Journey to AEDC facility provided an answer to prayers

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Madhav Rao lis¬tened intently as one of his engineering pro¬fessors told him about a place that almost sounded too good to be true, where cutting-edge flight simulation testing was conduct¬ed among a tight-knit team of profession¬als. His undergradu¬ate professor never mentioned the name of the place and Rao didn't ask.

The college student didn't know it at the time, but he would work there one day.
Shortly after gradua¬tion, Rao landed a job at the National Association of Homebuilders Research Center (NAHB) and soon realized the job was far from ideal. After two years of working with NAHB he switched to work on a contract basis for Kop-Flex. Three days after his contract position expired, a traffic accident left him without a car.

Stranded, he looked for a job on the Internet.

"I wasn't finding any success that way and I prayed about it," said Rao, who is an Aerospace Test¬ing Alliance (ATA) sys¬tems engineer at AEDC's Hypervelocity Wind Tun¬nel 9, located in Silver Spring, Md.

After three months of being unemployed, Rao ran into a former church acquaintance, Pete Biffel, who had worked at Tun¬nel 9.

"Pete told me he worked with engineers - I didn't know anything more than that at the time - I didn't even know where he worked," Rao acknowl¬edged. "He said, 'I'll put your resume in, they need some people.'"

Recalling how dissatis¬fied he had been with his prior work experiences, Rao said he had compiled a list of requirements for his next job - a heavenly wish list.
"There were seven things I told the Lord I wanted if I'm going to get another job in
this field," he said. "I got all of them and more."

In June 1997, Rao said his prayers were answered; he got a job at the ground testing facility in Silver Spring.

"I was looking for a good team leader, that's Jeff Waldo and he's been excellent," he said. "And I was looking for someone who would mentor me in terms of engineering. Well, the guy sitting across from me, Mike Metzger, is also excellent.

"My commute went from an hour to 15 min¬utes," he continued. "I was looking for an atmosphere that was challenging, a chance to do lots of dif¬ferent things, I got that. I do design work, analysis and get to work on the computer - I enjoy all of that.

But there's more - I was looking for a little more laid back environ¬ment. I didn't want to be in a cubicle and we're not here."

Looking back, he re¬flected on how he got into engineering in the first place. Rao said he had emigrated to the U.S. from India with his family when he was two.

Well-educated professionals in Asia - his father is a neurologist and his mother was a Mon-tessori teacher - expect their children to pursue engineering, the medical profession or academics.

"The reason I went into engineering - it was prob¬ably for a lack of not being interested in other things," he said laughing. "People from Asia, like my par¬ents, are usually engineers or doctors. I didn't want to be a doctor, but I was good in the fields of math and science."

Rao's first major proj¬ect was to provide a new and safer design for the heater vessel assembly for the two blow-down tunnels at the facility. The work was challenging from a purely engineer¬ing perspective, but there were other hurdles, which he also enjoyed.

"That was my first de¬sign job and we got it to work successfully," he said. "That was also the first time I used CAD (computer-aided design). I learned how to use it on that job. It was a good trial by fire experience."

Rao, like everyone else at Tunnel 9, wears more than one hat.

"Within the diaphragm system I'm specifically responsible for, I've got five or six different proj¬ects I'm doing on the side that are long term projects to improve that system," he said.

Rao works on the sys¬tem to keep it functioning while tests are being run and during longer sched¬uled maintenance periods when the facility is not being used.
He also works on other engineering systems at Tunnel 9 and has several collateral responsibili¬ties.

In 2002, he got married. He and his wife, Monica, now have three children with the
most recent, Mer¬cy, being adopted from China. When he isn't busy at work tackling the intri¬cacies of the current test or working on the latest system design challenge, Rao is spending time with his children.

Unlike his parents, Rao said he doesn't have the same expectations for his own children. He wants them to succeed in life, but in a profession of their own choosing.

However, Rao acknowl¬edged that his professional skills do have an influence at home. He is always fixing things around the house and his children want in on the action.

"They love tools," he said, "But we have to put limits on them. They al¬ways want to use my tools; they don't want to use their toy tools. If they've been good, they get to use one of my tools after din¬ner for half an hour."

"What field they go into is not a major factor for me as a parent," he con¬tinued. "I have one goal in life, to bring them to know the Lord and serve Him. Everything else, if they follow the Lord, will take care of itself."