Based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., Joe Piotrowski is the lead operations engineer for the King Air and C-20A aircraft. He ensures the aircraft are safe to fly, overseeing everything from installing instruments to actual flight. Beyond monitoring aircraft maintenance, he determines which modifications the planes need for science experiments, and flies onboard for in-air tests.
“I work with scientists from all over the world, pilots, mechanics, quality, assurance, project managers, and many more every single day,” says Piotrowski. “Being able to work with so many people is a dream come true!”
Wearing these two hats, Piotrowski will accompany the C-20A aircraft on its upcoming mission to Gabon, Africa. Afri-SAR is a collaboration between NASA, the ESA, European Space Agency, and African science communities, and uses the C-20A’s Synthetic Aperture Radar to gather data over forests, savannahs, peatlands, and mangroves in Africa. This information will enable ecosystem studies and evaluate data collection processes for assessing of canopy height and above-ground biomass.
Piotrowski’s journey with NASA began in 2015 when he was selected as a summer intern at NASA Armstrong. Though he was previously interested in working on roller coasters at Disney, this experience opened his eyes to airplanes.
“I get to work on airplanes that are used for the greater good,” said Piotrowski. “I can work on science experiments that help people learn about snow, volcanoes, thunderstorms, earthquakes, and landslides.”
Since his internship in 2015, he has made a home at NASA Armstrong. This year, he and his team for the King Air aircraft earned a NASA Group Achievement Award for the SoOpSAR, Signals of Opportunity Synthetic Aperture Radar campaign. Piotrowski already has his sights for other goals on the horizon.
“I absolutely love flying,” he adds. “One day, I hope to get a pilot’s license.”
With all he has already accomplished, it is very likely he will. For Piotrowski and other professionals at NASA Armstrong and other centers across the country, the sky’s the limit.