Dream jobs, space aspirations and riding out the GFC

Dr Hiroaki Endo talks us though the nuts and bolts of creating your own destiny.

Dr Hiroaki Endo.Dr Endo was born in Japan but grew up surrounded by the rolling hills of Lismore in northern NSW. He left for Sydney to start his undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at UNSW and enjoyed it so much he stayed on to do his PhD in Mechanical Engineering. He worked for Rolls-Royce in England before moving to Massachusetts to work for Test Devices in the US in 2008 – just before the Global Financial Crisis.

As the aftermath of the GFC swirled through the States, Dr Endo got to work and played an instrumental role in making sure Test Devices weathered the storm. Today, as the Chief Technology Officer, Dr Endo continues to ensure that the company is at the forefront of providing jet engine testing systems and services for its many aerospace, aviation and power generation clients. We caught up with him to learn about his career highs and lows and what he thinks his future holds.

Straight after your PhD you started work for Rolls-Royce. What was your role there?

I joined the company as an advanced technologist, which is an engineering analyst role, and I was responsible for making sure safety critical parts of jet engines are designed appropriately. I was responsible for developing new methods for analysing gas turbine parts and conducting tests and experiments to make sure engines were safe and reliable. The two main projects I worked on were the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner jet engines.

Why did you decide to leave to move to Test Devices?

I came across Test Devices through one of the projects that I had done at Rolls-Royce and, although some people may say it’s crazy, I decided to jump my career from a big ship to a small boat. I was definitely attracted to trying something more tangible and hands-on, learning not just about engineering but also how to manage and run a business. It turned out to be interesting timing. I moved to the US just before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis!

Although some people may say it’s crazy, I decided to jump my career from a big ship to a small boat. I was definitely attracted to trying something more tangible and hands-on.

Dr Hiroaki Endo, Chief Technology Officer, Test Devices.

What happened to Test Devices during the GFC?

They were very challenging times. The company significantly downsized, but I kept my job and was even promoted to Engineering Team Lead not long after it happened. My task was to gradually build the team up again. It was definitely a baptism by fire! Technically I was very comfortable, but as a new manager I was very naïve.

I had to learn a lot about how to deal with people, how to conduct business, how to negotiate, how to network and how to recruit new team members. I often looked back and thought of how my PhD supervisor, Professor Bob Randall, mentored us and cultivated our vibrant and pragmatic PhD team. This experience gave me a clear picture of how I wanted to build the team during the tough times.

Let’s talk about your days at uni. What made you choose UNSW?

Well, of course it’s the number one school for Aerospace Engineering, no doubt! The other thing that really impressed me was the diversity. It was a very multicultural campus. I’ve been to many places in the world and I think there’s no other place that’s as diverse and multicultural as Sydney and UNSW really is the epicentre of that.

You were a member of the student-led BLUEsat project [a group of undergraduates dedicated to creating easy-to-access space technology]. What was your role?

I was one of the earliest members and became the project’s third Project Manager. The project started when my classmate, Daniel Faber [now CEO at Deep Space Industries] decided, “Okay, there’s not a lot of student opportunities to get into the space industry in Australia, so let’s make a CubeSat”. We worked very hard to “make it real” – it was very exciting to create the opportunity for ourselves and for others to follow.

I worked closely with Dan and Rob Tot (the second Project Manager) to expand the project team and build the initial prototype. During this time, BLUEsat was officially recognised as one of UNSW Engineering’s flagship student projects along with Sunswift! We built our support and funding base (with very strong support from the Schools of Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering); and even got the opportunity to represent UNSW at the Australian Space Conference (now Australian Space Research Conference) and the Australian [International] Aerospace Congress. You can imagine, a bunch of undergraduate students presenting amongst industry professionals, to us it was a really big deal!

What did the experience of working with BLUEsat give you?

It was an amazing experience to start something up with good friends and work as a team towards a shared dream; and being able to be a part of the space industry, even within Australia. But most of all it was the hands-on aspect of it, the feeling of solving real problems and being trusted to create something new. Being a part of BLUEsat was a huge commitment and added extra workload on top of the demanding engineering curriculum, but a lot of what I learnt in classes I was able to apply immediately in practice; or if I had a problem I always felt I could approach my lecturers and talk things through. It was a very exciting period of my university years.

The Test Devices team celebrates the completion of a newly built spin pit for a leading jet engine maker.

What’s been the coolest thing you’ve done in your career to date?

Right now I’m working on designing and building a small gas turbine engine for a testing project with a leading jet engine maker in the US, and that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been a gas turbine engineer for a long time, since I joined Rolls-Royce, but most of the time you only ever get to design a small portion of jet engine parts. You never get to build the whole thing. Well, now I do and I get to really push the limits of what it can do!

What are your future ambitions? Is there anything that you’d really like to do in the future?

I’d like to expand my operation and grow the company into new areas such as the commercial space industry. We’ve just started to work with companies like SpaceX, but we’d like to do more. This is an exciting era, the space industry is budding into larger, more substantial industries, so I want to be a part of that.

Do you miss Australia?

I do! Especially in the wintertime. My brother lives on the North Shore, near Lane Cove, and in the middle of winter, Christmas time, I’m buried under six feet of snow, and he sends me a picture of him surfing on the beach! It drives me insane! 

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