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Article Archive

Changing technologies

Historic turnaround for aerospace & defense

Since early 2004 these industries have accounted for a full third of new manufacturing jobs

As retirement looms for baby boomers and places open up, diverse techies are at a premium

Resume Drop Box

Alcoa's Dr Jimmy Williams manages deployment of defense-related products.

Alcoa's Dr Jimmy Williams manages deployment of defense-related products.

Biomed engineer Anne Denning is a program manager at ITT Electronic Systems.

Biomed engineer Anne Denning is a program manager at ITT Electronic Systems.

Engineering opportunities in aerospace and defense are reaching historic levels, as employment rebounds from a fifty-year low. More jobs are opening up as baby-boomer techies approach retirement. And there's a shortage of new engineers, especially diverse ones, to fill the openings.

According to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA, www.aia-aerospace.org), aerospace and defense added nearly 31,000 jobs in 2005 for a total of 623,900. The U.S. aerospace industry recorded sales of $170 billion in 2005, a new record.

Continuing trend
Jana Denning, AIA R&D; director, thinks these figures are especially noteworthy because aerospace "saw a precipitous employment decline starting in the early 1990's, when there were 1.1 million workers in the sector." It hit a fifty-year low in February 2004, she says, but "Aerospace has accounted for one-third of all manufacturing jobs added nationwide since then.

"We expect this trend to continue through 2006 and beyond," Denning declares. "The industry is hitting its stride in terms of sales, growth, profits and other categories that feed directly into employment. We look for the statistics to continue the good news."

For example, Boeing Commercial Aircraft saw a record year in new airliner orders and "is humming with production," she says. This prosperity "trickles down to hundreds of suppliers on many different levels.

"The space and defense sectors were also strong in 2005, and we expect space to continue gains in 2006. There are questions about what will happen to defense as the administration addresses budget challenges, but we do not expect major cuts."

In sum, Denning anticipates "an excellent job market and worlds of opportunity" in aerospace and defense.

Dr Jimmy Williams: director of defense at Alcoa's tech center
Dr Jimmy Williams

Dr Jimmy Williams

In 2002 Dr Jimmy Williams left Boeing to work for Alcoa (Pittsburgh, PA), the aluminum giant. "My career at Boeing was absolutely great," he says, "but Alcoa gave me the opportunity to work not only in aerospace, but also the automotive, commercial transportation, packaging and industrial sectors."

As director of defense at Alcoa's technical center, Williams works across all of Alcoa's global businesses to manage deployment of new defense-related products. He focuses on developing strategic options to meet the needs of government and original equipment manufacturers, and he's accountable for the growth and continued development of the Alcoa market sector.

Before he took his current job he was Alcoa's director of development. He oversaw new and continuing product design and development, mechanical testing and scientific computing, as well as government marketing.

After Williams completed his BSME at Texas A&M; University in 1983, he went to work as an equipment and process engineer at aircraft-maker McDonnell Douglas (St. Louis, MO). While there, he earned an MBA at Lindenwood College (St. Charles, MO) and a 2001 PhD in engineering policy at Washington University (St. Louis, MO). McDonnell Douglas was acquired by Boeing in 1997.

For a time, Williams was senior manager of advanced manufacturing R&D; in Boeing's Phantom Works and military aircraft and missile systems. He was involved in a number of capacities with the F/A-18 aircraft, including consultant for strategic planning, deputy program manager for advanced materials and structures, and team lead for final assembly.

He also holds a patent for power-feed drilling, a technique that makes aircraft fastener holes, and has worked with the University of Sheffield, England to develop an advanced manufacturing park there. Williams was named Black Engineer of the Year in 2001.

By 2002, Williams was director of Boeing's advanced manufacturing R&D; organization. And then he moved on to Alcoa.

Today's engineers, Williams says, "need to understand where their solution fits in the bigger scheme of things. They need the ability to quickly understand and learn the dynamics of today's global working environment and be able to provide creative solutions.

"I absolutely enjoy the challenges of my job," he adds.

Micah Sakata: apps developer for Textron Systems
Micah Sakata

Micah Sakata

Micah Sakata is an applications developer for aerospace and defense contractor Textron Systems. He works with SAP, writing programs for the IT department in the company's Wilmington, MA HQ. "The software helps develop business for engineering, finance and all other facets of the company," Sakata says. He was hired for the job in 2001.

Many engineers working in aerospace and defense today started out in other industries. Sakata began his career in candy.

He earned his 1993 BS in civil and environmental engineering at Tufts University (Boston, MA). He had completed two summers of internships in Japan, translating documents and verifying structure designs. But when he graduated he looked for work locally.

He found a job at candy-maker Necco (Cambridge, MA) as a quality technician supervisor, and moved up to industrial engineer. "We analyzed processes and looked at the most efficient way of doing things," he says. He went on to application systems engineer, helping integrate into a new ERP system.

In 2001 Sakata changed jobs. He wanted to "grow and expand my knowledge of business and programming," so he went to work for Textron Systems as an applications developer. He took with him the soft skills he'd gained at Necco as well as basic engineering methodology from his college days.

"The skills I gained at Necco were the ability to work with different people," he says, and perhaps even more importantly, the ability to get to the heart of a problem. "At Necco I learned to ask the right questions," he notes.

Throughout his career, Sakata says, "I've been a sponge for new information. That is one of my biggest assets." He enjoys his Textron Systems job because he finds "a lot of creativity in programming and a beauty in code design." Besides, "I am part of something that matters on a national level," he declares.

Becky Fernandez manages software at EDO Corp
Becky Fernandez

Becky Fernandez

Becky Fernandez is software section manager at EDO Corp (Morgan Hill, CA), which specializes in signals intelligence, electronic warfare and other defense technology. She oversees six people working on products for the U.S. and other governments. One of her current projects is software support for a naval system.

"I'm a section manager but I also double as software lead on some projects," she notes. For example, she's traveled abroad twice for design reviews of the navy project.

Fernandez began her career in the U.S. Army. When she completed her BS in computer science at Washington University (St. Louis, MO) in 1978, she shipped out to Germany with the First Armored Division. She was a military intelligence officer working on electronic warfare, responsible for a platoon that did tactical voice intercept, communications jamming and electronic intelligence.

A few years later she moved to Fort Huachuca, AZ to head the Army Intelligence School's simulations systems management branch, running computer-based exercises and training military intelligence officers.

In the late 1980s Fernandez left the Army to be with her three young children. In 1990 she entered the University of Florida-Gainesville to catch up with software advances, and eighteen months later she joined the Watkins-Johnson Co (San Jose, CA) as a software engineer. She was a programmer working with electronic intelligence and microwave radar intercept gear for airplanes and ships.

A few years later the defense operations of the company were purchased by Condor Systems, a supplier of electronic warfare gear. In 1997 Fernandez got her section manager job, and in 2002 her part of Condor was acquired by EDO Corp.

Writing is an important part of the job. "Software engineers don't like to write, they like to code," she says. "But writing broadens the type of tasks you can be assigned and makes you much more attractive to an employer.

"You have to be able to get your ideas across to others and collaborate. Your code has to interface with someone else's code so you have to be able to document your design."

Cyprians Colbert: software at General Dynamics C4
Cyprians "Cyp" Colbert

Cyprians "Cyp" Colbert

Cyprians "Cyp" Colbert is a senior software engineer at General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ), an integrator of secure communication and information technology. He's responsible for flight software development, budgets and scheduling for projects related to a commercial remote-sensing satellite project.

Colbert uses the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) method of software development in his work. CMMI is a tool used to integrate a variety of organizational functions, set process improvement goals and help achieve them. "It's a very strict and complex methodology, and we have achieved level 5 maturity, the optimum level," he says proudly.

CMMI helps him meet his tech and system goals on each project. "The space-based systems we work on are complex and every detail counts. CMMI helps us add quality and value to our customers' programs."

Colbert attended Georgetown University (Washington, DC) for two years, then completed his BSCS at Wheeling Jesuit University (Wheeling, WV) in 1984. He went to work at Planning Research Corp (McLean, VA) as associate software engineer, helping to develop software for U.S. Navy battlefield management systems.

In 1985 he moved to Lockheed Martin (Sunnyvale, CA). "I was looking for a warmer climate," he says with a smile. In addition to the pleasant weather, he was introduced to space programs, doing R&D; on satellite ground control software.

In 1993 Colbert and six colleagues launched Kinetex (Tempe, AZ), an engineering support company with a number of technology clients. Five years later he helped form another company, Command Control Communications and Information Operations (C3IO), also in Arizona, which did work for Lockheed Martin.

In 2001 Colbert joined General Dynamics. "I was looking for an opportunity to do new, creative things," he says. "After five years, I'm still developing new and better software for satellite systems."

Morgan Beck: radar and sonar at CAE
Morgan Beck

Morgan Beck

Morgan Beck is a sensor systems engineer at CAE USA (Tampa, FL), a civil and defense contractor that does simulation and modeling. When she received her BS in computer engineering from the University of South Florida in 2003, she had already worked at CAE for eighteen months.

As an intern she wrote software code and handled configuration management. "It gave me exposure to the people and environment there," she says, and she liked what she saw.

She went on to a fulltime job at CAE as a tactical systems engineer, beginning with software systems for radar simulation and moving to sonar simulation. She's worked on an APN-241 radar system for the C-130J airplane, and she's currently involved with an AQS-20A sonar simulation for the Navy's MH-60S helicopter.

"We work with very complicated systems," Beck says. "Everything has to be real-time."

She continues to love her work. "You have to keep a positive attitude and attack each project full force," she declares.

Rich Singley manages hardware for Smiths Aerospace
Rich Singley

Rich Singley

Rich Singley is manager of the hardware department at Smiths Aerospace (Germantown, MD). He's reached the point in his career when his judgment is more valuable than his technical skills, he reports with a smile.

Singley is responsible for all hardware, including building, testing and making sure the product works reliably. He also oversees new technologies.

"They pay me less for technical skills than for my judgment," he explains. "I am responsible for looking at all the pieces and making solutions happen."

He earned his 1977 BSEE at Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA) and went to work at Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group (Baltimore, MD). He had done some avionics testing as a co-op in college; he continued on that path at Westinghouse as an associate engineer testing aircraft equipment.

Four years later he moved to Fairchild Defense, which is now Smiths Aerospace. He came in as a senior engineer. "I was interested in electronics in general," he says.

The Cold War was on and defense and avionics were major focuses. As a design engineer Singley was involved in the design and testing of hardware for the armament system of the Navy's F14 Tomcat. It was a seven-year project.

After that he managed an engineering group involved in all facets of avionics and aerospace. "When I became a manager other skills kicked in, not just technical competence," he says.

"I've been in management since 1991 and it takes a lot of other skills to survive and sustain a level of efficiency. I had a wide range of experience and I'm comfortable in a wide variety of environments."

When he's hiring, Singley looks for techies "who are passionate and love what they're doing." Success, he believes, is all about professionalism and integrity.

Soon Yi: staff principal engineer at ARINC
Soon Yi

Soon Yi

Soon Yi works at ARINC (formerly Aeronautical Radio Inc, Annapolis, MD), which provides engineering services rather than specific products. As a staff principal engineer, "I deal with systems-level aspects of satellites, ground control and user segments. My main role is to oversee system interface of the three segments," Yi says.

Yi received his BSEE from the University of California-Berkeley in 1984. He went to work as a staff engineer at Rockwell International's missile systems division, part of the application logistics group in Anaheim, CA. He was supporting the Peacekeeper missile navigation system, among other duties.

After a few months Northrop offered him a job as a reliability engineer with its circuit analysis group in El Segundo, CA. "At that time I had no real idea of what a reliability engineer was," he says, but he took the job because circuit analysis was a subject he'd enjoyed at school.

By 1988 Northrop's El Segundo reliability group was phasing out. Some of Yi's colleagues had moved to ARINC and urged him to join them.

He became a senior engineer in the systems effectiveness group, providing engineering expertise to the U.S. Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center in El Segundo. He dealt with the engineering aspects of procurement, management, sustainability and maintenance of GPS satellites and receivers.

In 1997 he completed an MSEE at the University of Southern California-Los Angeles. After he finished the degree he became a systems engineer, and finally a staff principal engineer.

Before joining ARINC, he notes, "I didn't know anything about engineering services. But I came in with big interest and an open mind.

"Whatever the task may be, I always try to do it with technical integrity."

Anne Denning is a program manager at ITT Electronic Systems
Anne Denning

Anne Denning

Anne Denning, a program manager at ITT Electronic Systems (Clifton, NJ), earned her 1982 BS in biomedical engineering at the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC). She couldn't find a suitable job in biomed, but her EE and programming skills won her a junior engineer post at the Kearfott division of Singer Co (Little Falls, NJ), now part of BAE Systems. She worked on design and integration of military communication systems.

In 1985 she joined ITT (Clifton, NJ) as an engineer for advanced systems and special programs, then moved up to senior engineer. At Singer her work had been mainly in software and integration; now she was on the systems side.

In 1993 she tried a systems engineer job at Lockheed Martin Astro (Princeton, NJ), but returned to ITT after a few years.

This time she was in the aerospace communications division. She began with the single-channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS), and became a senior staff engineer working on advanced ad hoc networking radio systems designed to consolidate communications systems for all branches of the military.

In 2004 she was promoted to her program manager job at ITT Electronic Systems. Her work involves overseeing customer relations and product development, manufacturing, costs and scheduling. Some 160 people work on the programs she manages.

Dr J. S. Hurley, Sr helps Boeing manage systems
Dr J. S. Hurley

Dr J. S. Hurley

"I'm having the time of my life at Boeing," says Dr J. S. Hurley, Sr. He is a senior manager of distributed software and systems integration in Boeing's advanced math and computing technology organization.

Hurley joined Boeing in 2003. He started as senior manager of the distributed systems integration group, doing research in high-performance computing. "Our responsibility was to get an identity for new computer technology for Boeing," he says.

The eventual goal is to have one common computing platform. But with the many different applications now in use at Boeing, Hurley notes, that goal is still many interesting years away.

Hurley earned his BS in physics in 1976 and a masters in physics in 1980, both at Florida State University. He worked as a research assistant at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) and as a research scientist for high-performance computing at Westinghouse (Pittsburgh, PA).

"While I was teaching at Carnegie Mellon I saw more opportunities in EE," Hurley says, so he moved to Howard University (Washington, DC), where he earned a PhD in EE. He went on to associate professor and co-chair of the applied math department at Hampton University (Hampton, VA).

In 1992 Hurley left the academic world for a job with the applied materials science group at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He "wanted to get a sense of the real world," he says, so he became a research scientist looking at microelectronic devices.

"The major problems were performance issues. They wanted longer-lasting devices," Hurley recalls. "We looked closely at high-temperature superconductors and current and voltage relationships."

Two years later he joined Clark Atlanta University (Atlanta, GA), where he was co-chair of the engineering program and associate professor of EE. "It was interesting," he says. "We were creating a new program."

As a teacher, Hurley says, "I always made sure we had a strong relationship with industry." Now, on Boeing's behalf, Hurley is reaching out "to make sure universities are teaching what's current and relevant."

Attracting diversity
Diversity is still a challenge, Aerospace Industries Association statistics tell us. Women and minorities are still underrepresented in the aerospace workforce.

But AIA is working on strategies to reverse that trend, reports R&D; director Jana Denning. "An industry that needs the best and brightest minds cannot handcuff itself by failing to attract such large segments of the population."


Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer who lives in La Conner, WA.

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