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Working Week: Brent Christner

Brent Christner is director of structural and mechanical engineering at Eclipse Aerospace, the Albuquerque-based company which manufactures the latest version of the pioneering Eclipse 500 very light jet

Where were you educated?

After graduating from high school in Denver, I attended the Colorado School of Mines, graduating with a BS in Metallurgical Engineering. I later finished an MBA degree from the University of St Thomas while working in Minneapolis.

When did you first want an aviation career?

I actually had the space bug before turning to aviation later in my career. I worked for Martin Marietta Astronautics - now Lockheed Martin Space Systems - for 20 years before having an opportunity to work on aircraft. After my experiences in the design, development and certification of the Eclipse 500 very light jet, I am now an aviation convert and plan to finish my career in aviation.

How did you start out?

At Martin Marietta/Lockheed Martin I was involved in the development of advanced manufacturing and quality technologies. In this role I contributed to the Titan and Atlas Launch Vehicles, Cassini Spacecraft, Space Shuttle External Tank and the Manned Maneuvering Unit. While in this job I became involved in friction stir welding and the air force-sponsored Lean Aircraft Initiative, which ultimately led to my position at Eclipse Aviation. The career path I took is probably a little atypical for my current position. My time at Martin Marietta was spent almost entirely as part of production operations and I only made the switch to the engineering department when I joined Eclipse Aviation. I joined Eclipse Aviation in 2000 as the materials and process engineering manager and was tasked with leading the friction stir weld development effort for the Eclipse 500.

What else did you do?

I served as project manager for the Eclipse 500 full-scale fatigue test and for the redesign and certification of a new PhostrEx engine nacelle fire extinguisher. Becoming a US Federal Aviation Administration delegated engineering representative also helped my career growth.

What is your current job?

I joined Eclipse Aerospace in September 2009 at its start of operations, having acquired the assets of Eclipse Aviation. I have the privilege of directing a very talented and dedicated group of engineers responsible for the design and analysis of aircraft structure and mechanical systems. I am overseeing the completion of the structural and mechanical design for the Eclipse 550 and assisting with the production start of this model. My team also provides engineering support to the service centres, maintaining and upgrading the 261 Eclipse 500 aircraft in the fleet. I also work with the FAA on design change approval and we are expanding the list of countries in which the Eclipse is certificated, adding the United Arab Emirates next year and Brazil in the coming months. Because Eclipse Aerospace is a relatively small organisation, I still get my hands dirty. I am still involved to some extent in friction stir welding, materials and process engineering, and PhostrEx fire suppression technology.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of being part of the team which completed the friction stir weld development. In less than two years, my team was able to get a technology that was new to aviation developed, tested, and made part of the aircraft design. We were also able to gain FAA approval of the process. It meant a lot of long, tiring days, but in the end we were successful and the Eclipse 500 is a better product for it. I am also proud to have been involved with two programmes in my career that have been awarded the National Aeronautic Association Collier Trophy - the Manned Maneuvering Unit in 1984 and the Eclipse 500 in 2005.

How is the Eclipse 550 better?

We worked with Innovative Solutions & Support and greatly improved the avionics, adding synthetic vision, auto throttles and some other great safety features. I was able to work first-hand on other 550 projects that are now nearing completion, such as an improved air-conditioning compressor, a glass-faced windshield, improved cabin insulation, rain erosion resistance, and reliability improvements in the static system.

What is your favourite part of the job? Least favourite?

I enjoy coming to work every day and working with people who are as passionate about aviation in general, and Eclipse jets in particular, as I am. I also like being in a position where I feel challenged and regularly have the opportunity to learn something new. On the downside, I schedule and get invited to a lot of meetings that sometimes take time away from other things I'd like to get accomplished.