By Hannah Lupas
For the Observer
The nation’s leader in progressing aerospace technology is located in Lee County.
Opelika residents Drs. Michael and Katherine Greene are the CEO and CFO of Archangel Systems: an avionics technology development company. This PhD- wielding, married dynamic duo has managed Archangel together for 20 years now, witnessing turbulent times and prosperous ones.
“I started the company for the worst possible reason,” Michael said, “because I was a pilot and wanted something better for planes.”
This “worst possible reason” can only be seen as such by a man who has dedicated his professional life to the pursuit of avionics development and engineering. After receiving his doctorate in electrical engineering from Rice University, Greene went on to work for Auburn University’s department of electrical and computer engineering for 20 years.
A pilot for more than 30 years, Michael said his ambition to pursue aviation was a lifelong passion.
“When he was a boy, there was ‘Sky King,’” Katherine said, referring to the popular 1950s television series about a pilot cowboy who flew his two-engine monoplane across the Texas skyline. “I think that influenced every boy of his generation.”
Though Michael is credited with founding Archangel in 1992, Katherine has no shortage of intellectual pursuits. Holding a doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Alabama, she worked for Auburn in the psychology and education departments before moving to Archangel fulltime. The current president and CFO of the company, Katherine had no previous accounting experience before managing Archangel’s finances.
“What you do is you make a lot of mistakes,” she explained, “but you never make them more than once. So you get to go on and make new ones. Any small business has to have people who are experts in a lot of different areas. You just have to keep pushing until you do it.”
Despite all the hard-earned accounting experience, Katherine confessed that she sometimes misses the classroom.
Michael’s attitude was a little more resolute. “I taught for 30 years. I was ready to retire,” he confessed with a laugh.
The Greenes and their multifaceted team of engineers, marketers, and production associates has been hard at work developing some of their most ground-breaking accomplishments to date.
“Our most recent project was one from the U.S. Air Force, and it might be my favorite,” Michael said. “We had a prototype ready for them in eight weeks…that turnaround is unheard of.”
The average amount of time a larger company might take to complete a similar project, the development of cabin altitude monitor that detects problems in air pressure before it becomes evident to the pilot, Greene explained, would take about a year.
“It was fun working with the Air Force pilots,” Greene said. “They’re fun guys.”
“What’s so funny about them,” Katherine cut in, “is that they all have pilot nicknames, like ‘Astro’ and ‘Worldbook.’ They’re like the Top Gun guys.”
The Air Force pilots visited Archangel to view the production of their cabin altitude monitors.
“But all they cared about was how they looked,” Michael said. “They were more concerned with their human element, their aesthetic.”
On top of landing this monumental deal with the Air Force, Archangel Systems can boast of numerous accolades in the industry, including a project from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that had them competing against major corporations like Boeing and The National Institute of Technology.
“[Archangel] was the only group that demonstrated a working product at the end of the time given,” Michael said.
But when asked what Archangel Systems’ greatest accomplishment is, the Greenes gave a humble reply:
“Survival,” Michael Greene said. “In 2001, the bottom fell out of the aviation industry, and we almost fell out with it.”
Archangel clearly learned to adapt, taking each challenge in stride, only advancing as a company and as a community with each passing year.
“Larger companies have a lot more funds to develop [products] than we do,” Katherine said, “but we try to be very cost conscious. We have a really great staff here who works very hard. You don’t get lost in the bureaucracy like you do in big companies. Our biggest success has been…figuring out how to work with all these different agencies. Each client is different. It’s always a challenge.”
The Greenes have made strides in the aviation community, but have also been hard at work contributing to the Opelika community where they reside. The couple has been renovating the former Smith T home (originally built in 1905 by John Smith T) for as long as they’ve lived there.
“We’ve spent 35 years renovating it,” Katherine explained.
Located in Opelika’s historic district , the refurbished home has been returned to its original, southern-classic, open concept glory, with high windows, deep red brick, and an additional free-standing garden room in the backyard. The Greenes are passionate about historic preservation, so it is no surprise the pair took to such a lofty, but well-done project.
Though rooted in historic Opelika, Archangel Systems is located next door in Auburn. The modest office is decorated by local artwork, all chosen by Katherine. Two friendly golden retrievers roam the halls and work rooms, casually wagging past software and hardware production machines (some worth more than $125,000 each.)
Though world-changing technologies pass through its doors each day, Archangel Systems holds a quiet elegance and professionalism that is bound to carry them even further.