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If you have ever had a conversation with a child about how planes fly, why birds fly or why humans don’t fly, your answer has probably been something less than scientific – and completely age appropriate for the little person asking the question. However, if that child asked that question of Boeing test pilot Vince Eckelkamp, he’s likely to give you a very detailed, very scientific response – because he knows first-hand what it takes to make planes fly and why they work the way they do.

As part of STEMtember, we asked Vince why he chose STEM as a field of study and how it helped him get his dream job as a test pilot for Boeing airplanes.

1. What is your current occupation?

I am a Captain for Boeing – specifically with the Production Flight Test, Boeing Test & Evaluations group

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2. What inspired you to start studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects?

For me, STEM = “understanding how airplanes work”, and as a pilot that’s a good thing. My dad was a pilot in the Air Force so early on I had the bug to be a pilot. I was fortunate enough to choose a path that allowed me to reach that goal. I did well in high school and from there studied at the Air Force Academy, and then to Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) in Phoenix.

3. How did studying (STEM) help you to get where you wanted to be in your career?

STEM subjects were a natural choice for me since I’m the type of person who likes finite answers not fuzzy ones… In other disciplines there usually can be more than one answer and it take quite a few words to get to it. Generally speaking, in STEM there is usually only one right answer (i.e. plug and chug – plug the number into the equation, define the variables, and a single solution is achieved!)

4. If you could offer advice to the next generation, why study STEM subjects?

STEM is the future, it’s all around us, and is constantly/rapidly changing the world with the evolving technologies. If you want to be a part of it you need to include STEM in your studies!

5. What is the coolest story you could tell a group of students or teachers about what STEM education has helped you do?

To become a pilot here at Boeing. I’ve been a pilot for over 24 years flying with the US Air Force, United Airlines, and then hired at Boeing initially as an airplane Instructor Pilot then recently hired into Production Test. Production Test only hires pilots with technical degrees because of the type of flying/testing we do and it’s a small, tight group. Currently I fly the first flights on 737NG straight out of the factory and support 787 Engineering Flight Test.

Editor’s Note: We have declared this month #STEMtember to build awareness of the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Earlier in the month we released some research into how parents and students view STEM education and we’re publishing profiles of people with some of the coolest STEM jobs. Keep an eye on the blog or follow #STEMtember on Twitter, discuss on Facebook, or you can read all this month’s post by clicking on the tag #STEMtember on this blog