Meet: Jim Barnes
Senior System Safety Engineer,
NASA Ames Research Center
Who I Am
My job, as Senior System Safety Engineer at the NFAC, is to help the wind
tunnel operations staff get their test vehicles ready and help them run
the wind tunnel and get data without breaking the test vehicle, damaging
the wind tunnel or hurting anyone or the environment. I do this by performing
Hazards Analysis and Risk Assessment studies for the test crews.
Specifically for the Wright Flyer, I will visualize and document all
the plausible things that I think can go wrong and then make recommendations
on how we can prevent these things from going wrong. The Wright Flyer
is unique for a wind tunnel test because it is so fragile and promises
to be very flexible during testing. Its propeller drive system is also
very primitive and may easily fail during testing. It will be a challenge
to achieve our aerodynamic objectives without damaging the Wright Flyer.
My Career Path
Actually this is a second career for me and is based on my first career.
I am a retired U.S. Navy pilot with over 5,000 flying hours and over a
hundred carrier landings. For many years in the Navy I was an aircraft
accident investigator as well as a full-time pilot and flight instructor.
The challenge of an accident investigation has always been exciting to
me. Recreating the events that lead up to an accident and solving the
riddles and mysteries of what happened and why are very rewarding and
gratifying to me.
After leaving the Navy in 1984, I continued to work in the Safety field
and in 1990 had an opportunity to come to Ames and do System Safety work
in the NFAC wind tunnels. Now I have found that what I do here at the
NFAC is the same process as accident investigation but is done BEFORE
the accident instead of after. That's why I'm still doing what I love
Why I Like my Job
Working here is also great because of the great variety of projects that
I get to work on. While some are similar, most deal with new technologies
and new techniques in aviation that sometimes take years to be commonly
used. Being "in" at the beginning of these innovations is great. Also,
because of the variety, it is hard for things to get boring around here.
I also enjoy working with the people here at the NFAC; they are a really
great group of professionals. Sometimes there are budget constraints that
really slow us down, but these usually get worked out.
As A Child
I had a great interest in model aircraft and model boat building as a
child. I also was interested in electronics and ham radio. I still use
and operate a short wave set that I have owned since I was a senior in
high school. I'm sure that my interest in electronics was the reason I
majored in electrical engineering in college.
Obviously, studying math and science in high school and then majoring
in Engineering or Aerodynamics in college is a must. An extensive background
in aviation operations would also be necessary and becoming a military
pilot like I did is probably the most common way to achieve it. One thing
young folks should not leave out of their career planning studies is English
Composition and the advanced development of writing skills! Great achievements
in science, math or aviation safety are not worth much unless they can
be described properly and communicated effectively to the rest of the
I have an uncle who was a Navy pilot who influenced me greatly to pursue
a career in Naval Aviation. I also had a high school English teacher who
took a special interest in making sure I passed my English composition
course. My family has always been very supportive in my career decisions.
Sometimes there is a lot of risk and hard times involved with career decisions.
but if a person is too conservative, they probably won't get very far
in life. I believe that if you are not ambitious and aggressive in making
career choices, you may not get an opportunity to achieve something interesting
in your life.
Within the next five years, I plan to retire and devote much of my time
traveling with my wife and spending time with my grandson who is now seven
years old. I plan to continue to work as a consultant for NFAC test projects
on a part-time basis if possible.