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Meet: Jeff Berton

photo of Jeff Berton and children

Aerospace Engineer
Propulsion Systems Analysis Office
NASA Glenn Research Center

"Attending a small community college is a terrific way to save money, and
to avoid the huge class sizes typical of the first two years at large universities"

My Job
I work in the Propulsion Systems Analysis Office at NASA's Glenn Research Center. Our group's primary function is to make analytical performance predictions of aircraft and aircraft engines. We also analytically predict aircraft system noise levels, exhaust emissions, and aircraft safety and economic characteristics. Our group also develops and uses computer-based analytical methods that predict the performance of jet engines and aircraft. Most of our work is theoretical and analytical—our group is not usually directly involved in any of the laboratory testing or facilities typically found elsewhere here at Glenn.

Much of the work we do is to provide strategic guidance to various NASA aeronautics projects. For example, our group's engine and aircraft performance predictions guided the engine cycle design for NASA's High Speed Research Program. Unfortunately now cancelled, that program would have resulted in a 300-passenger Boeing commercial airliner with a cruising speed of Mach 2.4. We are currently providing similar programmatic guidance for NASA's Ultra-Efficient Engine Technology Program. Our analytical trade studies are identifying which technologies have the highest payoff for the next generation of jet engines.

Personally, I am one of the jacks-of-all-trades here (and master of none!). I make thermodynamic engine performance predictions using our in-house cycle analysis codes. I also analytically "fly" aircraft and make performance predictions for them. The area in which I've probably had the most impact, however, is in aircraft acoustics. I develop and use semi-empirical aircraft noise models and analytically predict the noise levels heard by observers on the ground. One recent accomplishment was my work in predicting the noise reduction benefits of swept fan stators, which now can be found on Pratt & Whitney's new PW6000 jet engine. Another recent accomplishment was my prediction of the noise levels for a new generation of small, jet-propelled, general aviation aircraft. With my certification noise predictions indicating that these small aircraft will be extraordinarily quiet, I had a personal impact on the go-ahead product launch decision of the upcoming Williams/Eclipse 500 airplane.Often, engineers may tell you that they never use anything they've learned in college in their actual day-to-day jobs. That opposite is true for me. Not a day goes by where I don't use the things I learned in school!

My Career Journey
I suppose that to write this is almost cliché of most engineers my age, but the Apollo moon landings captured my dreams. The moon landings were the most amazing and inspiring feats ever, bar none. I was eight years old in 1969, watching from the middle-of-nowhere, Illinois, when Armstrong took that first "small step." Since then, I knew I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. I studied and worked hard throughout high school so that I would have grades good enough to be accepted into a decent engineering college. With my parents' blessings, I set my sights on attending the University of Illinois, which is in my home state and has a good engineering curriculum.

After high school, I enrolled at a small community college near my home where the engineering program there mimicked the first two years of instruction at the University of Illinois. Attending a small community college, by the way, is a terrific way to save money and to avoid the huge class sizes typical of the first two years at large universities. In my case, the inexpensive tuition there was very appealing as well. At what was then only $3 per credit hour, community colleges are a real bargain. I worked a job as a laborer in a sand mining company near my home each summer to help with the bills, and part time at the local Kmart when school was in session. One of the biggest reasons that I didn't go straight to Illinois after high school, however, was because I wanted to run track for two more years. And with my modest 21-foot long jump, I knew I would never make the team at Illinois!

During my junior year at Illinois, I majored in Aeronautical Engineering and spent two summers as a student intern at (what was then) McDonnell Douglas in St Louis. Being an intern or a co-op, by the way, is a great way to get real-world engineering experience and it's a great entry on your résumé. It also helps a little with your finances. My paychecks, lots of student loans, frugal living, and especially (especially!) my parents' generosity were enough to get me my undergraduate degree. After graduating, I decided I was having too much fun in college and I enrolled in Illinois' graduate school. Seriously, I knew that landing that "dream engineering job" would most likely require at least a master's degree. I switched allegiances and joined the Mechanical Engineering department, which at that time had a greater variety of assistantships, programs, and funding. I became a teaching assistant and taught two semesters of undergraduate classes. Afterwards, I became a research assistant, secured a National Science Foundation grant, and worked on my master's thesis research.

Assistantships are a great way to get experience in graduate school. It was typical to get tuition waivers with them so I could go to school for "free," and I found that (with enough roommates) I could actually live on my salary! My master's research was to build and conduct experiments in the world's only cryogenic heat transfer wind tunnel. One "cool" incident was the time I went inside the tunnel while it was at minus 300°F to retrieve a screwdriver! My research there was published in the Journal of Heat Transfer. After graduation, I interviewed for, and landed, a job at NASA's Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center here in Cleveland, Ohio in 1987. I have been here in the Propulsion Systems Analysis Office ever since.

Career Likes/Dislikes
I love the variety of aircraft and the variety of engineering that goes into designing them! I think aircraft are the most multidisciplinary of all human creations. Virtually every kind of engineering science is required to design and build a modern aircraft: aerodynamics, thermodynamics, structural mechanics, combustion science, materials science, control systems, software, avionics—you name it, they are all needed. No matter what kind of scientist or engineer you are, there can be a place for you in aeronautics.

Do you want a high-paying job? Study law. Do you want a job that is not only interesting, challenging, and inspiring, but one that can lead to tangible new products and technologies that you can see, touch, and feel? Aerospace is an infinitely more interesting vocation, ever changing, and on technology's leading edge. It is a field where your imagination can soar.

Career Ambitions
I want to be an old dog that can learn new tricks.

Personal Information
In 1989, I married my next-door-neighbor from my first Cleveland-area apartment building. We currently live in a house in a southern Cleveland suburb, have two great kids, a mortgage, bad plumbing, and have, to quote Zorba the Greek, "the whole catastrophe." My 10-year old son (as of this writing in 2001) is a budding artist and a good ball player who has just found his pitching motion. I am privileged to coach his baseball team. My 6-year old daughter dances and has me wrapped around her little finger and I wouldn't have it any other way. I enjoy backpacking, motorcycling on my hog, and the occasional drag race in my Z28 at the local quarter mile track!


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