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Meet: Joe Sacco

Test Engineer

Who I am
I am a Test Engineer involved in Aeronautical Systems Testing. Currently, I am a Wind Tunnel Facility Manager. I make sure the wind tunnels are working well for any testing and schedule maintenance to avoid test delays. I also make sure the tests go as planned. The tests can be simple ones where wind blows over models with no moving parts or more complex tests that involve helicopter rotors and jet engines.

My Background
As a child, I enjoyed creative projects where I could learn about building things. I liked working with my hands and trying to understand the different forces at work in nature. I have always been interested in anything that flies; birds, airplanes, or rockets. So, I started building model airplanes at an early age. If I couldn't get my hands on enough money to buy a model kit, I would build it from scratch. I began going to the library to read books about flight and building model airplanes so I could make mine fly better. I loved "how to..." books, and books on the history of experimental airplanes and the Space Program. I also enjoyed science fiction because it got me thinking about what the future might hold. This helped me to visualize goals to work toward.

In my middle school and high school years, I kept up these interests by taking math and science courses. In college I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

My Career
Someone once told to me that a career path was "anything you do to earn a living." So from that perspective, my career path started by finding jobs and saving money in high school. I continued to work my way through college while maintaining good grades.

After graduation, I got a job working for Rockwell, where I learned about the different aircraft systems: the jet's fuel system, electrical power system, hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Later I worked for Lockheed, where I learned about wind tunnel testing. Wind tunnel testing involves placing a model aircraft in a stream of air and measuring the forces that act on it as it flies. I have enjoyed conducting tests at different wind tunnel facilities all around the country. Now, I am working for NASA at the world's largest wind tunnel complex.

Likes/ Dislikes about Career
I enjoy engineering work, test engineering work specifically. A customer will bring in an aircraft design and I will work with other engineers to design and build a model to test in the wind tunnel. I use my creativity to solve problems and develop different methods of gathering data for customers. They use our test data to refine their original design in order to improve its flight characteristics or make it safer or quieter. Test Engineering is a challenging process that also requires good communication skills. It's important to understand what a customer needs as well as be able to the explain what services you can provide. Test Engineering requires practical, creative problem-solving skills to balance a project's schedule, budget and technical goals.

No matter what career you go into there are always certain tasks that you have to do that you don't enjoy doing. I spend a lot of time on administrative matters. This takes time away from the engineering work I enjoy, but it's important work. The administrative tasks must be completed so the right people and the right amount of money will be available for each test.

Advice
The basic advice I would share with young people interested in aeronautics is to explore and let your imagination go wild. Study everything that flies. Hunt down the answers to whatever you don't understand. If you don't understand what you read, don't get frustrated, just keep reading more and eventually you'll figure it out. Try to understand how things work, and how you would make them work better. You can learn a lot from observing nature, so keep your eye on insects, birds, and fish. Explore different ways to measure things in lab classes and test them out. One professor told me, "Do the math. You've got to learn the math."

Influences

My parents were a big help on the path to this career. They gave me the freedom to be creative and to make whatever I wanted to. And they encouraged me to study whatever interested me. My dad once said, "Nothing you learn is ever wasted," and that's very true. No matter how unrelated it may seem, sooner or later, you will draw upon that experience. Nature was also a big influence on me. I loved watching hawks soar, humming birds hover, and fish swim. Very few man-made things can match their grace and beauty.

My professors were another influence. My second grade science instructor gave me puzzles and taught me how to approach problem solving. My High School physics, math, chemistry, and electronics teacher really helped me understand how different subjects related to each other. One of my college professors was particularly good at motivating me and taught me the importance of helping others. Another aerodynamics professor at Cal Poly inspired me. He loved what he did so much his eyes would light up whenever he talked about it. And that is what I've always strived for, to earn a living while doing what I enjoy. And I'm always inspired by the people I work with. They are constantly challenging me and helping me grow.

Personal Information
I am continually learning. There are lots of things to explore, lots of different areas that interest me. From aeronautical engineering to space travel to life underwater. I do a lot of scuba diving. Computer engineering also interests me. How do I see myself in the future? Constantly learning and helping others. I hope you will also create a life for yourself that is full of learning and adventure.

 
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