Five decades ago, engineers like Tom Mullaney wrote reports on clacking typewriters and drew complex diagrams with paper and pencils. Computers? Mullaney used them, but they were refrigerator-sized machines with spinning tape spools and paper punch cards.
“The biggest change I’ve seen over the years is software use,” he said. “When I started at BAE Systems in 1968, you had to read thick instruction manuals and handbooks to fix a piece of equipment. Everything involved paper – you wouldn’t believe how much paper we used in those days. Today, you can download specific software on your laptop and use it to perform repairs without printing anything. It’s so much easier, faster, and more efficient.”
Over the years, Mullaney has watched and adjusted to many advances in technology while working on the fleet ballistic missile program run by the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) office. His ability to leverage technology to quickly and efficiently provide safety reviews and engineering is critical to supporting the TRIDENT II D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles – America’s most important nuclear deterrents.
In recognition of Mullaney’s expertise, experience, and leadership, the SSP recently presented him with the Fleet Ballistic Missile Lifetime Achievement Award, a coveted accolade in the ballistic missile community.
Q&A with Tom Mullaney
How does it feel to receive this award?
It’s very humbling. I feel privileged to have worked with a lot of smart, skilled people during my career. I’m part of a great team, so I can’t take credit for anything. I like to joke that my biggest accomplishment has been hanging around for so many years.
How did you get your job with BAE Systems?
In 1968, I left the Navy. I served for four years with aircraft squadrons aboard aircraft carriers off the coast of Vietnam. I didn’t know what I was going to do as a civilian. Then, my dad, who worked for BAE Systems, told me the company was hiring and sent me an application. I filled it out, got an interview, and managed to talk myself into a job.
Did you know much about fleet ballistic missile systems?
No, but I was an aviation electrician’s mate in the Navy. Thanks to my electrical background, I knew about the wiring and cabling used on aircraft, which helped me with the submarine weapon systems cabling. I learned the rest on the job. It was a true baptism by fire.
You’ve been called a mentor and someone who enjoys sharing knowledge with his more junior co-workers. How does that make you feel?
When I started out, we had a lot of brilliant minds on board, but they were difficult to approach sometimes. If you had a question or needed to know something, you often had to find the answer yourself. I promised myself early on that if someone ever needed my help or asked me a question, I would try to answer it or send them to someone who knew the answer.
What’s been the most enjoyable part of your career?
Definitely the people. There’s a strong sense of family and teamwork, a lot like it was in the Navy. I’ve also enjoyed the challenge of learning – of getting better every day.
What are your future plans?
Well, I still love my job, and I’m still having fun. I’m healthy, so you guys should have me at BAE Systems for another couple of years.