Meet Alfredo Gimenez, lead flight test engineer at Bombardier, which is the world’s leading manufacturer of both planes and trains. Gimenez leads two experimental prototypes and two simulator test articles, and with a passion for engineering, flying planes, playing soccer and living a healthy lifestyle, we wonder what can this man not do? We had the opportunity to speak with him and learn more about engineering, flight testing and the reality of life as an aerospace engineer.
Tell us what you do on a daily basis.
As the lead flight test engineer for the Bombardier Global 5000/6000 programs, I am in charge of performing experimental, developmental and certification test flights in support of software improvements, experimental instrumentation/installation checkouts, or envelope expansion. This gives me essentially two roles: I am an engineer on the ground, and an experimental air crew member on the test airplane. I have four test articles under my lead—two engineering simulators, and two test airplanes, an experimental Bombardier Global 6000, and an experimental Bombardier 5000. As an engineer on the ground, I am responsible for understanding engineering requirements, assisting other engineering disciplines in predicting numbers and/or establishing logic, and developing engineering documents known as test plans.
As an air crew member, I am in charge of turning these test plans into operational test cards, taking into account risk and hazards associated with the test in question. We then go fly these test cards, containing test points. I have a flight test engineer monitoring station in the aft cabin, and along with other test pilots, we conduct the test points, where I am responsible for watching the stream of data our experimental instrumentation captures, making sense of the data, and seeing if the predicted numbers match the actual numbers. After we get back from a test flight, I am responsible for generating a highly technical flight test report, and assisting other engineering disciplines in data expansion or reduction, as needed.
How did you get into the aerospace industry? Was it always a passion of yours?
I got into the aerospace industry by following in my father’s steps—he is an airline captain and jet instructor. Originally, I just wanted to be a pilot. But then I discovered I was good at maths and physics. With the help of my dad, I ended up combining the best of both worlds after high school and I joined the College of Aerospace Engineering at Wichita State University, where I successfully graduated as an aerospace engineer.
What is the best and worst thing about the job?
The best thing is it’s thrilling, and it gets my adrenaline flowing. You never know what you are going to end up encountering during an experimental flight test.
The worst thing is the schedule pressure. As the last link of the chain, flight testers are typically expected to fly, fly, fly—no matter what, as customers are always waiting on the next big thing. The catch is, this compromises safety at times. Schedule pressure has been the root cause to sundry experimental test flights gone bad.
If you had to choose a totally different career path, what would it be?
I would probably choose to become a professional soccer player. I have played soccer all my life, and was convinced that I would go pro when I was 17 years old!
What do you do for fun?
I am a volunteer rescue pilot for an international non-profit organisation called Pilots N Paws, and when time allows, I go on rescue mission to save dogs that would be euthanised at shelters otherwise. I also like to visit schools and encourage kids to excel in maths and science, as the world needs more and more technically-oriented people with the advancement of technology. I otherwise like to work on my house, car, spend time with family and friends, stay fit and live a simple life.
What would you advise to the youth who are interested in becoming future engineers? How do they decide what to focus on?
I would advise the youth to sample it all before deciding. Download a free coding software/freeware and code up. See if you like it. Maybe ask a friend to take you on an airplane ride, maybe you’d love it all. Or perhaps, read up on cars and engines. Maybe that suits you. Whatever the case may be, make sure the heart finds its sweet spot. Because then, engineering not only becomes a career that pays well, but a lifetime of passion!