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Meet: Gavin Botha

Aerospace Engineer

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Who I Am
I am an Aerospace Engineer for the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, where I serve as a Test Manager, testing full size aircaft in two of the world's largest wind tunnels. As Test Manager I am responsible for preparing existing aircraft, or specially built wind tunnel models, to be mounted inside the wind tunnel.

I then supervise the testing and experimentation part of the program. Six huge wind tunnel fans are used to blow air over the model and simulate actual flying conditions.

Hundreds of instruments on the models record all kinds of information, which we use to learn more about the aerodynamics and flight qualities of each model. We test all types of aircraft and helicopters, and have even tested parachutes, jet engines, and a real semi tractor trailer rig. The information we learn form the wind tunnel tests is used to design better, safer, more efficient vehicles that we all enjoy. Some of the more exciting tests include a Navy Blue Angels F-18 Fighter aircraft, and a model of the Space Shuttle

My Career Path
From an early age I was interested in model airplanes, and enjoyed building and flying these creations. I have always been fascinated with flying, and wanted to know more about the forces of nature that allowed things to stay up in the sky without crashing to the ground. It seemed only natural for me to study more about aerodynamics and follow a career in Aerospace Engineering.

Since I enjoy experimenting, and get pleasure from designing, creating, and working with actual aircraft, I decided that wind tunnel testing would be an excellent career. During my college days I spent a lot of time in the college wind tunnels, testing and learning various skills that would help me find a job as a Test Manager.

What I Like About My Job
The positive aspects of my career far out-weigh the negatives. I am lucky enough to work with some of the "latest and greatest" aircraft in the United States. It is also very rewarding to gather information that will be used to improve existing aircraft and helicopters, and pioneer new technology for future designs.

I enjoy leading a team of people towards a common goal, and it is very satisfying when you succeed in meeting those goals. The job can however become stressful and tiring when things are not going well. It is important for a Test Manager to keep to a rigid schedule, which often means working long hours to catch up when things don't go as planned. Working long hours and late shifts happen occasionally, even though we try our best to prevent that from happening.

As a child
As a child I enjoyed building and flying model airplanes. First just little balsa hand launch gliders, and then radio controlled model airplanes. From these early stages I began to learn about flight. As I became more serious in my hobby, entering competitions and races, I realized that I needed to know more about aerodynamics, so that I could design and build better aircraft, which would give me an advantage over my competitors. Being very competitive, I always wanted to have the best design, which kept me experimenting and learning the hard way.

Advice
Any young person interested in flying and designing aircraft as a career could begin learning the basics of flight, by experimenting with little models, and reading about the basics. If you are really fascinated with airplanes, helicopters, or spacecraft, and think that you would enjoy a career in the Aerospace field, and you will probably enjoy a hobby in that field.

The Aerospace industry offers lots of variations on jobs, including jet engine engineers, rocket engineers, spacecraft engineers, as well as test engineers, aircraft design engineers, and research engineers who study all of the experimental data, and transfer it into useable knowledge. If any of these jobs interest you then try and get involved somehow and see if your interest grows.

Early Influences
My father was definitely the strongest influence in pursuing my career. It was my father that introduced me to model airplanes, and who helped, and taught me how to fly radio controlled models. I have always enjoyed sharing my hobby with my father.

Future Plans
I enjoy my existing career, and would like to continue along the same path. In the future I would like to become a Program Manager, which is the next step above Test Manager. Program Managers manage the entire test program, and actually make decisions regarding how the program should be run.

Personal After 20 years of flying radio controlled models, I still am actively involved with designing, building, and flying radio controlled gliders. I enjoy the challenge of trying to keep the glider in the air as long as possible without an engine. Recently I have introduced my 8 year old son to glider flying, which he really enjoys, and is already quite good. My competitive nature has followed through even in glider flying. I compete in a specific type of glider contest that involves duration flying, distance flying, and speed flying. Each year I compete to become a member on the US glider team, and hope someday I will be good enough to make the team and represent the US in international competition.

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