Meet Michael Wright
Instrument Engineer, Wind Tunnel Systems
Who I Am and What I Do
I am an Instrument Engineer, a licensed Electrical Engineer, and my background is in electronic engineering. I'm responsible for the devices that measure forces, pressures, positions, and other physical properties of an aircraft model in the wind tunnel. Wright Flyer is the aircraft model to be tested inside the 40X80 Wind Tunnel. Many different kinds of transducers, or sensors, are used for wind tunnel measurements. I am also responsible for the interfacing transducers to the data acquisition system that is the computer that collects and stores the measurements.
One of the main sensors to be used for the 1903 Wright Flyer wind tunnel test is called a balance. This sensor is a combined group of force measurement sensors (strain gages) that sense lift, drag, side, and roll moment on the flyer. These kinds of forces are outlined in diagrams that show the aerodynamic forces on aircraft.
We also use pressure transducers to measure the air pressures in the tunnel, or use pressure transducers to measure local pressures on aircraft models. Other sensors include position, angle, and temperature.
All transducers require calibration to compute engineering units from the raw data collected by the data acquisition system. The transducers are connected to the data acquisition system using the several hundred feet of wiring in the wind tunnel facility.
These tasks are my duties as an instrumentation engineer to ensure proper selection, installation, and calibration of measurements of the Wright Flyer and the wind tunnel. I have additional responsibilities in my job that also include modernizing existing wind tunnel instrumentation with newer systems.
Most of my experience at NASA Ames has been in the Unitary Plan transonic Wind Tunnel and the 12 Foot Pressure Wind Tunnel.
To set the record straight, I am not related to the Wright Brothers. We just share the name and interests.
My Career Path
My interest in engineering can be traced back to my childhood interests with technical gadgets. As a child and a teenager, I have taken apart various home appliances (but not at all times succeeding putting back together) and assembled electronic kits. I wasn't serious about an engineering career until my late teens when I realized the world is complex and that I needed a good education. After high school, I promptly enrolled into the local junior college in classes of math, physics, science, and electronics. Also, catching up on the general education I ignored in high school. Of course I also had to get a job to pay the rent and food. I worked as a hardware store clerk, an assembler at Memorex, and remodeled houses. Eventually I accumulated enough credits to transfer to a 4 year university, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where I graduated with a degree in electronic engineering.
After college, I worked at Edwards Air Force Base on flight test instrumentation. Two years later I transferred to Ames Research Center as a Wind Tunnel Instrument Engineer.
What I like and don't like about my job
The positive aspect of my job is the flexibility and freedom. I can explore different methods, develop new processes, and consider new solutions and ideas.
The negative aspect of my job is having to cope with lack of resources or lack of project requirements. Also, a large organization like this also has a large bureaucracy, which can be at times dry and boring.
Considering all this, any job will have both good and bad. You have to realize the world is round, and you get both sides both bad and good whether you like it or not. The key is how to tolerate and manage success and failure.
Get as much as you can while in school including your elementary, junior high, and high school. Obviously to be successful in engineering, you must be knowledgeable in mathematics. Engineering requires you to be competent in many aspects of mathematics including algebra, trigonometry, statistics, estimations and proportions. Other preparation courses include physics and chemistry. There are many introductory courses in specific kinds of engineering that are always helpful. Another important part of your education is reading and writing skills, which is essential for success. You need good communications skills reading and writing. Proper documentation is the backbone in engineering. Ability to read helps you maintain your awareness of new developments from technical journals and magazines. Writing skills are what you need to document your work and sell your ideas to others. In the next century, high competency in reading and writing are essential to communicate with many others, including across the Internet.
There are also other things you can do such as become involved in team sports, like baseball, where you learn to work in groups. In engineering you work with many different types of people.
I plan to stay in this field and will be working on more advanced instrumentation systems here in the Wind Tunnel Systems Branch.
Some of my interests away from work include ballroom dancing and skydiving. I am a licensed Senior Parachute Rigger and have made about 750 jumps during the past ten years including some from as high as 30,000 feet. I have a webpage about skydiving from 30,000 feet at http://www.batnet.com/mfwright/30Kjumps.html. I am also restoring some vintage two-way radios from the 1970s as seen on my webpage at http://www.batnet.com/mfwright/HT220.html.