My Journey from Engineer to Pilot-Engineer

September 21, 2016 | Author: Mars Ma

I am a software engineer working on cockpit displays and graphics for Honeywell Technology Solutions in China. I recently had the opportunity to work at the Honeywell Aerospace world headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz., for eight months. While in Arizona, I devoted my spare time to earning my private pilot’s license.

The idea of flying an airplane was very exciting to me. I also hoped that learning to fly would give me insight that can help me do a better job developing innovative products for Honeywell customers.

Before taking flying lessons in the U.S., all foreign nationals have to pass review by the Transport Security Administration and have a medical examination certifying their health status.

The next step was to choose a suitable flight school. In America, private aviation is a popular pastime, so there are as many flight schools in the U.S. as there are driving schools in China. Eventually I settled on a small flight school at the Glendale, Ariz., airport. The school has three instructors and four training aircraft. My main reason for choosing the school was its relatively affordable cost. Aircraft rental cost $127 per hour and flight instructors charged $54 per hour.

Mars MaNext, I had to pass a ground knowledge test that covers all aspects of flying, including aerodynamics, aircraft meters and instruments, engines and systems, airports, Federal Aviation Administration regulations, flight restrictions, air space, aviation rules, flight performance, aero-meteorology and meteorological services, navigation, flight plans and ferrying flights. The test includes 800 multiple-choice questions and is simple to pass if one has an excellent memory!

Mars MaHowever, the real ‘test’ comes when one enters the flying practice stage. It was only then that I realized the relevance of the test. Only by truly understanding the knowledge involved and thoroughly integrating it into every aspect of flying could I ensure total flight safety.

Mars MaI made my maiden flight in a Cessna 172 manufactured during the 1960s. The outdated instruments and cabin environment, the loud and incessant humming of the aircraft’s propeller, and (to me) the totally unintelligible instructions from air traffic controllers all added up to a very scary experience.

In subsequent flights – as I gained experience – I was able to relax and enjoy the flying experience. I learned a lot flying with my instructors, including Sam. Sam would let me handle the aircraft in any way I wanted, so long as there were no major mistakes. He would offer comments only after I had completed an operation. Every now and then he would give encouragement such as “excellent landing!” or “not bad, keep it up!” On the rare occasions when he saw that I was totally out of sorts, he would say – with considerable tact – “let me show you.”

Mars MaI remember one time when I made a steep turn. I failed to control my diving angle and the aircraft simply plunged. I was in utter shock and looked to Sam for help. Yet he continued to sit – still as a Buddha – and did not say a word. Eventually I corrected the aircraft’s angle with all my might. I thought he would criticize me severely for the error. To my surprise, he simply suggested that I review and analyze my mistakes and learn something from the experience. After about 40 hours of flight training under an instructor’s supervision I was finally allowed to fly solo. I was even reminded to bring along one of my favorite t-shirts. Eventually I learned that the tradition for celebrating one’s maiden flight is to cut off the shirt tail of the trainee. It is a proud symbol of the trainee’s ability to fly the aircraft without the instructor’s assistance.

Mars MaEvery trainee pilot’s most memorable experience is his maiden solo flight. For the first time the trainee gets to sit in the cabin and fly the aircraft entirely on his own, without the instructor’s chatter and reminders. The sensation is, for want of better word, exhilarating!

In order to complete all the items in preparation for my flying test as well as to hone my flying skills, I forced myself to wake at 4 a.m. every day for training during the last 10 days before the test. This period was physically exhausting for me, but uplifting mentally. Ultimately, I was rewarded for my effort by passing the flying test barely one week before I had to return to China.

Mars MaI am very grateful to Honeywell’s generous support in giving me the unique experience of learning to fly. It gives me a fresh perspective: I am now more appreciative of the pilot’s view with respect to the cabin’s design. This is an invaluable lesson for an aeronautical electrical systems engineer.

Mars MaHaving flown an old Cessna 172 aircraft, I cannot help but be amazed by the pace of change in modern aircraft. I now truly appreciate the design of the modern glass cockpit and the addition of various advanced electronic systems. They are critical in reducing the pilot’s workload and improving flight safety.

Honeywell is leading advances in aerospace technologies. I cannot be any prouder to be able to play a role in this great endeavor. I am committed to integrate my experience from my flying lessons into product research and development, and contribute my share of effort in ensuring flight safety.

Mars Ma

Mars Ma

Mars Ma is a Displays and Graphics Software Engineer in Honeywell Technology Solutions China (HTSC). He’s been working on avionics software development for seven years.

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