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Meet: Rick McIlmoil

a photo of Rick

Aircraft Mechanic,
National Full Scale Complex Wind Tunnel
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Who I am
I put together and operate wind tunnel models. I like my job because of its diversity. For one test, I might work on would be helicopters, and others will be fixed wing aircraft. We usually get assigned to a test for several months. Prior to the wind tunnel entry, I will prepare the model for the test, getting the hydraulics, cooling water, air and fuel systems ready. Normally a helicopter test will need cooling water and a hydraulic system and is powered by electric motors. A fixed wing model will need fuel, if it has an engine, a hydraulic system and air system to start the engine and to cool parts of the model.

Sometimes a company like Boeing, DeHavallin, or Sikorsky will bring in a model to test and I work with the company to supply the necessary systems they will need. When the model is ready we install it in one of the wind tunnels. It could be the 80 X 120 (80 X 120 is the size of the test section, measured in feet), the 40 X 80 or the 12 ft. Sometimes we also use an outdoor test facility. After we install the model in the tunnel we can control the air speed, alpha (angle, nose up or down) and yaw (direction nose right or left). In addition to the wind tunnel controls we can change some of the surfaces on the model. I can either operate the wind tunnel or the engine or the rotor.

My Career Path
I graduated from high school in 1970. Back then, I had two choices, go to college or join the service. Since I was tired of school, I joined the Navy. I went to school in the Navy to learn about being an aircraft mechanic. I spent eight years in the Navy. After my training I went to a helicopter squadron flying UH-1s (called Hueys) and learned how to work on them. After a short time I started to fly in them as a crewman. I would inspect the aircraft prior to and after we flew. If we needed fuel, I would fill it up. I did this for one year. For the next three years I worked on a fixed wing aircraft called the A-6 Intruder. I learned how to rebuild the engines used in that aircraft. For the last three years of the Navy I worked on the newest aircraft it had, new at the time, the F-14 Tomcat. I removed and reinstalled the engines, maintaining the fuel system and inspecting the engines for any damage.

After the Navy I worked as a Toyota mechanic for two and a half years, but I missed aircraft, so I got a job at Naval Air Rework Facility Alameda. There I rebuilt and tested the same jet engines that I worked on while I was in the Navy.

But, I heard of something better, an aircraft mechanic for NASA at Ames Research Center in Mt. View. I wasn't sure if I wanted to leave my job at Alameda, but after I was given a tour of the wind tunnel I couldn't wait to start working here. I have been here for 13 years and I have not regretted my decision yet.

What I Like About My Job
I like being able to work on my own, but I also like working with people -- with this job I get both. I enjoy it when there is a problem that needs to be worked out and I come up with a solution. The down side is sometimes no one will listen.

As A Child
When I was growing up I was fascinated with NASA. I would often write to NASA and ask for information on missions, like Mercury, Gemini Apollo, the X-15 and all the space probes. I was always into mechanics; about once a month I would rebuild the lawn mower whether it needed it or not.

To prepare for a job like mine you should pay attention to details, but don't get hung up solely on the details. Listen to other mechanics and hear what they are saying; chances are they have done that job before and already know a trick to make the job easier.

Early Influences
The biggest influence on my life was my dad, whom I still get useful information from.

Future Plans
I hope to continue doing this job for 10 more years, then I will retire. The only advancement that there is for me is management, a good profession but I like being a mechanic.

I have been married for 21 years. My wife is a professional clown so she keeps me laughing. My children are two girls, 24 and 17, and a boy, 15. My grandchildren, both girls, are 5 and 1. When I am not at work I like soccer: I play it, referee it and coach it. When soccer is over I like to run, any distance. Five years ago I ran my first marathon, that is 26.2 miles. Now I have run eight marathons and one ultra that was 31 miles, and numerous other races. Most recently I was part of "The Relay"-- 12 of us ran from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, 197 miles! It taught me a lot about team work, and how much energy you can get from it. Hopefully, I gave some energy back to my team mates.


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