Name: Kyle Hunt
- Education: MS Aerospace Engineering, Wichita State University; BS Aerospace Engineering, University of Kansas
- Target Audience: Middle School
Rocketing into outer-space is no longer limited to NASA's astronauts. Kyle Hunt and other aerospace engineers at Virgin Galactic are making space travel accessible to all earthlings aboard the first ever commercial spacecraft. Read on to learn more about the future of space travel and why we think aerospace engineers like Hunt are out of this world!
What is your job?
I am an aerospace engineer, but my official title at Virgin Galactic is Composite Stress Analyst Engineer. I am part of a team constructing the first commercial spacecraft ever built. At its most basic level, my job is to ensure that all of the aircraft and spacecraft we build are strong enough to safely operate. So, I analyze and test all of the structures we build to ensure they don't break when people fly.
Why did you choose this career?
It's probably fair to say I was obsessed with airplanes when I was young. I was 7 or 8 years old when I realized that everything we use doesn't just magically appear - someone has to design and build the desks, chairs, microwaves and airplanes. When I figured out there were people in the world that make airplanes, I decided that I wanted to do that too.
Explain what an average day at work is like for you.
As a structural analyst there are really 2 parts to my job. There is the theoretical element that involves running computer simulations and doing math, and there is the practical part of my job that deals with the physical construction of aircraft. When you're creating brand new vehicles, like we are with our commercial spacecraft, you have to jump back and forth between theory and practice quite frequently. So, a typical day might include a meeting in the morning on how to reduce the weight of an aircraft or improve the overall design and then in the afternoon I might work in the shop overseeing the technicians or mechanics who physically construct what we designed and then deal with any abnormalities that come up during the construction process.
What do you like best about your job?
For the last 60 years space has basically been the domain of governments - they select the astronauts, put them in space and dictate where they go and what they do while up there. What we're trying to do at Virgin Galactic is to usher in the second wave of space travel and making it accessible to the public. Not to be overly dramatic, but in the course of human history we happen to live at a time where humans about to reach space in large numbers, and we (the Virgin Galactic team) are trying making that happen. Having the knowledge and opportunity to advance human exploration like that is thrilling a little humbling.
When you were a kid, did you like science, engineering and/or math?
I've always been interested in STEM subjects, but I really only tolerated math. I prefer subjects rooted in the physical world like physics because you can see it and feel it. You know what happens when you throw a baseball in the air, but the actual science behind why it comes back down is fascinating. As far as math goes, I only started to appreciate the utility of it as an adult. When I got to college, I finally got to see how all the mathematical tools I'd been learning my whole life could be used to solve the engineering problems I was really interested in.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an engineer?
It was engineering school - it's a lot of work but there was really no way to get around it because it was the only way to learn everything I needed to know to make airplanes. You have to be really self-disciplined and learn to prioritize your time. After my 4 years of undergraduate work I really needed a break, so I worked for a few years before attending graduate school. Looking back on the whole experience, I'm glad it was as difficult as it was. Being pushed helped me grow, showed me what I'm capable of, and made be a better engineer.
Was there a person who inspired or convinced you to get involved in your field?
There wasn't a particular person, it was more of the idea that airplanes had to be made and I could do that job. I felt this way at such a young age, so I didn't really need to be convinced or inspired by anyone. However, along the way there have been a lot of people who have supported me and helped me accomplish my goal of becoming an aerospace engineer. My parents were always there to indulge my engineering hobbies growing up - I don't know how many model airplanes I've built in my life, but the evidence is littered all over my parents' basement to this day.
Do you have any suggestions for how kids in middle school can get practical experience in your field?
At this age you can really dive into building things like model airplanes. Also, check out the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) to see if there is a local chapter where you live. This organization takes kids flying for free through a program called Young Eagles - you just have to get your parent's permission and sign some waivers. I actually participated in the EAA program when I was a kid and it was the first time I got to fly in a small airplane. Those activities were a lot of fun when I was a kid and I recommend them to any aspiring aircraft engineer.
Are there any high school courses that you think would be important to take?
Take the most advanced math courses you can in high school because it will make college so much easier. Also, focusing on natural sciences like chemistry and physics is helpful.
Where do you see your industry going in the future?
Aerospace is literally limitless - 110 years ago airplanes didn't exist and 60 years ago we had never been into space. Now we're getting ready to fly anyone who wants to go into space with a commercial spacecraft. That's a tremendous amount of change and it's happening right now. No one really knows what the aerospace industry will look like 10, 20 or even 30 years from now, but it's definitely going to be more interesting than you can imagine. The entire industry is just loaded with science and math professionals, so it doesn't matter what STEM discipline you're focusing on, if you have any of those skills and want to be in aerospace there is a spot for you.
Do you have closing remarks to encourage students to pursue your field or similar STEM subjects?
I love what I do - making airplanes and having this job at Virgin Galactic. All the hard work and long nights of engineering school was all worth it because I am doing what I love. Don't ever give up on your dreams - whatever they may be.
Book Your Place in Space!
- Safety first! The Virgin Galactic's spacecraft is designed to air launch, not ground launch. Ground launch comes with many dangers as the craft has to pass through the lower, denser regions of the atmosphere.
- The commercial spacecraft is 60ft long with a 90" diameter cabin and will carry six passengers and two pilots.
- Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows: one side window and one overhead, so you get a great view even if you stay fastened in your seat instead of floating around the spacecraft.
- A journey of a lifetime into space could be yours for a starting price of $200,000 per ticket.
(adapted from virgingalactic.com)