Meet: Joe Sacco
Who I am
I am a Test Engineer involved in Aeronautical Systems Testing. Currently,
I am a Wind Tunnel Facility Manager. I make sure the wind tunnels are
working well for any testing and schedule maintenance to avoid test delays.
I also make sure the tests go as planned. The tests can be simple ones
where wind blows over models with no moving parts or more complex tests
that involve helicopter rotors and jet engines.
As a child, I enjoyed creative projects where I could learn about building
things. I liked working with my hands and trying to understand the different
forces at work in nature. I have always been interested in anything that
flies; birds, airplanes, or rockets. So, I started building model airplanes
at an early age. If I couldn't get my hands on enough money to buy a model
kit, I would build it from scratch. I began going to the library to read
books about flight and building model airplanes so I could make mine fly
better. I loved "how to..." books, and books on the history of experimental
airplanes and the Space Program. I also enjoyed science fiction because
it got me thinking about what the future might hold. This helped me to
visualize goals to work toward.
In my middle school and high school years, I kept
up these interests by taking math and science courses. In college I earned
a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
Someone once told to me that a career path was "anything you do to earn
a living." So from that perspective, my career path started by finding
jobs and saving money in high school. I continued to work my way through
college while maintaining good grades.
After graduation, I got a job working for Rockwell,
where I learned about the different aircraft systems: the jet's fuel system,
electrical power system, hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Later I worked
for Lockheed, where I learned about wind tunnel testing. Wind tunnel testing
involves placing a model aircraft in a stream of air and measuring the
forces that act on it as it flies. I have enjoyed conducting tests at
different wind tunnel facilities all around the country. Now, I am working
for NASA at the world's largest wind tunnel complex.
Likes/ Dislikes about Career
I enjoy engineering work, test engineering work specifically. A customer
will bring in an aircraft design and I will work with other engineers
to design and build a model to test in the wind tunnel. I use my creativity
to solve problems and develop different methods of gathering data for
customers. They use our test data to refine their original design in order
to improve its flight characteristics or make it safer or quieter. Test
Engineering is a challenging process that also requires good communication
skills. It's important to understand what a customer needs as well as
be able to the explain what services you can provide. Test Engineering
requires practical, creative problem-solving skills to balance a project's
schedule, budget and technical goals.
No matter what career you go into there are always
certain tasks that you have to do that you don't enjoy doing. I spend
a lot of time on administrative matters. This takes time away from the
engineering work I enjoy, but it's important work. The administrative
tasks must be completed so the right people and the right amount of money
will be available for each test.
The basic advice I would share with young people interested in aeronautics
is to explore and let your imagination go wild. Study everything that
flies. Hunt down the answers to whatever you don't understand. If you
don't understand what you read, don't get frustrated, just keep reading
more and eventually you'll figure it out. Try to understand how things
work, and how you would make them work better. You can learn a lot from
observing nature, so keep your eye on insects, birds, and fish. Explore
different ways to measure things in lab classes and test them out. One
professor told me, "Do the math. You've got to learn the math."
My parents were a big help on the path to this career.
They gave me the freedom to be creative and to make whatever I wanted
to. And they encouraged me to study whatever interested me. My dad once
said, "Nothing you learn is ever wasted," and that's very true. No matter
how unrelated it may seem, sooner or later, you will draw upon that experience.
Nature was also a big influence on me. I loved watching hawks soar, humming
birds hover, and fish swim. Very few man-made things can match their grace
My professors were another influence. My second grade
science instructor gave me puzzles and taught me how to approach problem
solving. My High School physics, math, chemistry, and electronics teacher
really helped me understand how different subjects related to each other.
One of my college professors was particularly good at motivating me and
taught me the importance of helping others. Another aerodynamics professor
at Cal Poly inspired me. He loved what he did so much his eyes would light
up whenever he talked about it. And that is what I've always strived for,
to earn a living while doing what I enjoy. And I'm always inspired by
the people I work with. They are constantly challenging me and helping
I am continually learning. There are lots of things to explore, lots of
different areas that interest me. From aeronautical engineering to space
travel to life underwater. I do a lot of scuba diving. Computer engineering
also interests me. How do I see myself in the future? Constantly learning
and helping others. I hope you will also create a life for yourself that
is full of learning and adventure.