Exploring a Cooler Career than the Coolest Profession in the World

August 7, 2015 | Author: Tao Hu

Nestled between the Left and Right Banks of Paris, the Seine haunts almost every dream. Here it is commonly said the best angle to appreciate its scenery is to take a stroll along the riverside or just sit on the bench affixed on the wooden bridge. For Capt. Scott Nyberg, his unique angle is to take a bird’s eye view from high above the sky to see the Seine snaking through Paris. “There are many angles to observe this world. Pilots can see the most unique scenery, from ground to the 10,000-meter sky.” I jotted this idea down as it soared to mind while sitting in the cockpit behind Capt. Nyberg. Yes, I am the lucky dog to have the great honor of flying with him—on a priceless seat, right behind the captain in the cockpit.

 “Explorer of the Future”

For many kids, the dream of becoming a pilot seems like the ticket to the coolest profession ever. In my eyes, there is a profession that is even cooler – serving as a test pilot for innovative technologies, just like Capt. Nyberg. Among this small group of professionals, as rare and precious as pandas on this planet, are test pilots who conduct flight tests for a variety of airplane models that are relatively familiar to the public. There is also a very small group who test fly newly invented or improved technologies for the aviation industry. They are called the “explorers of the future.”

Capt. Nyberg’s business card reads “Chief Test Pilot of Honeywell Aerospace.” Within Honeywell Aerospace, which is famous for innovative technologies, he is responsible for engineering test service (ETS) technology management. He is based at flight test headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz. The former U.S. Air Force pilot just demonstrated Honeywell’s “Next Generation Technology,” including a precision landing system, touch screen-based cockpit system controls, and a predictive weather radar. 

I just saw the touch screen-based cockpit system controls in the “Future Technology Lab” at Honeywell Aerospace’s headquarters last time by Huhu. Now they have been installed on Gulfstream®’s G500 and G600 models, giving pilots touch-screen displays to fly an airplane. For those who fly airplanes, aren’t you jealous to tears? For those schoolmates who want to fly airplanes, doesn’t this strengthen your desire to achieve your dream? I was delighted to witness the whole testing process, from take-off to landing, with Capt. Nyberg and his German co-pilot operating the plane by touching an iPad: convenience that allowed them to sometimes have a rest while looking out the window. I was really grateful for the experience. It was like a dream come true.

[On a side note: During the course of our flight, the co-pilot picked up a can of Coke near his seat and sipped. Instantly, I was shocked to notice that pilots also can enjoy a beverage when flying. “Sip one more time! I want to capture this moment!” I told him. Ha ha, he was shy for a few seconds and then sipped once more to satisfy my excessive excitement over such a little thing.]

From time to time, Capt. Nyberg peeked down from the window during our flight. From behind his seat, I noticed a slight smile on his face. At that moment, he was flying over the original city of Paris. Such a beautiful scene is the best gift to an “explorer of the future.” He deserves his exclusive enjoyment.  For most of our time in the air, the pilots sipped Coke or looked out the window, their hands free from the control column, eyes away from the dashboard. In fact, many airport facilities can “talk” — sending highly sensitive flying data to the cockpit to quickly alert pilots of any possible perils. Except for the takeoff and landing stages and during any unusual weather conditions that require intensive concentration, Honeywell’s innovative modern technologies are trying to simplify previously complex procedures for pilots. The smarter the plane is, the more user-friendly it becomes.

“Dream started at 10”

When the plane was about to enter the flight demonstration mode of the “long landing,” Capt. Nyberg instantly switched its status. All equipment inside the cockpit continued sending out a variety of data signals. Sometimes, he held the control column; sometimes he touched the iPad placed on the main instrument panel and even checked left and right as if he were driving a car. His co-pilot assisted him in the completion of the landing process with references to the manual and iPad. For every movement within that short period of time, they stayed as focused as what we’ve seen in the movies. The only difference was that these two pilots shared an iPad to check mapping data and the like. They skillfully slid, switched or zoomed in the pages on the iPad, the same as we do on our tablet computers.

When we smoothly taxied on the ground, I was shocked again when Capt. Nyberg opened the small window on his left and waved to the ground staff with smile. “Isn’t the cockpit totally sealed off? How can you open a window? Is it designed only for your flight testing?” I asked, even while I wondered if this was another silly question. This time he did not laugh and answered me seriously, “For many airplanes, windows inside the cockpit are not allowed to be opened. This is a Boeing airplane, so the windows can be opened.”

It has been 27 years since Capt. Nyberg started flying independently. On his 16th birthday, he received his pilot’s license. On that very day, he flew to realize his dream of being a pilot. Nyberg grew up in Wisconsin in the United States. When he was a kid, he lived near a big lake. The idea of “I want to be a pilot” hit this 10-year-old boy when he saw aquatic planes taking off and landing on the lake’s surface. “It is not that easy to become a pilot, for it is really expensive,” he explained. “Then, I started to make money to pay for my dream by myself. Finally, when I turned 15, I started learning how to fly.” After the flight demonstration, Nyberg began to talk about his own “path to his dream.” He headed to college for business studies. “I had been flying for a long time, and I needed to choose a profession that could support my own dream,” he said. “Back then, I thought majoring in business might work.” Upon graduation, he took a job with a telecommunications firm. “I also loved that job, but deep down in my heart, I knew flying was my love.” Subsequently, he cleverly seized a great opportunity. He became a pilot for the U.S. Air Force, which actually was a part-time job. That meant that the government would not only pay his bills to fulfill his dream of flying an airplane, but also put him on the payroll. In addition, he might have a fair amount of extra time to do other things. “I spent almost nine years living ‘a parallel life,’” Nyberg said. “I was a pilot for the Air Force with another job while finishing my MBA studies. My goal was to do anything that would support my flying. I love flying more than anything else!” he said.

Gradually, as a pilot, Nyberg advanced his dream step-by-step to a higher level – becoming a test pilot. He did flight tests for companies such as Cirrus Aircraft in general aviation aircraft as well as for Dassault in commercial airplanes. During those years, he started to wonder “what could be more exciting than being a test pilot flying different airplanes?” Finally, he got the answer. Once more, he also got the opportunity. Three years ago, he became an innovative technologies test pilot for Honeywell, an aerospace and aviation industry leader. From the moment he received his pilot’s license, Nyberg has been flying, a total of 24 years to date. It is flying that he has never given up. He finds the job motivating and inspiring. “I am the first one to experience all of these innovative technologies and be constantly encouraged to give suggestions for improvement before they are to be applied to serve more pilots, airlines and passengers. Isn’t that cool? Isn’t that exciting?”

Yes, you are very cool, Capt. Nyberg.

 “Technologies are created to serve people, so is innovation. In fact, everything is.”

In 2014, Bob Witwer, Vice President of Advanced Technology for Honeywell Aerospace told me, “Innovation serves to meet the constantly upgraded needs for human beings. Honeywell has been striving to provide a safe flight and a more cozy, relaxing and pleasant flying experience.”

In addition, at that time, it was my first time to board a special Honeywell test airplane, which was an old turboprop airplane. It flew us over some mountainous areas near Phoenix to experience Honeywell’s enhanced ground proximity warning system.” At that time, the touchscreen-based cockpit system controls still remained in the experimental and test phases as pilots and experts worked together to improve its sensor and realistic operation abilities. Capt. Nyberg also participated in the achievement of this “Next Gen Tech” project.

They understood that a touchscreen-based control system would be a way of life for future generations. Flying an airplane may no longer be an exclusive experience for a few professionals. Pilots of the younger generation likely won’t be required to spend as many years as their predecessors in adapting to complicated instruments and operating systems. In the future, cockpits might be rife with touchscreen devices in all sizes.

It was also then when Carl Esposito, Vice President of Marketing & Product Management for Honeywell Aerospace, told me, “The secret of Honeywell’s innovations lies in its consideration of the market and customer demands and as well as its focus on human-centered technologies. We invested a large amount of energy and funds in each technology to enhance the user experience, bring a safer flight that is more reliable and economical, and provide easier control systems for pilots and a more comfortable experience for passengers.”

One year later, speaking as a certified pilot, Esposito showed up again at the Paris Air Show for flight tests. This time he stood in front of the airplane and inside its cockpit to talk about how to apply the “Next Gen Tech” that previously had been undergoing testing  It illustrates how Honeywell Aerospace, which has 100 years of  aerospace business success, continually innovates within the industry for the benefit of pilots, clients and each passenger. “From the pilot to the manager, we will be faced with the biggest challenge and the greatest sense of achievement as we make our airplanes more efficient, much safer, more customized and human-friendly,” Esposito said. He noted his own son also has started learning how to fly a plane, adding that he is gratified to do something to help younger generations of pilots fly better.

It was somehow difficult to bid farewell to the test airplane in the blazing sunlight. This airplane is the only one in the world to have three engines, which I excitedly showed off to others. Previously, the “third engine” on the right wing of the fuselage was covered for test preparations. This time, it was specifically brought from Phoenix to Paris and took me up into the air. All right, I thought about this a lot. Allow me to treat this experience as my date in Paris.

“Flight tests are very cool, but some still believe it is risky. Honeywell has been testing all kinds of innovative technologies and modifying existing technologies in order to find other possibilities. Risks cannot be absolutely eliminated, but we will always make safety a priority. Tests will be conducted based on accurate and scientific calculations,” said Ian Bell, a Technical Support Engineer for Flight Tests. With experience in aviation for more than three decades, he added, “We are always spearheading the development of cutting-edge technologies by constantly improving performance, but we will by no means push airplanes and ourselves onto the other side of an ‘irrational extreme boundary.’ Life matters most, so do lives of testing personnel and future users.” White-bearded Bell explained that to me when I asked “whether they will challenge airplanes to an extreme extent during tests.” All of a sudden, I was speechless and stopped asking any more questions.  

Over dozens of years and even decades, technological innovation has been constantly evolving, and flight tests might probably be the daily routine for the innovation. “I believe, however, flight tests will continue bringing excitement and inspiration to me. –One night, while flying over the northern part of Canada, I turned my head and saw a shooting star traveling across the window,” he said, and sketched a horizon on my memo pad with a shooting star stretching its tail. He wrote “Comet” there. “On dark nights, it feels as if (I am) isolated from this world. That is an amazing feeling, which only exists during flights and is irreplaceable,” Bell added.

An awesome flight test was accomplished under a great deal of support by Capt. Nyberg, his handsome Honeywell German co-pilot, Ian, and other Honeywell teammates. Seared into my memory are a group of delightful aerospace men and their persevering love for aviation as well as their persistence in “human-centered technologies.”

Being treated with such generosity at the first stop of this Paris Trip is indeed wonderful!

Acknowledgements: I wish to express my gratitude to those who brought me into the aerospace and aviation field and who provide me with opportunities to listen to amazing stories time and time again. Again, I am grateful for those who took me on flight tests, in particular for that sentence “For you, this will be a remarkable experience.”

I believe she made an excellent point, and I have given her several thumbs-up. Thank you for understanding me.

Many previous visible and valuable things will fade away in my memory as time flies by. However, just a few experiences will be ever engraved deep in my heart, remaining vivid forever and casting a warm light in the future.

For example, these paragraphs I’ve written here, as well as the many stories to come in the future. Cannot be finished without Honeywell’s support.

Tao Hu

Tao Hu

Hu Tao is a journalist who is passionate about the aerospace industry. Both on the job and on her own time, she’s happiest telling the stories of men and women whose aviation innovations promote technology and improve our world. She is a writer in the China features section of the Xinhua News Agency, the national news agency of China. Working on the bilingual news report for the overseas department, she covers aviation, climate and the environment. Her China Aviation News column, “Hu Tao’s View on Aviation,” appears in the print edition and on the Web portal. Her new WeChat account, “Huhu’s Time Machine,” expands her reach to social media.

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