Alumnus wins achievement award for work on military aircraft program


By Jeff Rice

Penn State aerospace engineering alumnus Eric Fallabel was recently awarded a Defense Acquisition Workforce Individual Achievement Award in Test and Evaluation from the Department of Defense for his work on flight testing for the CH-53K helicopter development program for the Marine Corps.

Fallabel, a graduate of the College of Engineering and a Schreyer Honors Scholar, is an assistant program executive officer in test and evaluation for Naval Air Systems Command. He was the chief developmental tester for the CH-53K, a heavy-lift cargo helicopter that has been a top priority for the Department of Defense.

“The award to me really reflects the hard work of the team to be able to get this helicopter to a functional status where we can potentially deploy it as soon as next year,” he said, “which is quite a journey from where it started several years ago.”

Fallabel was nominated for his ability to coordinate multiple teams while keeping the program on time and budget after he and others determined the original estimate of flight hours it would take to complete the test program were insufficient. He and his team were able to save hundreds of flight hours while keeping the project on track.

“What we had to do was prioritize both what capabilities we were trying to deliver to the Marine Corps — do we need all of them right now? — and how much data we need to achieve those priorities,” Fallabel said. “What we really accomplished was taking a risk-based approach where we’d say, ‘I hear you want that data but do you really need it?’ And if you’re saying you need it, please write down exactly why that is a high risk, and we’ll get leadership to sign off on the risk.”

A native of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Fallabel grew up reading Tom Clancy books and was initially interested in submarines before his interests shifted to aircraft. He chose to attend Penn State because of its engineering reputation and the chance to receive an honors education and was a member of the Penn State Blue Band. After graduating from Penn State in 2006, Fallabel worked for Boeing on the V22 Osprey aircraft program. He joined the CH-53K program in 2011.

Fallabel said the Honors College allowed and encouraged him to create his own path at Penn State, and that carried over to his career in the Navy.

“Critical thinking and communication were really the key skills, and critical thinking as prompted by that expectation all the way back to the Honors College, when you’re laying out your trajectory through your education,” he said. “That’s an area where not just running down your curriculum of engineering classes you need to graduate, but instead picking your own way and finding things that are meaningful to you. I think that’s a characteristic that is helpful, especially in some of these high-stakes situations.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total nearly 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 27 countries. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.


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Megan Lakatos

headshot of a man

Eric Fallabell. IMAGE: PROVIDED