Erin Henderson, a flight test engineer with Boeing and 2002 NC State aerospace engineering (AE) graduate, visited NC State’s campus on November 10 to speak with students and faculty members in the College of Engineering. During her visit, she spoke about her time at Boeing and her work on the 737 Max.
Henderson has been a part of the Boeing team since 2005, where she started off in Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Services organization. In 2006, she moved to Experimental Flight Test, where she currently leads a team of six engineers.
During her time at Boeing, she has mostly worked on the 737. She was the lead flight test engineer on the 737 ecoDemonstrator, a flight test platform dedicated to demonstrating low noise and environmentally friendly technologies for future commercial airplane programs — a project that, according to Henderson, will make a difference to the world and is the future of aviation. She has also worked on the Performance Improvement Program for the 737NG, and spent nearly three years directly supporting testing for the 737 Delivery Center.
Henderson’s team has many job functions to include controlling the modifications to the flight test airplane to ensure it can fulfill the requirements of each test, interfacing directly with mechanics and various engineering disciplines, and preparing the airplane for each flight test. Her job requires meeting demanding test schedules while keeping the safety of the pilots and crew at the forefront of each day’s activities.
Henderson was assigned as the lead of the first 737-8MAX in 2013, and she was part of the test planning process, which took almost two full years. Her test team was active throughout the airplane’s initial build; they readied the airplane for its first flight, and then completed 10 months of testing before returning the airplane to the 737 Delivery Center to prepare for its entry into service. During this journey, she interacted with structures engineers, systems engineers, flight controls specialists, numerous test pilots and mechanics, and even Boeing marketing and communications personnel.
Recalling that January 29 first flight at 9:48 am, Henderson said it was “crazy, terrifying, and a great moment.” The Boeing 737 Max flight lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes and went very smoothly.
“It’s a 24/7 job,” said Henderson. “You spend so much time working continuously on a project, but it’s so rewarding to know everything went well and you did your part.”
Thanks to a love of math and aviation, Henderson says her time at Boeing has been amazing, and she feels her AE degree from NC State not only helped her in preparing for her career, but also prepared her for life.
“My AE degree has taught me a way of thinking,” said Henderson. “It has helped me in making decisions, and in how I approach and solve problems — these are skills that have also translated to my daily life.”
Henderson also holds a Master of Science in Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (2005).