Is there such a thing as destiny? Difficult to say. But when a little boy and his friends go to play in a deserted airport, where, after sneaking into an old hangar, they discover a box containing a weathered construction plan for a propeller plane, then it does seem possible that this just might have set the compass for his later life. "At the time, when I was just a boy, my imagination immediately began to run away with me," recalls Stefan. "Flying was always my dream."
And that dream has certainly come true - and whether or not destiny played a hand, it really makes no difference. Stefan is too rational for it to matter. Today he is 30, a father of two and a seasoned systems engineer for test support systems at EDAG aeromotive in Ingolstadt. At Airbus in Manching, he takes care of test procedures and the harmonisation of test support systems for large flight systems such as the Tornado, Eurofighter, A400M and FCAS. Today's work is no longer centred on the testing of radar, navigation and communication systems, but on the development, design and integration of test support systems. The fantasies of the small airfield adventurer have long since become great engineering reality.
After school, Stefan signed up for eight years in the German Armed Forces. As he wears contact lenses, there was no question of becoming a pilot himself. This small restriction in no way diminished his dream of flying. In Kassel, Stefan trained as an aircraft electronics technician. Later, he also completed a further training course to become an electrical engineer. "Being in the forces opened doors for me that would have remained closed had I not passed my Abitur [school leaving exam]."
As an "army aviator" Stefan was part of the military air support. His duties here included providing technical support for type "Bell UH-1D" and "Bo 105" helicopters and "Tiger", a support helicopter.
He quickly became a sought-after expert - and was able to join flights, for example during a NATO mountain flight training in Montenegro. The aim was to fly the helicopter through a difficult terrain, nosedive along rock faces, drop and pick up soldiers on steep slopes. "That was extremely challenging, and often felt like being on a roller coaster - a great experience," he still raves about the thrill he got from being in a combat helicopter.
But that is all in the past. "Now I am quite happy to stay on the ground and channel my brain power and experience into the development and application of test support systems for flight and defence technology at EDAG aeromotive." His military and professional training in the forces is very useful here.
At the beginning of his civilian professional life, he was immediately involved in a mega-project, which earned him approval not only in military aviation circles. For over two and a half years, Stefan worked for our customer Airbus on a large, multinational NATO project to further develop the AWACS system. Reconnaissance aircraft equipped with the "Airborne Warning And Control System" can, for example, detect and identify other aircraft from a great distance, coordinate air traffic and act as a communications hub - as a flying tower, so to speak. The further development of AWACS was top-level aviation technology," says Stefan. Because not only were NATO specialists involved in the project, but Airbus and Boeing, the two largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, were also on board.
"That was two and a half years of pressure refuelling with high-tech engineering experience," is how Stefan sums it up. During this period, he was able to experience how differently the various nations work, and what needs to be done to combine these working methods to bring about joint success. So what did he learn from this? "Bearing in mind the different standards in Europe and the USA, insisting on having your own way will definitely not get you very far. It is better to ask how other nations test and develop, and how, as a team, we can get the best out of what we do."
What he enjoys most is finding solutions that are abstract and complicated to derive. "It's like with the Magic Cube, where you start in a small way with three-by-three variations, and then work your way up into increasingly complex spheres," he says. This structured, extremely self-disciplined way of thinking is very useful to him today in his tasks as a systems engineer.
Stefan likes making and getting to the bottom of things. He enjoys trying out technical things and developing his own solutions. From his backpack he digs out a Raspberry Pi, a small single-board computer. A fairly inconspicuous thing in fact, that, as a layman, you might expect to find at the very back of 'nerd corner' in an electronics shop. Just a circuit board in credit card format, a processor, a few resistors and interfaces. "You can do just about anything with it," beams Stefan. For the smart home for example: to control the garage door via app, raise and lower shutters, control lights for the garden, or even operate a complete entertainment system.
He has plenty of applications for such functions. Stefan has just built a house. He lives with his wife, daughter and son about 70 kilometres from Ingolstadt in Röttenbach, a small village in the Franconian lake district. "It's just beautiful there, pure nature and plenty of space for the children," he says. So for his family's sake, he is quite happy to commute. As a rule, he sets off every morning at the crack of dawn, and is already at his desk and hard at work by 6:00 am. This leaves time in the afternoon for family life - and for messing around with more technical things.
Stefan still has a secret dream, by the way. It doesn't have to be flying anymore. But a 1965 Ford Mustang. Now that would be quite something. "Let's just do one thing after the other," he says. "Right now, we're more interested in the family car." Given the state of things, though, Stefan is unlikely to lose sight of his dream.