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Engineering & Product

Juliet McLachlan, Flight Test Engineer at Dawn Aerospace

A healthy dose of curiosity and creativity has led Juliet McLachlan, Flight Test Engineer at Dawn Aerospace down an extremely rewarding career path helping create the future of space transportation. We caught up with Juliet to learn more about her career journey into working for Dawn and any advice for others that might be considering following suit. Thanks for sharing your story Juliet.

“I am part of the Dawn Aerospace flight-test team, which is sending a plane to space to deliver things – which we call satellites – that help life on Earth!”

Firstly, how would you explain to a five-year-old what it is you do?

I am part of the Dawn Aerospace flight-test team, which is sending a plane to space to deliver things – which we call satellites – that help life on Earth!

And for the adults, what does that translate to in regards to your day-to-day?

This means I’m part of the team that writes the software to control Dawn’s spaceplane, its autopilot, and monitor its many sensors. I get to develop, review and release new features, then go out into the field and actually see them fly at each stage of the vehicle’s development.

It’s all part of a stepped and iterative process towards long-distance and high-altitude flights, which will eventually send this plane to space.

What are some of the common misconceptions about working in aerospace?

That you need to be able to fly drones (luckily, that’s the job of our pilot!). Working as a flight-test and operations engineer means it is my job to analyse the operations and data we gather, to make the pilot and flight crew’s jobs easier, instead of flying the vehicles’ ourselves.

That being said, computer-based flight simulation is an important (and a lot safer) part of the software testing process, and I’m proud to say my skills are improving.

“First, I wanted to be a ballerina, then a zookeeper, then a doctor, a vet, an author, an actor, a lawyer, a computer scientist, an architect, an astronaut… then finally, an engineer.”

Was working in aerospace tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid? If not, what was?

Not even close.

I changed my dream job every year or two, right up until the end of high school. First, I wanted to be a ballerina, then a zookeeper, then a doctor, a vet, an author, an actor, a lawyer, a computer scientist, an architect, an astronaut… then finally, an engineer.

I’ve always had a love of learning and wanted to work in a field where I could integrate my creative streak into a knowledge-rich field. This is definitely that.

Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at Dawn Aerospace? 

I am a recent Mechatronics engineering graduate, having graduated in December from the University of Canterbury (just after starting an internship at Dawn Aerospace). Throughout our engineering studies, we are encouraged to take as many work experience opportunities during our summer breaks as possible to broaden our horizons and learn the industry’s ins and outs (and what a good idea that is!).

I was lucky enough to secure internships every year, using them to narrow down my options to what industries interested me the most. I went from designing electric wheelchairs to working with drones until I concluded that aerospace, and soon after, Dawn Aerospace was for me. My internship transitioned into employment with Dawn, so it’s proof that these are definitely viable ways to test if industries are right for you, and to find a place in one you love.

“..there’s nothing better than someone passionate about what they want to do and is willing to fight for it.”

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received? 

Show your interest. If you want to work in an industry, the easiest way to get your foot in the door is to reach out. Look for local companies working in your dream field. Find people working there and go talk to them. Even if the timing is not quite right, there’s nothing better than someone passionate about what they want to do and is willing to fight for it.

What do you love about working at Dawn Aerospace?

I love feeling like I am working on the technology of the future. What more could I ask for than working on a vehicle that will one day lead us to space twice in one day? That has never been done before, and the whole team is focused towards this exciting new piece of history. Every bit of progress feels like a huge accomplishment, and everyone’s work is vital, which makes the work extremely rewarding.

“Dawn Aerospace is filled with people not afraid to work hard to get the job done.”

Lastly, Dawn Aerospace continues to grow and evolve.  What kind of candidates are you looking for in terms of experience, attitude and character?

Experimental flight engineering is a highly dynamic environment that makes the ability to adapt, think of solutions, and analyse situations fast incredibly valuable. At the same time, when there are so many elements that must work together on a vehicle, simplicity is key.

A Dawn engineer must be creative, open to change, and critical of their own ideas. Dawn Aerospace is filled with people not afraid to work hard to get the job done. From my experience so far, it is clear how much everyone wants to see their projects succeed. We all love what we do, and if that means we must put in the extra hard yards, it happens – not because we are told to but because we are passionate.

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