Fast 5: A 20 Twenties Winner On How MRO Shaped His Studies

Daniel Mayper at Aviation Week's 2022 20 Twenties Luncheon.

One of the students chosen for Aviation Week’s 20 Twenties program this year has firsthand MRO experience. As a member of the Indiana Army National Guard, Daniel Mayper led a team that performed scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Mayper graduated from Purdue University earlier this year with a B.S. in aeronautics and astronautics. He spoke with Aviation Week about how this experience has played a role in his engineering pursuits and shared his perspectives on how the aerospace industry can better reach young people.

What was your experience like maintaining and repairing helicopters with the Indiana Army National Guard?

This is a mixed bag. On one hand, I had the opportunity to actually get my hands on real aircraft and understand that there is more to engineering than just the theoretical side. I can't say the entire experience was enjoyable. Deploying is hard and everyone in the military runs into bad leadership eventually, but there was so much that I learned from my experience that, if given the option, I would do it all again without a moment's hesitation. Being a helicopter maintainer gave me insights previously unthought of and leadership skills that I'm only now realizing the importance of.

How did your maintenance skills translate to your aeronautics and astronautics studies?

It gave me a perspective beyond the theoretical side, which was the focus of my studies. When my peers were wondering if something was possible, I was thinking beyond that: How is this [aircraft] to work on? Does it need special tools? What would repair cost in man-hours? It helped me see the big picture of a task and understand that the best theoretical design may not be the best in practice due to physical limitations.

This came into use my senior year when I was designing a UAV for my senior design and a peer wanted to use cotter pins to combine pieces of our aircraft. I brought up that this would be a poor decision due to the cost associated, since each cotter pin is for one-time use. I also brought up that we would be assembling the plane at the end of November, so it would be cold. This is notable because the cotter pins are tiny and sharp, so we would have more difficulty putting them on and would also be more liable to cut ourselves during installation. Plus, we would be required to bring an extra tool to the test site that we would otherwise not need. Due to my experiences, I thought of all these things while no one else in my group had, and it eventually helped lead us to a more effective design.

What was it like studying via remote learning while you were deployed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia?

It was difficult. Whenever I went somewhere new, I would have to communicate to my professors that I may or may not have internet access. Even if I wasn't in transit, internet isn't the most stable overseas, and there were often days that I couldn't get my lectures to load. Beyond technical difficulties, the time difference made communication with my professors or teaching assistants difficult, since we were on wildly different schedules. On top of this, I had trouble finding peer help as well since I wasn't able to meet or study with peers like I had in previous semesters. I was lucky that my chain of command was aware that I was taking classes and allowed me to remain on our first shift, which allowed me to finish work and make my lectures on time, but this meant that I was constantly working. This was probably the most difficult part, since I would be tired and would want to decompress but wouldn't have the opportunity to.

What should the aviation industry be doing to attract more interest from young people?

In my opinion, they need to keep doing what they're doing! Companies like Boeing, SpaceX and Blue Origin had people at Purdue who weren't remotely related to aerospace (i.e. industrial engineers) joining space-related clubs such as Purdue Space Program to get involved with it. At this point, the only thing the aviation world can do more is better advertisement! Some of the coolest things in not only the history of aviation, but the history of the world, are happening in our time right now and nobody will care if they don't know. Supersonic commercial flight, development of hypersonic flight, Artemis and the James Webb Space Telescope are all the leading edge of development in the world right now and we need to be shouting it from the rooftops.

What are your post-graduation career aspirations?

At the moment I am a systems engineer at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. While I’m uncertain of where I will end up, I know that I want to work on aerodynamic and/or thermal analysis of aerospace bodies. I am definitely keeping an eye on the aerospace world for that thing that lets me know that it's my calling.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.