Chapter 2: Marty Shackleford
Dr. Parker Shackleford was an electronics engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. He had worked for Sandia his entire career and was considered an expert in his field. While many of his initial projects had been related to military and defense topics, he was able to apply much of that technology to civilian areas, primarily in the area off energy management. He led a team that had developed a highly efficient thermostat and energy management system for use in large commercial office buildings which was eventually licensed to Honeywell. Dr. Shackleford and his wife Elaine lived in a modest split-level home in the Four Hills section of town, near the Labs. They had been married for almost fifteen childless years when they decided to adopt. After a long and tedious process, the Shacklefords were able to adopt an infant boy and an infant girl a year later. Parker enjoyed his work and his career was progressing steadily; he and Elaine focused their energies on their new family.
The adopted Shackleford children were what would be considered average. Martin and his sister Fortuna were not exceptional in school, either academically, in sports or socially. But, the children were happy and Parker would describe his life as contented.
As Martin Shackleford entered his senior year in high school, his father inquired about his interest in college. The elder Shackleford had always hoped that Martin’s lackluster academic performance was simply due to a lack of interest. He believed that there would someday be a subject that would spark his interest and ignite a passion for learning, but that hadn’t happened so far. Martin was content to spend his time playing video games and playing with radio-controlled cars and airplanes. Dr. Shackleford had long ago given up on any thoughts of his son following his own career path in electronics engineering, certainly not at the caliber conducted at Sandia Laboratories. He acknowledged that Martin was not his genetic son and accepted him for all that he was. Martin was a conscientious and highly responsible young man; Parker Shackleford could not ask for more.
One day, as Parker and Martin were on a day hike along one of the many trails on the eastern slopes of the Sandia Mountains, Martin posed a question to his father. “Look, Dad, I know I will never be a world-class engineer like you and I hope that doesn’t disappoint you. I’ve been thinking about the kinds of things that interest me and what I want to do with my life. I know it kinda drives you crazy to see the amount of time I spend with video games and RC-models. But, I’ve been doing some reading and I want to get your thoughts on a possible path forward for me.”
“Certainly, Martin, you know you have my full support. Just promise me that you don’t want to start a rock ‘n roll band or something!”
“No problem, Dad, nothing that foolish. You’ve probably noticed that I spend most of my time with a variety of radio-controlled vehicles and some pretty large and complex ones. What you may not have noticed is that I’ve modified most of them to do some things they were probably not intended to do by the manufacturers. And, I’ve been able to take some of the more sophisticated video games and actually combine them with the RC vehicles. I have a real interest and, at least in my opinion, a genuine knack for the underlying technology.”
“I’m glad that you find these things interesting, Martin, but I seriously doubt that there is a way for you to make a career out of it, much less support yourself and certainly not a family.”
“I agree completely, Dad. But, I’m convinced that my skills could be developed with the right kind of training and I could get into the new field of unmanned aircraft. There are several companies right here in New Mexico that are developing unmanned aircraft for all sorts of commercial purposes. And, I would be willing to bet that the Air Force over at Kirkland has some work going on, either alone or in conjunction with local contractors. The timing is also in my favor. I could get in on the ground floor with the right company and make a career out of it.”
“Well, Son, you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought and I am proud of you for taking the initiative. How can I help?”
“Let me do some more research about where I can get the best training. Perhaps you could talk to some folks at The Labs and see if you could get a recommendation about which companies are working in this field. As I said, I would assume the Air Force has a program but I think I’d rather work for a private company; there would probably be a greater variety of applications, not just military.”
“Martin, that sounds like a great plan. I don’t know enough about these training programs, but it might be worthwhile for you to contact some of these private companies once we identify them. Since this is such a new field, there might be an opportunity for some sort of internship or apprentice program. It’s worth a shot.”
Dr. Parker Shackleford asked some his colleagues at Sandia Labs about the general field of unmanned aircraft and which companies were currently active in the field. He also inquired about certified training programs. Martin Shackleford spent quite a bit of his time searching the Internet for more information about companies and training programs. Within just a few short weeks, they had come up with a reasonable plan.
As a first step, Martin Shackleford contacted several companies to request information and was surprised when one company, Comanche Aeronautics, actually invited him to visit their offices. During the visit, a Supervisor asked Martin a series of in-depth questions to assess his knowledge of aeronautics and specifically about unmanned vehicles. Excitedly, Martin described his experiences with radio-controlled airplanes and how he had modified some to be controlled from his iPAD using code from a video game. The Supervisor continued to ask questions of an increasingly technical nature and Martin responded honestly when he didn’t know an answer. After about an hour, the Supervisor said, “Young man, you seem to have a genuine aptitude for this area. I’m sure you recognize that you are a bit deficient in some of the technical aspects, but you make up for that in your enthusiasm. If you have some more time this afternoon, I’d like to invite you to come with me to our fabrication facility to see a few of our actual production and prototype models.”
“That would be fantastic,” Martin responded eagerly. “I do have one question though. Why is the company named Comanche Aeronautics? Is it because the Comanches were brave warriors?”
“The Supervisor laughed. “Actually, it’s because our main fabrication facility is located on Comanche Boulevard, just off the Interstate. Do you need a ride or can I meet you there in about twenty minutes?”
Martin apologized and said he had his own car and was excited to tour the fabrication facility.
That evening after dinner, Martin asked his father if they could talk privately. “I want your opinion about something.”
“Certainly, Son; let’s go for a walk.”
“Dad, I really enjoyed my visit to Comanche Aeronautics today. They are doing some really interesting stuff. As I was leaving their fabrication facility, the Supervisor who showed me around asked me about my plans for the future and school and stuff. I told him I was still looking and hadn’t made any specific plans as yet. Then he asked me if I would consider joining Comanche as an Apprentice. They would require that I went to UNM for a year or two to take some basic courses in math and science. If my grades were good, they would cover my tuition costs. At the same time, I would begin a training program to learn about their business and specific technology. He said that I would start with pretty basic stuff and learn things from the ground up. Based on my performance, I would be able move on to more advanced tasks. What do you think? Should I accept their offer?”
“That all sounds pretty positive, Son, what do you think? Afterall, it’s your life and career, not mine.”
“I think it’s a great opportunity doing the things I love the most and a real chance to learn even more about it. But, I wanted to see what you thought.”
“Martin, I think you’ve answered your own question. I’ve always tried to encourage you to find your own path and you know better than me where your interests lie. You have my total support.”
“Thanks, Dad. I told them I would let them know in a few days, but I think I’ll go back over there tomorrow. I’m so excited. Let’s go back. I can’t wait to tell Mom and Fortuna.”
Martin didn’t mention it to his family that evening, but he was also eager to share the exciting news with his girlfriend Debbie Monroe. The opportunity with Comanche Aeronautics held the promise of stability for the two teens, allowing them to get married in the very near future.
Debbie had similar good news for Martin when they met the next morning for breakfast at Weck’s Restaurant. She had just landed a job as an assistant secretary with La Vida Aureo, an up-scale retirement community. With the potential of two incomes, they dreamed of buying a small house of their own and starting a family.
Over the next three years, things continued to progress positively for Martin Shackleford and Debbie Monroe. They worked hard and both progressed in their respective jobs. They met one evening after work for dinner and were eager to share exciting news. Martin had successfully completed his Apprenticeship with Comanche Aeronautics and was offered a full-time position as a Project Engineer with a substantial salary increase and a full benefits package. Debbie had demonstrated her secretarial and administrative skills and been offered the position of Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director at La Vida Aureo, a Mrs. Isabella Duncan. Martin and Debbie could hardly contain their happiness and each wanted the other to be first to share their good news. The next decision facing the young couple was which set of parents to tell first about their wedding plans!
Life was good for the young couple. Both sets of parents had contributed for a down payment for a small bungalow and some modest furnishings. As time went by, Martin and Debbie made repairs and redecorated the house to make it truly their own.
Debbie enjoyed her work and the people at La Vida Aureo. Her pleasant disposition and outgoing personality were quickly recognized and she became a favorite among the Residents. She worked hard to learn people’s name and greeted everyone with a smile. She really didn’t consider this a job in a conventional sense. She believed that she was part of something that was providing a positive living experience for older people.
Martin was equally pleased with his position at Comanche Aeronautics. The work was exciting and challenging; the people were highly competent and fun to work with. He felt as though he was learning more each day and was eager to go to work each morning. His projects involved not only the design of new unmanned vehicles, buy also developing more sophisticated control technologies.
He was pleased when his Supervisor asked him to work with a new trainee, a co-op student from a local high school. “He isn’t as far along as you were at this age, but we’d like to see if we can stimulate some interest in science and technology with some of these kids from tougher neighborhoods. We think that working along side someone closer in age would be less threatening. This young man’s name is Cruz Carabajal and I’ll bring him by your cubicle tomorrow morning, if that’s OK with you.”
“That would be great, Boss. I know just how fortunate I am and how supportive my adoptive parents have been. Our work is exciting and just might be the spark to help this young man make good choices about his future. You can count on me.”
Cruz Carabajal was a pleasant young man, a senior in high school. He expressed genuine enthusiasm for the work and Martin was eager to support him as much as possible. Much of work at Comanche Aeronautics was confidential and based on the company’s proprietary technology. Some of the projects were part of a military contract and, therefore, highly classified. Nonetheless, there were other projects that Martin was happy to share with Cruz as a means of encouraging him to further his formal education. Once Martin explained the different categories of projects, the issue was never raised again.
As the months went by, Cruz continued to show enthusiasm and initiative about the projects and his own personal development. When the two young men visited the fabrication facility, the engineers and technicians there referred to Cruz as Marty’s Shadow.
One afternoon, Debbie Monroe was sitting at her desk which was located adjacent to Isabella Duncan’s office. Her phone beeped from inside her purse, signaling an arriving text message. It was from Marty and simply said Come outside. It was time for her afternoon break and she walked out through the lobby and into the main courtyard.
Once outside, another message arrived: Walk toward the Navajo Willow tree.
As Debbie approached the majestic tree, she saw Matthew Dudley sitting there. It looked as though he was eating his lunch and reading; he did not seem to notice her approach. Another message: I can see you. Sit down and close your eyes. Debbie was a bit startled that she was being observed, but trusted Martin explicitly and obeyed, taking a spot next to Dudley.
Debbie waited with her eyes closed for what seemed like forever. Then she heard what sounded like a computer voice, OK, Now open your eyes. In front of her on the ground was something that resembled a small helicopter. She was surprised because she hadn’t heard any noise while she waited. As she looked more closely, attached to the underside of this helicopter was a bouquet of roses and a note.
The note said: I love you and was signed Marty. When Debbie looked up, the helicopter was gone, leaving just as silently as it came. She began to cry softly.
Dudley looked up from his reading to see Debbie sitting there. “Mrs. Shackleford, Debbie, is everything OK?”
“Oh, Mr. Dudley, I’m fine. In fact, I’m more than fine. Look at these beautiful flowers and the note from my husband.”
“They are beautiful, Debbie, but how did they get here? I know I was reading, but I didn’t see or hear anyone approach.”
“My Marty is so clever. He works at Comanche Aeronautics and is always bragging about how sophisticated his drones are and all the things they can do. I guess he used one of them to send me text messages to get my outside and then deliver these roses.”
“Well, I have heard a bit about these drone things, but don’t know much about what they can do.”
“Marty can’t discuss a lot of the stuff he does, but he has told me that the guys at his work also play all sorts of games with their drones as a way to relax and have some fun on their breaks.”
“It still seems pretty sophisticated to me. That drone he used didn’t make any noise at all.”
“And, he was watching me all the way from my desk out here to the tree and sending messages as I walked. I’d say that’s pretty clever. Anyway, I’m glad you were here to share this with me. I can let you in on more good news if you promise not to tell Mrs. Duncan, at least for a while.”
“You can trust me.”
I just found out this morning that I’m pregnant; Marty and I are going to have our first child. I plan to hand these roses to him at dinner tonight and give him my surprise!”
“I’m very happy for you, Debbie. I promise not to tell Isabella; I’ll leave that to you.”
With that, Debbie Shackleford returned to her desk. Matthew Dudley returned to his ToDo list for the day, still quite amazed by this drone technology and its capabilities.