OSHKOSH, Wisconsin— WomenVenture Day at EAA AirVenture this week celebrated all the accomplishments of women in aviation during the last century and all the opportunities that await them in the 21st century.
Honda Aircraft’s 42-year-old Dr. Samantha “Sam” Magill, Ph.D., has been able to seize every opportunity because she stuffed her academic tool kit with the sharpest available implements. “I always have had a knack for math.” Spelling was more difficult. “I wish my parents had given me a shorter name. It took a while to learn how to write Samantha.”
Growing up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Magill was the first in her immediate family to finish college. Her father was an airline captain at Piedmont Airlines, so she was immersed in all things aviation at an early age and soon knew what career she wanted to pursue as an adult.
After graduating from high school, she enrolled in an aerospace engineering curriculum at Auburn University. The academic all-star caught the attention of Aviation Week & Space Technology in 1997 when she was an Auburn undergraduate working on a Mach 3+ munition designed to shoot down missiles.
Magill also attracted the attention of recruiters at Virginia Tech. They offered her a full scholarship to pursue her masters and doctorate degrees, programs that she completed in 2002.
Upon earning her Ph.D., job opportunities abounded. She first moved to California to work on a new generation of UAVs at Paul MacCready’s tiny AeroVironment research company. After two years, she moved to a southern California civil engineering firm to round out her professional credentials.
But soon Magill grew restless and anxious to return to aerospace engineering. So she moved to Germany to join Garner CAD Technic to work on a new aircraft development program at Dornier in Oberpfaffenhofen.
While the design work was fulfilling, Magill longed to return to the U.S. to be closer to her family. Coincidentally, Sam Hill, head of sales and marketing at the new Honda Aircraft Company (HAC) in 2010, was looking for someone to start up a technical marketing and sales engineering department. Magill jumped at the opportunity and moved to Greensboro, North Carolina.
“At some point in your [aerospace engineering] career, you need to work at an OEM,” she says. Honda was “a small firm at the time, with lots of opportunities to work in many areas.” Magill saw the position at HAC as an opportunity to make Honda a leader in market forecasting as well as aircraft design.
But she was working below her capabilities. So in 2012, company founder Michimasa Fujino asked Magill, “Don’t you miss serious engineering?” “That was not an ask,” she says candidly.
Fujino moved her to engineering flight test, where she specialized in stability and control fine-tuning of the HA-420 HondaJet. “It was a great opportunity to get involved with flight test” of a production aircraft, she said.
After certification of the aircraft in late 2015, Magill moved to special projects at HAC. She now focuses on academic affairs, especially diversity and inclusion in the local community.
“Honda always has been very involved with the community. It’s very important. Mr. Fujino says we want to be the company that the community wants to exist,” Magill said.
Not surprising, Magill is pushing an academic affairs agenda in Greensboro. Among her many initiatives, she now serves on the board of trustees of Guilford Technical Community College. The school now is able to provide Honda Aircraft with 99% of its entry level production line assemblers.
Magill has also been instrumental in Honda Aircraft’s sponsorship of the Women Soar, You Soar program for high school age girls at EAA AirVenture. She is also very active in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
What does Magill enjoy doing outside of work? She starts every day at Oshkosh with a fast-paced 10-km run. She’s a dedicated triathlete who has completed many such contests. She’s now preparing for the world championship Iron Man contest in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And at home, Magill spends as much time as possible with her parents, sister, nieces and nephews.
The Greensboro News & Record recently named Magill as one of the top 20 most influential people in the city. Watch for this rising star to become an internationally recognized leader in aerospace.