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Meet: Jim Barnes

a photo of Jim

Senior System Safety Engineer,
NASA Ames Research Center

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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 doing!

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.

Advice
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 world.

Early Influences
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.

Future Goals
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.


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