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Meet: Jason Hill

Flight Simulator Technician
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

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Who I Am
I am one of the people who works "behind the scenes" to keep the research center functioning. As a sim tech, my job is to maintain two of NASA's flight simulators. Since these simulators are much more realistic than a typical PC game, they are also enormously complicated. Imagine a 747 flight station, with three big-screen projector systems outside the windows, wobbling around on six hydraulic cylinders, and controlled by a room full of computers! The end result is so realistic that it's easy to forget you're not actually flying! Normally a simulator like this is used to train airline pilots. Here at Ames, however, we use them to study "human factors," or how pilots behave in a given situation.

The bulk of my duties involves scheduled maintenance, tests and inspections to make sure everything is working properly. This includes a basic check flight every morning. That way, if something is broken or didn't start up properly, we can fix it before the experiment starts. I might also fine-tune the computer-generated window image or just wipe off some grease.

My Career Path
I started out my career in a slightly different field as an avionics technician in the U.S. Navy Reserves. I chose that field because it combined my interests in aircraft and electronics. After I attended the Navy school, I was able to transfer some of the course credits to a civilian college and later graduated with a degree in electronics technology. For awhile, I was attending reserve drills, working on simulators for another company, and taking the last few courses needed for the degree... all at the same time! Things got pretty hectic, but the reward was worth it. That electronics training was required for every job I ever took an interest in, and the classes were fun anyway.

What I Like About My Job
There are a lot of things to like about being a simulator technician. My favorite is learning how the systems work. Often, the same circuit or idea is used many times in different places, which suddenly makes the whole thing seem much less complicated. I also enjoy the variety of work to be done. In the same day I might lube the hydraulics, modify a logic circuit, replace a CRT, and build a tool rack for the workshop. Then, there is also the fact that the daily check-out of the simulators involves flying them around for awhile.

The only dislike I can think of is the strange hours. I have never met a simulator tech with hours even close to a normal 9-5 job. The reason for this is that most facilities need maintenance around the clock, so they have three shifts that cover the whole day. Right now I start work at 4:30 a.m., and leave at 1:00 p.m. The best schedule I have ever worked was 6:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

When I Was A Kid
As a child, my hobbies were predictable for someone in my career field. I built and flew model rockets and airplanes, was in the Aerospace Explorer Scouts, and explored BASIC programming and PC flight simulators on an Apple IIe.

If you are interested in pursuing a career like this, here are a few suggestions: First, try to specialize in what you enjoy but also keep your options open. College is essential, and military technical training can go a long way toward a civilian degree. Build a network of business contacts, because the best jobs often never make it to the classified ads. (Being in the Navy helped me here, again.) Always make the best of your situation. Good luck!

 
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