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Excelling and exceeding the limits up to the sky


People can only dream about being a part of something important, but for former resident Darren
McDonald, it’s a part of his day-to-day life.
McDonald works as an Aerospace Engineer for Boeing in Seattle, Washington, and it’s a job that he has excelled at from day one and credits his roots to the Valley as his stepping stone.
“I moved to the Valley when I was five and my parents had a farm on Thunderhill road, and also started Spruce Country Computers when I was in elementary school at Heyes,” said McDonald.
“There were four of us children in my family. My older sister lives on a large farm near Binscarth, my
younger sister lives in Calgary, and my little brother passed away when he was five.”
When it came to flying, McDonald had a passion instilled in him since he was a child. He had several
influences that led him to want to be involved in the aviation industry.
“My dad also crop dusted, so we had a small grass airstrip on our farm,” said McDonald. “I always enjoyed flying, and remember several of the flying farmers from the area.
"The biggest flying influence besides my father was Howard Hansford, who just passed away earlier this
year. He and my dad had numerous shared business dealings, including crop dusting. I vividly remember
doing a barrel roll in his Piper Pacer over our farm, and got snuck up on from behind while on the tractor at crop dusting height more times than I could count.”
McDonald’s path to aerospace engineering was pretty direct with one brief layover as a computer technician after his high school graduation. He ventured out to Arizona where he would spend the next four years earning his degree.
“I graduated from SVRSS in 1992 with dual Visual Communications and Arts and Sciences majors,” said McDonald. “Shortly after graduating, I was hired as the first computer technician for the school division.
As I recall there were about 700 computers at the time, and I worked for a year out of the district office basement, establishing the processes for the role and maintaining all of the computers across the school division. 
“In August of 1993, I bought a 1980 Yamaha motorcycle, took the test to get my license, and three days
later left the Valley with two suitcases strapped onto the seat behind me. The lady at the Madge Lake
Park ticket booth phoned my mom to make sure she was okay. I drove down to Prescott, Ariz., arriving at
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on the fourth day. After starting University in Arizona, I returned
to Canada for each of the summer breaks to work the best-paying job I could find to partially fund my schooling. 
In 1997, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Science degree in Aerospace Engineering and started work at
Boeing in September of that year, a few months after graduating from Embry-Riddle.
“When I graduated from University, I applied at several smaller companies located in more rural areas,”
continued McDonald. “I didn’t even apply to Boeing initially, as I was worried about ending up in a tiny
role as part of a massive faceless corporation in a large city.
"Thankfully, I applied to Boeing, and then took the job thinking it would be a stepping-stone to the job
that I really wanted." 
McDonald added that he has never been so relieved to be proven so wrong in his life.
"From the very start I was given challenging assignments, even traveling to meet with the National
Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after less than six months on the job," he said. "As I gained
experience, I quickly learned that the knowledge and dedication of my fellow employees are virtually
boundless, and that there are always an endless number of opportunities to grow and push my limits.
"I like to tell people that its starting to look like I may stay around and make a career of it, but the truth
is that I really can’t fathom a place where I can work with such exceptional people, have access to so many tools and resources, and influence the safety and future of the flight test industry. This September
will mark 24 years with The Boeing Company.”
In his role as an Aerospace Engineer for Boeing, McDonald’s position has a lot of responsibility attached
to it, for it bears the weight of air passenger safety. It’s not a simple process by any means and involves a lot of testing and protocol. McDonald takes safety very seriously, for he knows it’s his own family and friends that travel on the planes he tests. 
“As a flight test engineer, I’m responsible for designing safe and effective tests to develop and then certify all new Boeing commercial aircraft designs,” said McDonald. “I have tested variations of almost every Boeing commercial transport aircraft, including any new military derivative of a commercial jetliner. We thoroughly test every airplane to ensure it is safe, reliable, and meets Boeing's own high standards, as well as the requirements of regulatory agencies and customers around the world. The process starts with merging the certification requirements from the aviation authorities with detailed systems and  performance information from the design engineers. 
“Once we have fully understood  the test objectives and requirements, we assess safety and risk  mitigations, data requirements, aircraft configuration needs, and then develop the test procedures. The planning process is extremely detailed and involves lots of collaboration. Safety is personal to me and I always have the safety of the test team, our customers, and the flying public in mind in the work I do. My family and friends fly on the airplanes I test, which is a fact that is never far from my mind.”
McDonald loves his job and thoroughly enjoys pushing aircrafts to the edge of the envelope to ensure that the engine’s reliability can measure up to withstand anything it will encounter during its air travel. As a result of that, he is part of a small council of flight testers that put air passenger safety as a top priority.
“My favorite part of the job is the testing itself,” said McDonald.
“My desk is at an austere-looking rack in the middle of the test airplane, with lots of monitors and equipment. Stability and Control is the stereotypical ‘edge of the envelope’ testing that is often  referenced when the topic of flight testing comes up. We test at the extremes of weight, the center of gravity, airspeed, and thrust asymmetry to ensure that the aircraft remains controllable in all instances. After the test is over, we write meticulous reports and submit them for regulatory approval.
“The test flying and the people I work with really can’t be beat," he continued. "Commercial air travel
is extremely boring to me.
The maneuvering and conditions that we fly in are far beyond the aircraft movements that an air traveller
experiences. I like to tell people that in flight test we push our airplanes to edges of the envelope to make
sure that the flying public never has reason to be nervous. The number of people worldwide that are
involved in flight-testing is remarkably small and even more so the people who test commercial jet aircraft. 
"I host a small council of flight testers from the eight largest manufacturers in the world going on seven
years now. We talk about all aspects of testing where we can improve safety for ourselves and ultimately
for the flying public. We are fierce competitors, but our governing mantra is that there is no room for
competition when it comes to safety. The camaraderie and mutual respect in the flight test community is
humbling and keeps us all grounded in our work.”
Aeronautical engineering also comes with its challenges for it’s a very detailed orientated field that’s
constantly changing.
“Every aircraft design brings new systems, aviation regulations are always being updated, which always
present new challenges to flight test,” said McDonald. “In addition, our flight test safety record is remarkable, almost to a fault. Maintaining a robust safety culture requires commitment from our entire 
team, and the more time that passes since the last significant event the more challenging it can be to stay vigilant. 
"I equate it to a dormant volcano, the longer it has been since the last eruption the more acute your focus needs to become.”
His work has led to amazing opportunities and awards. McDonald sits on a lot of boards and committees
associated with this line of work and feels that this has attributed to his success and recognition in the field. Working for Boeing has also enabled McDonald to travel and work all over the world.
“I’m a senior member of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and was elected to the status of Fellow with the Society of Flight Test Engineers (SFTE) in 2020," he said. 
"Also, I’m a member of the International Test and Evaluation Association (ITEA). In 2020 I was selected
as the recipient of the Tony LeVier Flight Test Safety Award, mostly due to my involvement with the
flight test council. It was an unbelievably huge honor that I had never even considered a possibility.
"Last year I was recognized as a Technical Fellow with Boeing, a recognition that’s the technical  leadership equivalent of a second level manager, and is awarded to no more than one percent of the engineering population. As a result of becoming a Technical Fellow, my role has broadened to be more focused across flight test engineering, with more mentoring and the responsibility of assuring the
technical expertise and future vision of our organization. 
This summer I was also appointed to the Board of Directors for the Flight Test Safety Committee, a
flight test related safety organization intended to promote flight safety, reduce the risk of mishap, promote risk reduction management and continually improve the profession's communication and coordination.
“I’ve been to five continents for work, and often have travelled to places that aren’t considered tourist destinations, including Taipei, Taiwan; Singapore; Sydney, Australia; Bordeaux, France; Madrid, Spain; Cologne, Germany; and Reykjavik, Iceland as well as many airports in the USA," McDonald continued.
"Often we don’t even get off the airplane when we land somewhere, and most often my flight's takeoff and land at the same airport after several hours of flying. The paths we fly often look like a child was doodling, instead of the usual graceful arcs traced by the usual commercial flights."
McDonald notes that the Keflavik airport in Iceland is by far the best facility in the world for conducting
crosswind testing, due to weather conditions, runway layout, and other considerations. "On one flight from Seattle to Iceland, the Captain was a former exchange student who attended Swan Valley Regional Secondary School (SVRSS)," said McDonald. "During that trip, I took in one of the most breathtaking views, which was the Northern lights at 35,000 feet; it was an unforgettable sight.”
McDonald has lived in the US since 1997, but holds fast to his Valley roots and time growing up on the
farm. He attributes those early life rural experiences to giving him the advantage he needed to be successful in his field. McDonald is still very fond of the Valley and hopes residents still appreciate what they have.
“The people, natural beauty, and challenges of being raised on a farm provided me with a level of grit, creativity, and support that I believe afforded me an advantage,” said McDonald. “The foundation that was built by my school teachers helped me while at University and beyond. I never fully appreciated how amazing it is to have places like Madge Lake and the Kettle Hills, or the Thunderhill Ski Area, with all of the volunteerism by local families making it all run smoothly. There are very few places with the natural beauty of the Valley that aren’t being loved to death by crowds, so enjoy and protect your surroundings.
“There are definitely times that seem surreal to me, such as enjoying the view from the flight deck while landing in the latest 777-9, or meeting with the Canadian ambassador to Iceland, that really reminds
me of how fortunate I am to be in the position that I am.”