Love of Science Began at Early Age for Air Force Captain

By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Air Force Capt. Heather Stickney recalls how her love of science took flight as a child, with the support of her father and participation in a favorite pastime.

Air Force Capt. Heather Stickney, an aerospace engineer, talks about her love of science at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, March 3, 2016. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

Air Force Capt. Heather Stickney, an aerospace engineer, talks about her love of science at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, March 3, 2016. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando

“Science just always really appealed to me from a young age,” the aerospace engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said.

She recalled that she was fascinated by airplanes as a young girl.

“When I was a lot younger, my dad used to fly remote-controlled planes, so I was participating in that hobby with him and learned how to build them and fly them,” she said.

From there, she said, her love of science and plans for a career in the aviation field “took off,” and she decided to pursue aerospace engineering.

“I saw the military as being a great opportunity to dive into that – the Air Force in particular because of all the cool jets they get to fly,” she said.

Important Mission, Protecting Pilots

Stickney, who has been in the military for nearly seven years, works on the automatic collision avoidance technologies program. That system automatically takes over an aircraft’s flight controls to avoid an imminent crash.

The captain, who was describing the system to reporters during a March 3 visit of Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, played a video of two reenactments in which pilots’ lives were saved in real-life near crashes because of the technology.

How does it feel to work on such an important program?

“It’s a huge honor,” she said. “I can’t take credit for much of it, because I’m just in the right place at the right time, but the history of this program goes back years.”

She said she is grateful to be able to work with and be mentored by the people who came up with the idea and who have dedicated themselves to this life-saving technology.

“It’s inspiring as you go forward to see if you put in that type of work and effort what great things can come of it,” she said.

‘Go For It,’ She Tells Young People

Stickney’s advice to young people who want to go into science: “Go for it.” There is a huge payoff in reward in the types of projects out there, she said.

“There are always new and exciting opportunities in science,” she said. Another bit of advice: “I emphasize early math, as much math as you can take.”

So what does the future hold for this young officer, who already has an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in aerospace engineering?

“I’d like to get out to the Air Force Academy at some point to be an instructor and teach part of the engineering undergrad curriculum, and then maybe follow up with a Ph.D. later on,” she said.

If you want to read more about the work of the Air Force Research Laboratory, check out the link above.

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