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Meet Kurt Long

Kurt  on board

Shipboard Helicopter Flight Test Engineer

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Who I am
I am a shipboard helicopter flight test engineer, employed by the US Navy's Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, which is located at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland. This is a rather exciting job, which involves conducting helicopter flight tests aboard US Navy ships, to help find operating limits for Navy and Marine Corps pilots. Since 1997, I have been doing wind tunnel experiments at NASA Ames Research Center, using models of ships and helicopters, to understand the complicated wind flow patterns that exist around US Navy ships.

Although each shipboard flight test program is very expensive, in many ways, it's also very similar to the lab experiments that I did in high school — even though each test involves multi-million dollar helicopters and ships, we still have to plan the test, acquire the test equipment, write up a test plan, conduct the test, and then write the test report. I was somewhat surprised and relieved to find that even these official US Navy Technical Reports are structured VERY much like the ones we did in school — they all have sections that include abstract, background, procedures, results and discussion, and conclusions!

My job as flight test engineer is especially exciting, because it involves travel, and working with Navy and Marine test pilots and ship's crew during challenging flight tests aboard real warships. It also involves lots of hand-on experience, a chance to use your technical knowledge applied to real world situations, and satisfaction in knowing that you are doing something to help defend our country. Although bad features of the job include the occasional need for VERY long work days, and undesirable amounts of time spent typing up reports, these are annoyances only. I also get to work with flight simulators, high tech military hardware, and really professional people. I truly believe that I have one of the best jobs around!

Since 1999, I have been stationed at NASA Ames as a US Navy employee and have worked on a variety of wind tunnel projects, including V-22 descent aerodynamics, new ship aerodynamic design, and shipboard rotorcraft interactional aerodynamics. This part of my job is also very exciting, because it allows me to acquire information needed to ensure the safety of shipboard rotorcraft operations that would otherwise be unattainable.

Kurt and helicopter on deck

As a Child
Growing up, I was always fascinated by both math and science. In the years before high school, I hoped at various times to be an archaeologist, an entomologist, an airplane designer, and a geologist.

Throughout my pre-college school years, my parents encouraged my interests by taking me to the library, where I was able to learn more about each field. In 11th grade, we took career aptitude tests; my test results indicated that I was best suited to be either a sewing machine repair person, or a national park ranger! Most of my hobbies at this point however focused on aircraft-related things (radio control sailplanes, model rocketry, traveling to airshows).

So, with my interest in science and math, it was an easy choice to ignore the aptitude test results, and to start thinking about aviation careers. At this time I also started becoming interested in the field of engineering, and as a result, aerospace engineering seemed to be the most logical career field for me. I must admit that throughout high school, I didn't know exactly what an aerospace engineer did - I had visions of a person sitting in front of a computer all day long, designing new and exotic aircraft. I found out later that those ideas were pretty restrictive, compared to the variety of areas that aerospace engineering is actually involved with.

When I went to college, I didn't take a single Aerospace Engineering course until I was a Junior; by that point, I was more than a little worried about what I would do if I found that I didn't like engineering! Luckily, I loved all the engineering courses I took (except for Thermodynamics!), and so I knew that this was the field for me. I worked really hard in college, and spent a lot of time studying; there is no question in my mind that the time I invested studying while in college has helped me immensely in the years since college.

My Career Path
I graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State in 1985 and conducted graduate studies there until 1987. Other than working as a Co-op at Boeing Helicopters for one summer, to make money, I worked summers at the beach as a cook in a seafood restaurant. I started my career at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, MD, in 1987. While at Patuxent River, I have been lucky enough to participate in over 75 US Navy shipboard helicopter flight test programs. In these tests, we take military helicopters out aboard Navy ships for a week at a time, and conduct hundreds of takeoff and landing sequences under a variety of wind and ship motion conditions, to help determine those conditions that are safe for fleet pilot use. During the tests, a six-person team of test pilots and test engineers sets up test equipment, coordinates schedules and test maneuvers with ship personnel, conducts tests, analyses data, and plans the next day's test evolutions.

In 1997, I was selected for Long Term Training at Stanford University, where I started to investigate ship airwakes through the use of wind tunnel and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) techniques. In 1998, my efforts moved to NASA Ames Research Center.

I try to balance my job with a variety of hobbies. I like windsurfing and raising tropical plants. While my finances permit, I am taking lessons to get a sailplane pilot's license. I also serve as groundcrew for a friend who competes in cross country sailplane races.

I am a big supporter of education in general, and I have been lucky enough to have had helpful mentors to guide me in every technical job I have held so far. As a result, I also enjoy serving as mentor for summer students here at NASA Ames.

Webcast and Webchat Archives

VTODTWD Webcast - April 23, 2002

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