Meet: Estela Hernandez
Flight Simulation Engineer
What is your area of expertise?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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