Meet: George Fenton
NASA Ames Research Center
Who am I?
I am an instrumentation engineer who is providing the instrumentation that measures the forces acting on the Wright Flyer wind tunnel model. The forces acting on the full-scale model of the Wright Flyer will be measured by an internal strain gauge balance. The balance is capable of measuring the Lift, Drag and Side forces acting on the model, as well as the Pitching, Rolling and Yawing moments, as air moves over the model, with the model at various attitudes (pitch and yaw) relative to the oncoming air. As an instrumentation engineer, I must ensure that the customer, whose test we're conducting, is getting the measurements/data they expect, with the greatest accuracy and quality possible. This can be challenging since model installations can be very complex and various components/requirements of the installation may not always be the most compatible.
My Career Journey
I have been an engineer for the past 15 years and have worked at NASA Ames in several capacities for the last 11 years. I have been an instrumentation engineer at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Center (NFAC) for less than a year. I have most recently been supporting the XV-15 Noise Reduction Test in the 80' x 120' wind tunnel. Prior to this I was an instrumentation engineer at the balance calibration lab, calibrating the balances that measure the forces and moments acting upon a wind tunnel model during a test. Prior to that I was a Principal Project Engineer in the Space Life Sciences Office, for seven years, leading a team of engineers and designers, designing hardware to support life science experiments on the Space Shuttle and MIR Space Station. My First job at Ames was as a Project Engineer conducting wind tunnel tests in the 11 foot, 6 foot and 9' x 7' wind tunnels. Prior to NASA, I worked as an Aerodynamic Test Engineer for Grumman Aerospace in New York, where I had also directed wind tunnel and propulsion tests.
Right now I am completing my Master's degree in meteorology at San Jose State University. My thesis is the application of machine learning (an artificial intelligence method) to forecast the burn-off of stratus (the low blanket of clouds that cover the San Francisco Bay Area most mornings from April until October) over the San Francisco Bay Area. Meteorology has a symbiotic relationship between my engineering (fluid mechanics) and environmental interests.
My father worked for Pan-American Airlines, and we would fly to many places. I was always interested in and intrigued by flight, and I considered a career in aerospace when I was younger. There was a certain grace to flight that attracted me.
I enjoyed drawing because it allowed me to visualize and express what I imagined. I also liked building things with construction sets like Legos. I believe that the ability to visualize or "picture" ideas in your mind is an important trait for an engineer.
Relative to the Wright Flyer. Throughout my life I have had opportunity to visit several great museums of aeronautic history. I've been to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, to the Wright Brothers' Memorial at Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the first powered flight was made, and to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio (where the Wright brothers were from). I also love bicycles...the Wright brothers originally owned a bicycle shop.
I am married (my wife is a composite structures engineer), and I have a 2-year-old son and two dogs. I enjoy bicycling, human-powered vehicles and Ultimate Frisbee. Time and responsibilities permitting, I like to commute to work on my mountain bike or recumbent bicycle. I also have a strong interest in environmental causes.
Likes/Dislikes About Career
Being an engineer can be rewarding and humbling. It is nice to understand how things function and be able to create tools that solve a problem or fulfill a need. It is humbling when you can not solve a problem or understand its source. That's when it's important to know what resources are available to you to resolve the problem.
Be open minded and sincere about your interests. If you have an interest in a particular career, research it, get some hands on experience, talk to people. Don't discount something just because you don't know about it. The Internet is a good source for information and contacts.
It's important to have a physical life in order to reduce stress and to remain healthy. My work can be stressful since instrumentation problems on a test may prevent a lot of people from getting their jobs done.
As you proceed through life your interests and values will change, so may your career. It is naive to expect that you will do the same job for the rest of your life. Be open minded and prepared to adapt. Most of all try to find work that stimulates you and that you will get satisfaction from.