As an engineer, there are very few places on this planet where you can work in an environment that you are involved in all phases of a program from the beginning to the end," Michael said. "You use a broad spectrum of disciplines that you learn in college, but you also must learn and apply things you can't learn in school. We definitely did more than just collect a paycheck."

With Michael's retirement in December 2011, there has been only one Hooser at the track for the first time in 15 years.

Long before Michael's retirement, many of his peers had recognized the importance of what the Hooser family was able to accomplish in just over 55 years, said Lt. Col. David Dunn, 846th TS commander.

"It's pretty significant that Travis' sons went on to occupy the number one and two civilian spots at the track," he said. "To me that's part of what makes it a great American success story - a welder works hard, raises his kids right, and they go on to run the place."

Part of the reason why both Clinton and Michael have risen to such prominence is because of their education, said Travis.

"Both of them have their master's - Clint in civil engineering and Mike in mechanical engineering," Travis said. "Mike took it one step further and got his Ph.D., as well - all from New Mexico State University."

The search for the next Hooser to work at the track has been years in the making, he said.

"My son Jared worked as an engineering intern here, but now is an engineer in Las Cruces, N.M.," Michael said. "My daughter is an aerospace engineer too, so I've been trying to recruit them for some time. But my cousin's son is starting college now and is very interested in what we do here, so he could be the next one."

Even if a Hooser successor isn't found before Clinton's projected retirement date in 2013, both brothers agree that the Holloman High-Speed Test Track is not only the fastest place on Earth, but also the best place for local Alamogordo residents, like themselves, to contribute to the defense of the nation.

"I'd say 80 percent of the workers here are locals that were born, raised, or spent significant time here as military members," Clinton said. "There are several stories like mine and Mike's, where people had a parent that worked at the track and they too came here to work. So as important as the Hooser family ties are to the track, the track is even more important to the community. It's a very good organization and does a very great service to the basin and to the nation."