Vice President of Engineering, FAA DER
As a child in Barbados, Simone Drakes would watch her father — an air traffic controller — work from his wraparound desk in the ATC Tower. She’d watch planes land from the end of the runway, dreaming of the day it would be her in the cockpit of a 747.
Drakes came to the United States at the age of 14 to pursue her dreams in aviation. She attended Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Fla. and graduated with her BS in Avionics Engineering Technology (AET) as Most Outstanding AET Graduating Senior. Then, she began her career as a Technical Coordinator for EMTEQ Engineering in Miami in 2004 and was soon promoted to Junior Avionics Project Engineer.
“For four years, under the mentorship of three brilliant FAA designated engineering representative (DER), I grew my knowledge and experience in aircraft avionics installation design and FAA certification as I was focused on design for large transport aircraft,” she said. “In 2008, I joined Avionica in Miami as an Avionics Project Engineer, a company I thought had great potential. While here, I have been promoted to Aircraft Engineering Manager, and now Vice President of Engineering.”
Drakes said she didn’t start college knowing she wanted to be an engineer — she always thought she wanted to be a pilot.
“Ultimately, math was the reason I chose engineering,” she said. “During my first year at Embry Riddle, I was taking classes that included complex mathematical elements, and I found that logical decision making came easy for me, so I decided to go down the path of engineering instead. When I first started college, I met a gentleman through my mom named Michael Forde who was an electrical engineer in telecommunications. He helped me a great deal. In addition, there were many electrical engineers in my father’s family. Of course, my father and I did a lot of DIY projects and worked on cars together, so I probably got my knack for ingenuity from him.”
The working world
As a female engineer, Drakes said that on occasion, she feels misunderstood or mistrusted when she first meets someone.
“I feel that’s more because they don’t know me yet, rather than women versus men. The problem is magnified when dealing with some people from the Middle East where they are still overcoming male versus female cultural norms,” she said. “Once they meet me and see the skills I bring to the table, I gain their trust, we put those issues behind us, and work together to move forward.”
Drakes said that the most significant team project she headed was for the introduction of the ATS Voice and Safety FANS data Safety Services for Avionica’s satLINK MAX. The STC was performed on a Boeing 777 aircraft in Hong Kong, a very active and challenging civil aviation space.
“I had two Avionica engineers, 3 FAA delegates (1 DAR and 2 DER’s), as well as 2 Boeing engineers, plus 10 Haeco MRO’s over an 11-day MOD,” she said. “In addition to coordinating my team half way around the world, the Hong Kong international Airport (Chek Lap Kok Airport) was undergoing maintenance on the runway’s ILS system. Our flight tests were cancelled three times before we were able to finally get airborne.”
Drakes feels that she brings dedication and tenacity to each project, allowing her team to forge through different obstacles to get the work done.
“Raul (Segredo, President of Avionica) always tells me that he’s amazed at how I can motivate people to get work done. When it comes to my team, I feel I’m personable and humble, taking all voices and opinions into account. Problem solving is a team effort, and our results are always team oriented,” she said.
Currently, she is working on a cyber security compliance project in the aviation environment where aircraft are not constantly connected to a network.
“By creating strong relationships with all parties involved, we believe we have developed a path forward. To be successful, it will require strategic partnerships with the FAA, industry experts, and people who have experience working within the aircraft environment. It will draw heavily on our technical expertise, as well as the trust we’ve built with our team. I’m optimistic that we will be able to make this a reality in the very near future,” she said.
According to Drakes, with young kids, the “Engineering Mentality” is either going to be there or it’s not, regardless of whether its male or female. So, it’s wrong to try and force STEM careers on girls who aren’t personally drawn to them.
“You shouldn’t have to do anything to motivate that mentality other than giving them the understanding that they can be successful in the field” she said. “There were many women in engineering and technology throughout history who should have won Nobel Prizes who are not well known. Perhaps highlighting them and their accomplishments might motivate those with the ‘engineering mentality’ to see that they, too, could be successful.
Laughing, Drakes would have told her younger self to get a Masters degree before leaving school!
“When I first began working as an engineer, a person in a leadership position told me to always ‘Be yourself and speak your mind.’ That advice has stayed with me to this day,” she said. “If I’m ever upset, feeling challenged or overwhelmed, I remember to be myself and speak my mind, and that advice has never failed me. It has allowed me to remain true to myself, and to be confident in my skills and abilities.”