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Meet: Estela Hernandez

a photoof Estella

Flight Simulation Engineer

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What is your area of expertise?
Flight simulation.

What do you do?
I am a flight simulation engineer at the Vertical Motion Simulator. We analyze mathematical models for development in real-time software. The models are used to assist the researchers in better understanding the aircraft. We interface computers with the cockpit and lab hardware. Then we conduct piloted flight simulation experiments with researchers.

We have a variety of customers from the military to commercial aircraft manufacturers. We simulate different types of aircraft such as helicopters, fighter planes, and the space shuttle.

How did you first become interested in this profession?
After doing a 3-month internship with NASA in 1993, I enjoyed the work and wanted to continue doing flight simulation work.

What helped prepare you for this job?
Getting a college degree, having good communication skills, and working well with others since most projects are a team effort.

Who were your role models or inspirations?
My parents are my role models and have been a true inspiration in my life to go after my dreams. My parents inspired me to have the courage to make tough decisions by taking risk in life and allow me to grow as a person.

What is your education and training?
Aeronautical Engineer, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo
Engineering Management, Santa Clara University

Describe your career path?
When I graduated from high school, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do so I attended a junior college for about three years. While attending the junior college, I spoke with one of my math instructors, Joe Gerda, who suggested I look into engineering. I looked at different engineering programs and aeronautical engineering looked the most interesting to me.

I received my bachelor's degree in engineering from California Polytechnic State University. Engineering requires a good amount of math classes. I learned that with a good understanding of math you can explain how certain things work. While at Cal Poly, I got interested in computers so I decided to get a minor in computer science. After the third year at Cal Poly, I got a summer internship at Ames Research Center. The internship helped me apply what I had learned in college. The internship also helped to confirm my interest in aeronautical engineering.

When I graduated there were no openings at Ames so I went to work for Lockheed. I worked on simulations for missiles. After about a year, I came to work at Ames.

What do you like about your job?
I like the fact that we work on different projects. Some times I work on helicopter simulations and three months later I could be working on the Space Shuttle. We also work with fighter planes. I like working on several projects that way you learn a little about many different aircraft.

When a design of an aircraft is simulated and later you find out that it was used on the real aircraft because of what they found out during the simulation.

I like flying the simulator. Part of my job is to write the software changes given by the customer. After the changes have been made we have to test the software to make sure it works properly so we have to fly the simulator.

What don't you like about your job?
Since I am working on many projects I don't have time to learn a lot about one project. Sometimes it would be interesting to learn details about the aircraft.

Flight simulation is a very detail oriented position. However, the customers do not always understand the amount of work required to perform a task they have requested.

The uncertainty of the budget and if money will be available the following year for your project.

What is your advice to anyone interested in this occupation?
Try to get an internship to determine the type of job you enjoy. There are many different types of jobs available in a field it's just a matter of finding the one you like.

What kinds of skills are important to have for this position?

  • Good communication skills
  • Working in a team environment
  • Working in a diverse environment
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Writing skills

What are your interests outside of work?

  • Playing volleyball
  • Salsa Dancing
  • Playing softball
  • Bike riding
  • Skiing

What is your favorite scientific fact or words of advice?
I recommend taking lots of math and computer science classes. The job market is very competitive, and having a solid foundation in math and science can help you find a job.


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