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Meet Sam James

Photos of Sam James with model aircraft

Research Model Technologist

Who I Am and What I Do
I am a Research Model Technologist in the Composite Application Technology Branch at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Virginia. I work in the Test Article Development Section fabricating scaled research model airplanes for the department of defense and the airplane industry. My job is to fabricate unique wind tunnel models, and large-scale aircraft, for collecting research data on their structural and flight characteristics. When fabricating these research models, we usually work in teams, and it may take anywhere from two months to a year to complete a project, depending on the complexity of the model. Examples of the type of models are: spin, static, force oscillation, drop, remote control. These models are developed to improve safety and mobility of aircraft, while reducing cost. We also build display models to increase public awareness. To learn more about how aeronautics research conducted at NASA Langley Center is contributing to making airplanes that are better, safer and cheaper to fly go to our Aeronautics Research page.

Growing Up
I was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, only sixty-six miles away from Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers took their first flight. I am from a family of twelve, with eight sisters and three brothers. My brothers and sisters grew up on a farm, but my father sold it when I was four years old. My father was a carpenter and plasterer, and with only a 7th grade education, he established his own business. Seeing him build and construct houses influenced me to become mechanically inclined, and to have a strong desire to put things together. When I was ten years old, I had a great interest in building model cars and planes as a hobby. When I was a student in the 7th grade, we had a career day in school. I already knew what I liked, which was building and constructing things, but I was not sure about my career choice. My guidance counselor advised me to pursue Mechanical Technology based on the information I gave her. She devised a high school curriculum for me with all the higher math, science and technical courses that were required to prepare me for college. While in high school I played football, baseball, soccer and was a member of the honor society, the art club and drama club. Being involved in these extracurricular activities, I had to have good study habits to keep up my grades. To further my education after I finished high school, I attended Elizabeth City State University.

Career Journey
While at Elizabeth City State University, I majored in Mechanical Technology with a minor in Electronics. I had the opportunity to work in the Coast Guard Lab with electronic technicians, learning to solder on circuit boards. Outside of class, I played intramural sports, university football and was elected Mr. Sophomore in my class. During the summer, I worked to have extra cash, by helping my older brother, who took over my father's business. As a junior, I sent out résumés to different industries and to NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC). A month after I graduated from college, NASA LaRC contacted me about a position in the Aerospace Model Development Section. There, I entered the Apprentice program and worked with senior technicians to learn the model fabrication process. As a Research Technologist at Langley, I've had the opportunity to work in many other projects.

Three years after I was hired by NASA, I became the co-inventor of a "Prototype Loom" which has the capability to weave composite curved frame preforms, made out of graphite fibers (See The Advanced Stitching Machine: Making Composite Wing Structures Of The Future). One of the reasons for using this graphite material is to reduce the weight of airplanes by getting rid of all the rivets on the wings and fuselage. With less need for maintenace, and a weight reduction of about twenty-eight percent, the lighter aircraft will give better fuel economy, reducing the cost of air travel. Working only from preliminary sketches of the loom concept, I used some of my unique designs to make the hand operated loom a success. Once this concept was proven, a power automated loom for the fabrication on structural test articles was modified, incorporating the new concepts. As time passed, I got more involved with high profile projects such as, the F-18E/F,HSCT, and the Blended Wing Body (BWB). As I look to the future, I plan to continue to be a team player, and to support new technologies that help strengthen our nation's aerospace industry.

Last Udated: August 9, 2001


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