Family plays a huge part of our development. Parents are our first teachers, and our siblings our first playmates. For Jean Valentine, a honorable mention for the Avionics Magazine Woman of the Year Award, her parents, specifically her father, played a huge role in her eventual career as an aerospace engineer.
“My father, who tended to be ‘larger than life,’ was a pilot with the Flying Tigers Airline … one of the first pilots hired just after World War II,” Valentine said. “Sometimes tagging along with my mom to pick him up at the San Francisco airport, he would take us out to the tarmac while still in his Flying Tigers Captains uniform to the airplane he had just flown in and let us climb on board to investigate. My curiosity and admiration for the aviation industry was sparked.”
That spark prompted Valentine to earn her pilot’s license at 18, and led her to pursue a degree in aeronautical engineering at California Polytechnical University, graduating as the only female in the degree program in 1981.
“My best advice [for a woman considering a career in aerospace] is to believe in yourself and never give up, never surrender.”
“The majority of women in the industry at the beginning of my career were in support roles. The involvement of women and their roles in critical programs have certainly increased during the past 30 years. I see dramatic benefits due to their leadership, communication and technical skills; much of this is due to industry reaching out and encouraging women because of the return on investment achieved. However, the industry remains a male-dominated field and there is still vast room for improvement,” she said.
Valentine’s 30-year career has included stints as flight test engineer for unmanned aircraft systems at Teledyne Ryan; avionics systems engineer on the Shuttle/Centaur program at General Dynamics; payload engineer for onsite support at the NASA John Space Center Mission Control for Shuttle/Centaur launch and deployment; project engineer on GPS development programs at ARINC; and director of aircraft integration at ARINC, where she managed a department of more than $150 million in Department of Defense and commercial sales. Among her many accomplishments during her distinguished career, she is responsible for the first FAA certification of a Department of Defense GPS receiver embedded within a flight management system and supported the development of required navigation performance and reduced vertical separation monitoring. Additionally, Valentine has contributed to the development of a wide variety of avionics-related technologies, including tactical radios, traffic collision avoidance systems, GPS and Link-16 military tactical data exchange network.
However, Valentine says the greatest accomplishment of her career so far has been her work at General Atomics, leading the development of the Lynx Multi-mode Radar technologies which bring an all-weather Hunter capability to the Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper UAS. “I greatly enjoy working with this dedicated joint team (U.S. Air Force and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems) that continuously challenges each other to introduce capability that saves lives. We are currently in the midst of transitioning a major product upgrade, with more on the horizon. It doesn’t get much more fun than that!”
Promoting and mentoring young women in the field has also been a passion of Valentine’s. She is one of founding members of ARINC’s Women in Leadership Organization, and has taken a professional interest in growing several of the female technical leads on her team. “My best advice [for a woman considering a career in aerospace] is to believe in yourself and ‘never give up, never surrender,’” she said.