photo of thomas eller

Professor, United States Air Force Academy (Retired)

B.S. Engineering Science 1961, USAF Academy
M.S. Aeronautics and Astronautics 1968, Purdue University
Ph.D. ASE 1974, The University of Texas at Austin

Prior to coming to The University of Texas at Austin to pursue his Ph.D., Tom Eller served for ten years as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force (USAF), including flying C-130s to 42 countries and Caribous (C7As) in Vietnam for a year, earning several combat medals. He taught astronautics and computer science at the Air Force Academy from January 1969 through June 1971. In the summer of 1971, Eller went to Florida to manage the math research for one of the systems on the new C-130E gunship in its test program at Eglin and Hurlburt AF Bases. In addition, he piloted test flights and tested the guns. (The gunship had a 20mm Gatlin Gun, two 40mm Bofors L/60 guns, and a 75mm Howitzer.)

Following his time at UT, Eller returned to the faculty at the Air Force Academy in January of 1974 to teach and perform research on Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites and receivers. He continued to teach at the Academy until he retired from the Air Force at the end of 1981.

Immediately following his time at UT in January 1974, Tom attended a meeting at the USAF Academy held by Colonel Brad Parkinson, head of a Joint Program Office in Los Angles, to procure a new satellite navigation system. Parkinson and his staff provided their thoughts on how to proceed. Periodically Eller said, “That won’t work,” calling upon his recent work at UT.

Later in the day Eller’s department head called him in and told him he and along with two other USAF Academy professors were being sent to Los Angeles for several months to serve on the original Source Selection Board for GPS. This led to years of continued work on GPS.

While at the USAF Academy, Eller taught thirty-nine semester-long courses to 1,072 students in the Astronautics and Computer Science department. He also served as Composite Group Air Officer Commanding (AOC) for soaring, free-fall parachuting, and Survival, Escape and Evasion. He then served as 2nd Group AOC (10 Squadrons, 1,000 cadets) for the next year. During the same timeframe he also flew an Aero Commander with the AFA jump team and instructed cadets for their initial pilot experience in the T-41. Eller retired as Professor and Head of the Astronautics and Computer Science Department.

Following retirement from the USAF, Eller worked for several defense corporations as a high- level manager where he managed a $100M start up for OmniPort developing a central system to interconnect the business ops for all telephone companies in the U.S. Other companies he worked with include the International Training and Education Company of Boston, Martin Marietta Aerospace, Kaman Sciences Corporation, Titan Information Systems, Titan Broadband of San Diego, Beechwood Data Systems, Cap Gemini of Paris, and Astro USA. LLC. In the latter, as owner, he provided services to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, ITT through Omitron Inc. on space- based surveillance systems and the USAF Space Surveillance Network of Radars and Electro-Optic telescopes. This contract involved oversight and maintenance of the Space Surveillance System and Missile Warning System in Cheyenne Mountain on a 7 x 24 schedule.

Eller thought he had retired for good in 2006. Then, in late 2007, the Academy Physics Department invited Eller to teach physics in place of active-duty professors who were deployed to Iraq. It had been over 50 years since he had taken physics, but the Physics department head responded, “It has not changed much.” So, Eller taught freshman and sophomore physics and the Physics of Combat Aviation, as a civilian professor, until May 2010 when he retired again, for the last time.

Apart from teaching duties at the Academy, Eller has served as President of the Air Force Academy Association of Graduates, President of the Academy Class of 1961 and on the National Fulbright Fellowship Selection Committee at the UN building in New York and in Houston, TX. He also served as a campus visitor for the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) at the Universities of Notre Dame, Michigan, Harvard, Tulsa, Pacific, Naval Post Graduate School, Stevens Institute, etc. His community involvement includes the longest currently serving Trustee of the Falcon Foundation, trustee of The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College and as an elder for his church.

Eller lives in Woodland Park, CO with his wife, Anne Lafitte Eller, who, while they lived in Austin, served as an organist at First Baptist Church. They enjoy being with their adult children, Julie, Elizabeth, Robert and spouses who live in Colorado Springs, Atlanta and Greenville, SC. They have four grandchildren, Barrett, Connor, Anna Katherine and Jeremiah. This August, they are anticipating becoming great-grandparents.