Dr John Maris (Aeronautical Engineering 1979) had an early passion for aircraft and describes how his time at Imperial helped to shape his test pilot career, leading to his being awarded an Aviation Week Laureate in 2006 and induction into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame in 2018

After Imperial, John joined the Royal Canadian Air Force before later graduating from the US Air Force Test Pilot School.

Today John is Founder of Cert Center Canada, an independent flight test, research, development and certification hub providing a wide range of services to the global aerospace community. His other companies have carried out award-winning work with NASA.

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

At Imperial I was encouraged to think outside of the box, which became my hallmark. This way of thinking led to my development and international patenting of the Enhanced Airfoil Performance Monitor (EAPM) – my graduating project, which is now in use in the flight test community and wind turbine industry.

At Imperial, I received a solid groundwork in critical thinking that had direct application to the flight test domain, which has helped in my career.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

Several of my professors were renowned industry stalwarts. I particularly recall the encouragement I received from the late Professor Frank Irving, who sowed the seeds of my test pilot career, which began at the US Air Force Test Pilot School in 1989 - exactly ten years after graduating from Imperial!

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

The practical work I conducted in the low-speed wind tunnel. This place is where theory meets practice in the most visceral way for an aerodynamicist. For me, it ignited my career interest that took me from piloting to test piloting. Read more about the current facilities and wind tunnels in the Department of Aeronautics here

I particularly appreciated the artisanal work that went into the pressure-tapped airfoil I was testing. I often wondered how many generations of aeronautical engineers this one model would have helped cultivate!

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now, and your journey to this point.

Presently I am Chief Test Pilot for the Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney hybrid electric propulsion demonstrator. The flight test company that I founded, Cert Center Canada, owns the Dash-8 test platform, and will perform the extensive technology upgrades to it.

Prior to this I was the lead test pilot and principal investigator for flight testing of advanced decision support system concepts for NASA Langley Research Center. These culminated in my US company – Advanced Aerospace Solutions LLC, which received NASA’s 2015 Agency-level Small Business Subcontractor of the Year Award (SBIA). I had previously also been a pilot officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, initially as an anti-submarine warfare mission commander.

In 1989, I graduated from the US Air Force Test Pilot School and joined the fraternity of experimental test pilots. This culminated in my appointment as the program manager for the definition phase of the robotic workstations that control the Candarm2 arm on the International Space Station

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

Highlights include multiple industry and personnel awards for myself and my companies, courtesy of my tremendous colleagues and partners. Lowlights include not having made it into space.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

As for any test pilot, a typical day is approximately 200 hours of meetings and paperwork for every hour of flight! 

Next, I plan on safely and efficiently completing the flight testing of the hybrid electric demonstrator, then retiring at 68.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Frame your academic journey in light of your career end-goals. In my case, the thought of flying a supersonic fighter aircraft was highly motivating during those 02.00 study sessions!

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

The reputation of the institution - I am constantly seeing achievements of Imperial alumni in the media. Imperial alumni are an elite, global and eclectic cadre of professionals.

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

I feel that the Serenity Prayer has great application to engineering and many other disciplines, regardless of one’s religious orientation: 

“(God) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Keep up with John on LinkedIn here.