photo of J. Conor Bingaman

Current Job

Senior Aeronautical Engineer

Current Employer

Lockheed Martin - Skunk Works

Current Location

Fort Worth, TX

Why did you decide to pursue an aerospace engineering degree?

I didn't think about being an engineer until I learned about aerospace engineering the first time I visited NASA. It seemed like they were solving the most challenging problems. The essence of aerospace engineering seemed to be the art of the impossible, one great technological leap after the other.

What student project/organizations were you involved with and how did these groups help prepare you for your career?

My experience with Design, Build, Fly (DBF) and the UT Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Team prepared me for my career more than anything else I participated in. They were the places where I put all the skills I had learned together, and understood how the pieces fit to make a functional aircraft. Ultimately it was this experience that helped me land my job.

Were you involved in any fellowships or internships? If so, please explain and discuss the benefits.

I was not an intern, but I wish I had been. At least from my perspective there is no better way to learn about and prepare yourself for a full-time job. On top of that, they usually pay pretty well in our profession. I wanted an internship but was not able to get one, so I sought out research opportunities instead, which were also very valuable.

Do you recommend any particular focus for students other than academics to improve themselves as potential candidates for jobs? 

Find out what you love about aerospace and get involved in an organization where you can put those skills to work. If you love space exploration, help the satellite team design orbits; if you love flying, get your pilot's license; if you want to design things, try your hand in a design lab. While it is great to be well rounded, most of the time it is one experience or skill that is key to getting your first job. When you combine relevant experience with a passion for the field it makes you a valuable employee. Even though my UAV Team experience only scratched the surface of what I would do in my first job, my passion for it was enough to catch the attention of the right employer.

Are there courses at UT you wish you had taken? If so, which ones and why?

I took some of the space-track courses as tech electives even though I was in the aeronautical track. I am glad I did that as I feel like I'm more versatile and have a greater understanding in our field. If there is a particular subject area you are interested in I would recommend trying to get approved to take a graduate class. They weren’t as scary as they seemed when I was an undergraduate and I think there are a few I would have enjoyed.

Why did you choose one track over the other (atmospheric/space)? Do you feel this has made any difference in your career?

NASA is what inspired me to become an engineer but as we started learning about aircraft I was drawn to aeronautics. I chose the aero track but ended up taking both space electives. I do not think either track limits your career and having knowledge of both has benefited me at times. I would recommend studying the track you are most passionate about. Who knows, your career may go in a totally different direction than you expect.

What are your career goals?

I want to do good work. I want to push the envelope of what our aircraft or spacecraft can achieve. I want to solve problems that expand what humans can achieve. My dream is to lead a program that accomplishes something people think is impossible today.

Who was your most influential ASE or EM professor and why?

Dr. Philip Varghese and Dr. Noel Clemens were some of my favorites, but I have to give Dr. Hans Mark the title of most influential. When I showed up in AE101 I did not have the commitment necessary to pursue an engineering degree. Dr. Mark inspired me with stories and convinced me that working in aerospace was worth the challenge.

What has been your most influential ASE or EM course and why?

Flight Dynamics; I have yet to lose my fascination with the mechanics of what makes an aircraft fly. Although when I took the class I barely understood the material.

What is one piece of advice you have for our students?

The sheer amount of knowledge involved in an ASE degree is immense and I remember feeling overwhelmed by it. You do not need to retain 100 percent of what you learn to be a skilled engineer. The old aphorism that an engineering degree "teaches you how to think" could not be more true. You are learning how to take on a problem that seems overwhelming and learning how to solve it. In your career you will constantly find yourself learning on the job, so do not give up and don't limit yourself. Reach out for what you really want to do and with patience and hard work you will achieve it.

Do you have a favorite memory as a UT aerospace student?

Traveling to a DBF competition. Both of our airplanes crashed, but we still had a good time and learned a lot.

List three things that most people don't know about you.

1. I love UT football.

2. I once touched and stood on top of an SR-71 Blackbird.

3. If I had to live anywhere outside of Texas, I'd choose England.