Today, a pilot’s push of a button can activate — or deactivate — several systems inside an aircraft, making flying more efficient than ever before.
But who’s behind the advanced electronic hardware helping pilots control their aircraft with added ease and confidence?
It’s engineers like Talon Sullivan, who designs and builds circuit boards for Cessna and Beechcraft products. Circuit boards deliver specific functions to an aircraft and its systems. As a member of Textron Aviation’s electronic developments group, Talon works with pilots to test the functionality of the circuit boards she helps build, allowing her to see her work in action.
Going on a test flight and seeing your circuit board and everything it’s doing, knowing you helped build it for that aircraft – that is the greatest feeling.Talon Sullivan, electrical engineer, Textron Aviation
In her role as an electronic design engineer, Talon develops the software that activates the boards to accomplish tasks – from powering up an aircraft’s cooling system, to activating its landing gears.
And while computer science and coding jobs are often prominent at large tech companies and Silicon Valley startups, they’re critically important in aviation as well, Talon said.
“I have my fair share of hardware design projects, but I also have projects that require programming and coding,” she said. “Every day there’s something different.”
Currently, she’s involved with her first solo project: building the circuit board and writing software for the bleed air and anti-icing system on the Beechcraft Denali, the company’s latest clean-sheet single engine aircraft design. The process always begins with a request from Textron’s Aviation’s systems designers.
“They tell us what they want the system to do for the aircraft,” Talon said. “Then we map out everything we’ll need to accomplish that task and start designing a circuit board.”
After completing the circuit board’s design, Talon writes the code that communicates specific actions to the board to ensure it activates at the flip of a switch or the push of a button once it’s installed in an aircraft.
Software development for aircraft components was initially intimidating, Talon said. After almost seven years as an engineer, she now considers it her favorite part of the role.
“Our leaders on this team are so fantastic,” she said. “They took the time to teach me and build my confidence around coding.”
Talon is part of a close-knit group of fellow “sparkies,” the industry nickname for electronic engineers. She’s also a member of Textron Aviation’s Engineering Engagement Team, which is made up of nearly 200 engineers across different disciplines, all focused on networking inside and outside of the office. The team provides an opportunity for new engineers to establish meaningful relationships with mentors and tenured colleagues, she said.
The electronics development group is primarily composed of professionals with computer science and electrical engineering backgrounds. They’re often accustomed to working independently, Talon said, but a culture of collaboration at Textron Aviation encourages teamwork to drive success and deliver results.
“We like solving problems,” she said. “As engineers, it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know how to do this,’ but we’ll work together and then come up with a plan to help us solve the problem.”