Please tell us about yourself

Iam an avionics engineer at Boeing Company. She develops computer systems that help planes fly.

Perera is a design engineer. She works at the Boeing Company. It builds airplanes. 

She works on the planes’ avionics systems. The word “avionics” describes electronics on planes. Avionics systems are computer systems. They help pilots fly. Pilots use them to take off and land. They also use them to find the best flight path. 

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Which kind of avionics system do you work on? 

I work on something called the Flight Management System. It is called FMS for short. The FMS is a computer system. It is in the cockpit. The cockpit is where the pilots sit on a plane. 

Flying a plane is not like driving a car. It is much harder. There are no street signs. Pilots do not know where they are going by looking out the window. The FMS helps them go the best way. It makes sure the plane lands in the right place! 

How does the FMS work? 

Pilots use the FMS before takeoff. They tell it where they want to fly. The FMS finds the best way. 

First, it checks the wind. It sees how fast the wind is blowing. Then it checks the direction. Winds blowing the same way as the plane are helpful. They make it fly faster. Winds going the other way slow it down. The FMS uses all this information. It decides the best path for the plane to fly. 

What does a design engineer do? 

Design engineers design the FMS. We decide how it should work. We also choose what the pilot sees on the FMS. 

The FMS has a text messaging system. I helped make it. Airports use it to send messages to pilots. The pilots get the messages on the FMS screen in the cockpit. The messages tell them when to land. They give other important information, too. It keeps everyone safe. 

How did you get interested in avionics? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

When I was young, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I found out that I have asthma. It is an illness. Sometimes it makes it hard to breathe. Astronauts have to be in perfect health. It was no longer possible for me. 

So, I looked at engineering. First, I studied engineering for spacecraft. Engineers design spacecraft and their systems. They make it possible to fly to space! 

Then, I started to travel. I love that airplanes can take you all over. They help you see the world. That is when I switched from building spacecraft to airplanes. I like building something I can fly on.

What steps do you take to design flight systems and get them into airplanes? 

First, my team designs the FMS. Every FMS is a little different. It depends on what airlines want. Then we have other people build it for us. They use code to build it. Code is a set of instructions. It tells a computer what to do. 

Testing comes next. First we test the FMS in a lab. We use flight simulators. A flight simulator is a big machine. It looks like a real cockpit. It lets us test the FMS safely. We can stay on the ground to test it. There are screens where the windows should be! 

Next, we test the FMS in a real plane. We go up in the air. I sit in the cockpit with the pilots. I watch the new FMS in action. 

Do you have any advice for kids who might want to go into engineering? 

Study math and science. Engineers need to know these subjects well. You may not be great at them at first, but do not give up. You will get better if you keep trying. Give it your best!