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Advice for aerospace engineer considering a career change

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Advice for aerospace engineer considering a career change

Old 18th Aug 2020, 15:27
  #1 (permalink)  
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Join Date: Aug 2020
Location: Oregon
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Advice for aerospace engineer considering a career change

35 year old here considering a career change to rotor-wing aviation. Quick bit about me: I earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering and have practiced as an aerospace engineer for NASA for over 10 years. My area of expertise is heat transfer and thermodynamics, and my work has focused primarily on developing thermal control systems for spacecraft and aircraft (mostly spacecraft).

The pay and benefits are fantastic, but I dread sitting in front of a computer for 9 to 10 hrs each day. I dread the work 95% of the time and have lost nearly all motivation to put forth my best effort. This struggle has persisted for 4 years and Iíve done everything I can reasonably think of to find happiness in my career, but to no avail. Hating your job is a horrible way to live, and Iím simply ready for a change.

I understand the process of training then working low wage jobs for a few years (instructing and tours) before gaining enough hours to qualify for a position in EMS or fire, but Iím not deterred by it. Life experiences motivate me, not money. I donít want for material things. I want a career that brings excitement to my day-to-day, gives meaning by helping others, and provides an environment in which Iím driven to excel and progress in. None of these exist along my current path.

My questions for the helicopter pilots and hiring managers out there:
  1. Would my professional background give me a significant leg on the competition when going for a job? As a hiring manager, how much value would my background provide? (Subjective and difficult to quantify, I know).
  2. Does your career provide any of the things I listed above (excitement, meaning, purpose)?
  3. Is there really a shortage of experienced pilots on the horizon, to the extent that insurance companies might actually reduce their minimum hourly requirements?
  4. Am I an idiot for considering giving up a six-figure salary and 4 weeks vacation to do this?
Thanks everyone -- I really appreciate any insights you folks have.
wayofthedirt is offline  
Old 18th Aug 2020, 21:47
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Below the Glidepath - not correcting
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: U.S.A.
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WotD, I'll start by reminding you that opinions are like elbows, everybody has at least one.

You could do everything you suggest, but I'm not sure it would fix your problem. Anyone can learn to fly, the secret is to do it before you are bankrupt or reach a retirement point. Rotary flying can be exhilarating, rewarding and very satisfying, but it can also be mundane and drab, so don't think a flying career fixes your problem of boredom or lack of satisfaction. You are at an age where you can still have a full career change, but you have missed at least 10 years when learning to fly is naturally easier. Here's a couple of options to consider:

1. At least get a couple of lessons under your belt and see what all the fuss is about. Do it in a structured way and get realistic feedback on your progress. People will keep taking your money if you keep offering it. Remember that it's hovering that takes all the head patting and tummy rubbing skills, and that doesn't come straight away. See if you like it before you commit, it sounds like you can probably afford 10 hours or so.

2. Your current skill set establishes you have the capacity to absorb complex knowledge in a structured way, but isn't really any kind of leg up other than an intellectual marker. See the point above about taking your money, someone could teach your Granny to fly if she had enough money.

3. You could do it on a recreational basis. Assume your (stable) job pays enough money, you can progress well past PPL(H) and strangely enough, private flying can sometimes be more of a buzz than when you have to do it for a living.

4. With COVID about to bring on an obvious change in the global economic situation, starting on a rotary career needs careful consideration. The turn down in global air travel and tourism has a knock on effect across the industry, and hiring managers will often take experience over enthusiasm. It may not be the optimal time for that gamble.

5. If you do consider recreational flying, airfields are great meeting places for like minded enthusiasts sharing a common interest. Instructors, pilots and other students tend to mix easily around the central theme of aviation, so then you have a focus that isn't your shitty job. That means the job becomes the means to enjoying a good social activity while pursuing an exciting and challenging goal, hopefully it helps you calibrate the significance of that pay check.

6. Whatever you do, go and try it first. You will definitely enjoy that and give yourself some more data points before making a decision. Remember that anything you have to do for a pay check has the potential to lose its attraction, even flying helicopters.

Good luck with it all,
Two's in is online now  
Old 18th Aug 2020, 23:10
  #3 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Wanaka, NZ
Posts: 2,336
In response to your four questions it's three no's and a yes from me. In that order. You're dreaming if you think you'll get a seat in an EMS helicopter in the next 10 years. Unless you start your medical degree now and don't mind sitting in the back.
gulliBell is offline  
Old 18th Aug 2020, 23:28
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Join Date: May 2016
Location: USA
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Have you thought about going into the flight test engineering side of things? You won't get to fly, but once in a while, your office is in the helicopter. That's what I do.
retoocs is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2020, 02:17
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Join Date: Mar 2005
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wayofthedirt, a look at the following thread suggests it's not a good time.

Would you train for ATPL(H) in 2020/21?

Agree with Two's in about private flying, aerobatics can open an area in developing skills, and a competitive outlet if you're so inclined, or gliding, once again can be competitive. With your engineering talent how about home building, an RV kit comes complete, is extremely good quality, capable of aerobatics, and good cross country machine with a second seat for company. How about skydiving, exciting, lot of new skills to learn. All of the suggestions have groups with great camaraderie, your address book will overflow with newfound friends. The skies the limit.

https://www.vansaircraft.com/

https://www.ssa.org/

https://uspa.org/
megan is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2020, 03:11
  #6 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Jul 2014
Location: South East Asia
Age: 51
Posts: 162
I have been in your camp for decades, my advice:

Find a way to regain that bit of excitement in the science that you studied for so long. it's actually not that hard once you become so good that people seek your advice from around the world.
Start a company: in your field of expertise, fail that company and start another one, as long as it takes.
Boost your income in the high or above 6 figures, buy your helicopter and enjoy flying without the constraints of it being a job.
Take the aircraft with your son for a camping trip at the top of the mountain, and other great experiences.
As you get close to retirement you might have a reputation as aircraft operator and some clients for a photo flight here and there to break even.

in the meantime spend some of that extra money becoming a great pilot, go heavy, fly a lot and a variety of aircraft, (beyond R22s)
stick with a good instructor, and do some solo flying. you would be surprise how a couple of hours of flying perr weekend can really energize you for another week of productive work.
Agile is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2020, 13:27
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Join Date: Apr 1998
Location: Mesopotamos
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Many doctors find an "outlet" from the strict rigmarole of their ever day job where imagination is less required. Some open wineries, some play music, some buy aircraft, however most never leave their day job.

Flying professionally is a commitment not a whim, and in some instances goes unrewarded. A six figure salary will let you entertain flights of fancy and also support the professional side of the industry at the same time.


cattletruck is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2020, 14:08
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: South Ridge
Posts: 61
You might give flight simulation a consideration. You will get to develop and fly the simulators, as well as flight test actual aircraft. It's given me the chance to fly all sorts of aircraft that otherwise would have been way beyond my reach.
SimFlightTest is online now  
Old 19th Aug 2020, 14:23
  #9 (permalink)  
CTR
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Texas
Posts: 169
There are fun and rewarding Engineering jobs too!

My senior year my college, my ME advisor told me ďNASA is fine, but if you really want to design aircraft, and feel ownership of the machine, you need to interview with a big ďPrimeĒ contractor.

Before changing careers, why donít you consider changing employers? Despite COVID, currently both Bell and Sikorsky are hungry for young but experienced engineers (at 35 you are still a kid at both these companies).

Both Bell and Sikorsky recently were awarded large contracts for developing two new military rotorcraft. I can tell you from experience, thereís nothing like seeing an aircraft you had a hand in designing flying for the first time.

And you donít have to sit behind a computer all day. As mentioned already, flight test engineering is an option. But so is product support, manufacturing, and system testing.

Finally, you are at an age that can bring you rapid advancement at these companies. Approximately 30% of the engineers at these companies are age 50 and older. And due to economic cycles in hiring, there are few engineers between ages 35 and 50.

Best of luck in whatever you choose to do.

CTR is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2020, 15:37
  #10 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2018
Location: California
Posts: 407
Yes, you are an idiot for wanting to give up a six figure income and four weeks vacation for this overcrowded, heartless, two-faced, profit before safety, and treat the entry-level guys like disposable diapers, industry.

Keep your job, get your private license, buy a small helicopter (I'd be perfectly happy with my own R22) and continue enjoying the good life!
Robbiee is offline  

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