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Meet: Bob Griffiths

Bob celebrating at the top of Mt. Adams (12,000+ ft) Bob,kneeling in front with sunglasses, and friends on the rim of Mt. Saint Helens

Aerodynamics Engineer, Boeing

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Who I Am
I am an aerodynamics research engineer, working on the High Speed Civil Transport program under the HSR contract. I've been here for 4 years (wow). I use the computer to design new flaps and wings for airplanes. My research is about how airplanes fly at low speeds, like when they are landing and taking off. Some of the computer programs I use are not very complicated but some of them are very complicated and it takes a whole day to generate one data point even using very big, very fast computers like the Crays at NASA Ames Research Center.

When my computer programs have helped me to generate a new design, I send the design to the model builders who build the model pieces. Then we test the new model in wind tunnels and gain more information about how the new flaps and wings work when landing and taking off. Based on the data from the last high-speed civil transport test, I redesigned some of the parts which we will be testing this time in the wind tunnel. We work together with the high-speed researchers who design the wings for cruising at high speed. We also work with the noise researchers to minimize the noise impact of the planes.

My Career Path
One of the first things I can remember was watching the Apollo moon landings. I was only 4 or 5 at the time but I knew then that I wanted to be involved in airplanes and space. Unfortunately, my vision did not meet the old requirements for astronauts so instead of becoming a pilot I chose to become an engineer. My Dad was in the Military. I loved to go on base & watch airplanes every chance I got.

I went to Texas A&M University, where I got two degrees: one in liberal arts and one in aerospace engineering. While earning my aero degree, I was lucky enough to land a full-time job working for my advisor, Dr. Ken Korkan. I kept this job all four years as an undergrad (they even paid me!). Dr. Korkan's research dealt with understanding aircraft noise as well as predicting ice buildup on aircraft control surfaces. I spent a great deal of time programming as well as getting my hands dirty building models to test in our university wind and water tunnels. I learned a great deal from these hands-on experiences. After finishing my B.S. degree, I started to work on a graduate degree funded by a NASA grant. Unfortunately, the grant was cancelled, but luckily Boeing hired me; someone had read one of my papers and decided to take a chance on me.

At Boeing I started working as a noise engineer. I was using computer programs followed by wind tunnel testing to try to better understand airplane noise. The better we understand airplane noise the better the chances of us figuring out a way to make airplanes quieter. This work was funded under the Boeing Large Airplane Development program. Although this program was cancelled in 1995, Boeing continues to support research and development. Last year, Boeing spent over a billion dollars of its own money on R&D work.

Why I Like My Job
I am doing what I want to do, both practical stuff and computer stuff. I am working with the smartest people in the world when it comes to aeronautics so I am learning all the time. I also get the chance to apply my skills towards unique challenges, like applying aerodynamics underwater (hydrodynamics). For example, I am currently working on one of the America's Cup design teams called AmericaOne (http://www.ac2000.org), helping to make a fast and efficient boat so we can win back the America's Cup from New Zealand! You can check out the teams progress on our website, www.ac2000.org. The one downside about working in aerospace is all the uncertainty. For example, in the seven years I've been at Boeing we've gone through at least three cycles of layoffs.

When I was a Child
I loved going on base where I got to see lots of airplanes and meet the pilots and mechanics. I read a lot of books about airplanes. I was also involved in scouting. I went all the way to Eagle Scout. I also used to tear things apart to see how they worked.

Early Influences
As a high school student, I had a very good math teacher and a very special English teacher. They were very helpful to me and gave me good advice.

I would advise students to really get to know your advisor in college. I would urge students to be open to other subjects. I feel my venture into Liberal Arts was a selling point when applying for the position at Boeing. Communication is a very important skill in engineering; unfortunately this is not typically stressed in college engineering curriculums. Talk to people who you think have interesting jobs. Pursue your passion!

My Future Plans
I would like to have Dan Goldin's job. He is the chief administrator of NASA and gets to present the final budget for space and aeronautics research, to the United States Congress. If that doesn't happen, I'd like to start my own business someday. The High Speed Civil Transport program is going away. I will be looking for a new job at Boeing after this research ends.

I have been married to my wife for ten years. She used to teach 3rd grade, but now is a mental health counselor. She's from Texas too. We have a cat and a new house. I love Seattle and all the outdoorsy things you can do around here (like climbing mountains & snow skiing - no snow in South Texas). I volunteer some time by providing computer assistance to a local non-profit 24 hour Alcohol Help Line. I'm also involved with one of the America's Cup teams, AmericaOne.


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