Interview #1 (2021)
Student Name: Ismail Hozain
Name of person interviewed: James Bauer
Profession: Welding Instructor
Location and business name: Bill J. Stein Center for Economic Development, Dallas, TX
Date of interview:10/20/21
I had been searching for a welder for about 1-2 months now and the reason it was so difficult to find somebody qualified was because very few welders are able to work on pressure vessels, and even fewer with experience with this type of tanks. It doesn’t typically make a difference but I wasn’t finding anybody anyways. I heard about James from an interview with him while he worked at Armadillo Aerospace. He had been the primary welder for them for years as they worked towards the goal of building a vertical takeoff and vertical landing rocket. This technology was later what Elon Musk and the team at SpaceX used to land the Falcon 9 Boosters.
I took my tanks down to James’ shop where he taught students how to weld and fabricate metal. He first showed me around the place and it was absolutely amazing. Right as we walked in there were massive ducted fume hoods and welding booths, welding machines everywhere. There were numerous lathes, one of which was nearly 15 feet long. There was a Haas VF-2 CNC mill and a CNC lathe. I was looking at probably millions of dollars in equipment in front of my eyes. They had a robotic welding arm and a lot of other machines. He took me through many of the machines, explained what some of them did, and then we started talking about the tanks. I showed him how the bulkheads came together, which ones got welded where and had them labeled for him so there is no chance for error. We then began talking about him and his time at armadillo. Armadillo was a small company, mainly three people who ran the show who were: John Carmack, Neil Milburn and Russel Blink. John Carmack is a famous figure, who was a video game designer who became very wealthy, amassing over $50M. He had a passion for rockets and definitely the wealth to pursue his passion, so he did. He brought Neil who was an engineer who taught AP Chemistry and Ap Physics at Plano West Senior High and who was the big brains designing rocket engines as well as serving as the lead safety range officer at Armadillo. Russell Blink was an electronics genius and John was a coding genius who wrote the software for landing the rocket. Pretty great team! They had this core team throughout the 90s through 2014 when the company filed for bankruptcy and John Carmack stepped away and the rest of Armadillo’s team formed into Exos Aerospace. They then decided to focus on making a reusable hypersonic vehicle named SARGE which is now under military contract for hypersonic research. Exos’ latest project is Jaguar, a CH4/O2 liquid fueled rocket engine which would power a two stage vehicle which would launch from a glider.
James and I spoke about the tanks and what he did, which at Armadillo was to weld their tanks, which were steel hemispheres welded together to hold propellant pressurized at over 1000psi. He’d weld them on a rotating table which he does not have access to at the moment but it’s still doable.
Speaking to James was something that really helped me a lot. He’s to date the only person who’s responded and been willing to weld the tanks.