AIAA Member Spotlight – March 2017 Written 16 March 2017

AIAA Profiles Dr. Samantha Magill

By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications (2008–2017)

Sam-MagillThe Spotlight stuck to the East Coast this month, shining on Greensboro, North Carolina, and illuminating AIAA Associate Fellow Dr. Samantha Magill of Honda Aircraft Company. Magill is the company’s head of special projects and diversity and inclusion. 

Since joining Honda Aircraft Company in 2010, Magill has held several positions within the company, including Technical Marketing, Sales Engineering, and Flight Sciences’ Stability and Control Engineer. Currently, her role has her overseeing many activities pertaining to community, academic, government and industry relations, especially those that center on diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

Magill holds an M.S. and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, both earned from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Her career began at AeroVironment, Inc., in southern California, working on small unmanned aerial vehicles. After her time at Aerovironment, Inc., she moved from southern California to Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, where she worked with Dornier-Fairchild on designing and marketing a light business jet. 

In addition to her work at Honda Aircraft, Magill serves on many other boards and committees. Within AIAA she is a member of the Public Policy Committee and co-chairs its Key Issues Working Group. She is also a member of the Institute’s Corporate Membership Committee, and she is on one of the governance transition sub-teams. Outside of AIAA, she serves on the boards of Guilford Technical Community College, the United Way of Greater Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Junior League of Greensboro. 

We began our interview by discussing what inspired Magill to get into aerospace and if she had any significant mentors or influencers along the way? Magill replied, “Well, I knew early on that I was very good at math, but not so great at English, so that lead me to the conclusion that if I wanted to make a contribution to the world and do something useful and purposeful, as well as something I could be passionate about, that engineering would make an excellent career. And if I was going to be an engineer, then I was of the opinion that aerospace engineering would be the most exciting engineering field. My father was an airline pilot at Piedmont and he supported my decision to major in aerospace engineering 100%, even if he thought my decision was a bit myopic in nature. I can remember wanting to be an aerospace engineer early on in school; for instance, in my freshman biology class the teacher asked what we wanted to be when ‘we grew up’ and I said, without even a minute’s hesitation, ‘an astronaut.’ And knowing that’s what I wanted to be I knew that a degree and doctorate in aerospace engineering would be a good start to fulfilling the requirements for that job.” 

When I asked Magill about her favorite career memories thus far, she had two: “Definitely the type certification of the HondaJet. Building an aircraft is hard, and getting the aircraft certified by the FAA will test a team to its limit.” Her second career memory actually involved her taking the controls of an aircraft: “Another of my favorite memories was getting the opportunity to fly the B-25 ‘Mitchell’ bomber ‘Russell’s Raiders,’ only a few hundred feet above the French countryside, and then being part of its crew for the La Ferte Alais Air Show.” 

The conversation turned to the advice that Magill has for students pursuing aerospace degrees and what advice she has for young professionals just starting out in aerospace. She answered, “I’d tell them you never know what opportunities will be presented to you in life, and I promise you that the opportunities presented to you will ‘knock your socks off.” She counseled, “always be prepared to say yes when opportunities present themselves. Find real-world scenarios to apply what you are learning in school – internships, co-ops, and research projects with professors and/or companies.” 

Continuing the theme of education, I asked Magill what she thought college and universities could be doing to better prepare their students to work in the aerospace industry. She responded, “There are a lot of smart young people out there with fresh ideas, and substantially more technology capability at their fingertips to test and refine their ideas. Many universities are finding ways to broaden the design thinking process and cross pollinating other fields, so take advantage of this to work with others outside your field of study.” She also added, “A common concern, and this goes beyond simply engineering, is that students today are lacking the ‘soft skills’ to navigate a corporate and/or community environment. I see efforts to address that with team projects and working with liberal arts groups, but there is really a lot more that could be done, and you have to create standards for the curriculum.” 

She continued, “But employers can also build robust intern and co-op programs where the students participate and have a critical role to the success of the project/program – these add value to the bottom line.” She also thought that “employers could provide schools with ‘real-world’ problems to solve and hold them accountable. Whether the student goes to work for that company/employer, or even stays in engineering, they will be better prepared for the corporate world and know what to expect.” 

Shifting our attention from students and young professionals, I asked Magill her views on the value of AIAA to aerospace professionals and the profession at large. She noted, “People who make aerospace their profession have a passion for all things that fly and also explore – AIAA is an excellent community to network and share that passion. AIAA also provides an avenue to be connected to and aware of the broader industry as well.” 

She explained, “AIAA is a great place to find mentors, as well as different perspectives, for yourself in building and growing your career and/or finding solutions to your own company’s issues. It’s a support system and an opportunity to expand your capability and knowledge by participating in the industry in ways that you company may not offer.” She also reminded individuals that “commit to involvement in Committees, Forums, and Sections, can open doors you never expected.” 

On her own membership, Magill reflected: “I’ve been a member since 1993, my father had the foresight to enroll me as a student member as soon as I committed to aerospace. As a student member, I was involved at the student branch and conference level and in the committees – all while learning and honing skills to make me more valuable to my company and the industry.” 

We closed out our discussion by looking ahead, with me asking Magill where she saw the future of aerospace, especially the future of civilian aircraft and what we might see over the next 10–15 years. Magill replied, “Autonomy will be an issue – increasing the safety and expanding capabilities for manned and unmanned vehicles.” 

She also felt that we will see “democratization of general aviation – getting more people involved in the process.” And of course, we will see advances made in additive manufacturing, with Magill noting, “The designs could be limitless with the capability to build in efficiency and performance with much less – or no – design compromise.” 

She also believes that we’ll see advances in electric propulsion, be it hybrid or not, and she opined that “with increased fuel cost, emission regulations and the limit to fossil fuels – electric vehicles will open many doors for a long-term sustainable industry.” She closed our interview, noting: “In 10 to 15 years, I believe you will see Amazon delivering via drones and maybe even Uber picking you up in a quadcopter.” 

AIAA congratulates Dr. Samantha Magill on her selection as the March 2017 Spotlight subject, and wishes her the best as she continues her work at the Honda Aircraft Company.