Former Pilot Soars in Aerospace Career

CREDIT: Coppersmith Photography

2023 Achievement Award Remarks
Thea Feyereisen
Honeywell Aerospace

Thank you, Society of Women Engineers, for acknowledging my discipline of human factors engineering with the Achievement Award. I am proud of my flightdeck innovations at Honeywell Aerospace that are the basis for improving safety in air travel for years and decades to come.

Thank you, Barbara Brockett, who is in the audience celebrating with me tonight. Barbara is a former engineering VP at Honeywell and a longtime volunteer with SWE. I want to acknowledge her achievements in engineering and thank her for modeling best-in-class leadership behaviors. Barbara lifts people up to perform at a top level and is a relentless advocate.

Thank you, Marla Peterson, for being the SWE spark at Honeywell.

I also want to acknowledge my late boss, Don Bateman, who invented the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. This box, mandated on all airliners, provides an alert to disoriented pilots: “Terrain! Terrain! Pull up!” From Don I learned to be professionally impatient. I’m not talking about impatience that is angry, anxious, or obnoxious. I’m talking about professional impatience with a vision and focus on doing better, efficiency, perseverance, persuasion, and being action-oriented.

I’m practicing professional impatience on my current work project, where I’m trying to convince airlines and manufacturers to equip with a new technology that I helped to invent that reduces the risk of collisions on runways. This year we’ve witnessed a dramatic increase of close-to-catastrophic near misses on runways. Earlier this week (on October 24), Houston Hobby Airport was closed for several hours after two corporate jets collided when one was taking off and the other landing on an intersecting runway.

Knock on wood, no one died, but we may not be so lucky next time. And undoubtedly, there will be a next time. But don’t worry. Flying is still much safer than riding in a car — especially in LA! So don’t stop flying, as it is good for Honeywell’s stock price and continues to be one of the safest forms of transportation. It also helps promote both social and economic growth in our global society.

I’ve had aviation and engineering jobs working at 40 below zero in Alaska and 120 degrees on the hot tarmac in Arizona.

I started my professional career as a pilot and flight instructor in Arizona, and then worked as a bush pilot in Alaska before I received my master’s in aeronautical science human factors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I’ve had aviation and engineering jobs working at 40 below zero in Alaska and 120 degrees on the hot tarmac in Arizona. But a special note to any summer 2024 Honeywell Arizona intern candidates: It’s a dry heat! I’ve been able to flight test my safety systems from small Cessnas to Gulfstream corporate jets and Boeing airliners.

I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with people from Kansas to Paris, Bengaluru to Beijing, Phoenix to Prague, and from Minneapolis to Miami. It’s been an amazing adventure, but not without challenges, including lack of representation, gender bias, unequal pay, stereotyping, dot dot dot — not to mention motherhood and menopause. I’ve battled through imposter syndrome and work/life balance challenges as a single parent. But from my colleagues, my daughter, older sisters, and allies, I’ve received tactics and strategies to persevere and keep growing.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with two lessons I’ve learned for success as a woman in engineering and innovation. First, don’t accept sexism or racism. Stand up, lean forward, and advocate for each other and yourself. Sometimes it’s easier advocating for others than it is for yourself, but remember, you’re supposed to put your own oxygen mask on first. Second, become professionally impatient. Have high standards, work on efficiency, have a vision, be action-oriented, persuasive, and persistent. But also recognize the importance of compromise. Figure out the win-win where it often looks more like no one is the big winner, but you’ve got progress and most people in the room leave happy, more or less.

Thank you, SWE. Thank you all here. I feel a bit like a vampire feeding off all your amazing energy, awesomeness, and intelligence this week. I’m so honored to accept this achievement award for my work in human factors and the development of safety systems in aviation. Thank you.