Employee Story - Andy Herder, Engineering Director for L3 Aviation Products

by Andy Herder on 03/19/2019

From an early age, I was fascinated with the aerospace industry. Building and flying model planes, launching rockets, and reading about anything with wings were frequent pastimes. I enjoyed soaking up every bit of information about these amazing machines and the people that design, build, and operate them. Several times, our family went to the airshow in Kalamazoo, MI. I was amazed and thrilled by the sights and sounds of aircraft new and old going through their routines. I could only imagine what it would be like to be more than a spectator.

While I was attending college, I had an opportunity to work at a leading aerospace manufacturer of hydraulic pumps and actuators used in all types of commercial and military aircraft, as well as helicopters. I was excited to participate in the process of manufacturing parts that would someday help an airplane fly. During this experience, I had a chance to see the design process, including the testing and failures that pave the way to successful products.

Following my engineering coursework at Michigan State University, I joined a company that eventually became part of L3. My first role was as an engineer designing and maintaining mechanical gyroscopic instruments. I clearly recall my first weeks on the job as I was handed a stack of yellowed books that covered the theory and fundamentals of these intricate devices and realized how much I had to learn from the experienced engineers sitting next to me.

As technology moved on, electronics replaced the spinning gyros, displays replaced gears and pointers, and my responsibilities changed to leading projects and product upgrades. The problem-solving aspects of the job remained an interesting and motivating part of the mix. Leading projects came with the added benefit of working directly with customers. Working alongside other teams to ensure the product we were designing would serve its purpose and ultimately help the pilot accomplish his or her mission safely brought new satisfaction to each day.

Several years ago, our team won an opportunity to participate in the development of a new cockpit display. This display was special; it would have a touchscreen and would serve as the primary flight crew interface to the airplane. Dozens of switches and other controls would be replaced by a single piece of glass. I had the pleasure of leading our engineering team during the initial design and prototype efforts for this display, one part of many that made up an exciting new business jet. I was proud of our team’s accomplishments on this project, so when on a business trip I learned that a representative from the aircraft manufacturer would be giving an evening presentation about the jet at a local air and space museum, I just had to go and listen. Few moments in my career have been as moving as standing in that museum next to the charred skin of the Apollo VII command module when the image of that cockpit was presented on the screen, and I knew our team had been a part of it, I was very proud, and it was a fulfilling moment.

In 2011 I learned to fly myself, earning a Private Pilot Certificate. Eventually, an Instrument Rating and Commercial Certificate followed. I enjoy flying regularly and have made some memorable trips with my family. Flying by instruments is particularly enjoyable with the emphasis on control and the precision-and sound of a gyro coming up to speed still makes me smile.

I’m excited to see what the next five years bring in airline capacity as the FAA NEXGEN continues to mature and airlines continue their rapid expansion. L3 is well positioned to contribute to both of these activities. Integration of unmanned systems into the national airspace system will also yield some exciting opportunities that are yet to be fully discovered.

Andy Herder