Q&A with Iowa State alumnus Joseph Chody


Courtesy photo: Northrop Grumman

Joseph Chody, ISU alumnus, helped design the U.S. Air Force’s B2 stealth bomber. It is one of the most survivable aircraft in the world and has showed its capabilities in several combat scenarios, including Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Micaela Cashman

Joseph Chody was raised in Kalona, a small town heavily populated by Amish residents. Now he works at Northrop Grumman, a prestigious engineering firm, in Los Angeles, Calif.

What year did you graduate? What did you get your degree in?

1979 in aerospace engineering.

Did you originally start in that program when you came to Iowa State or did you have other career aspirations?

My high school counselor said all of my aptitude testing indicated that I should be an engineer. I had no idea what an engineer was, I wanted to be an auto mechanic. The counselor said engineers made good money, so that swung the deal for me.

I was undeclared the first year and chose aerospace when I was a sophomore. I’m not sure why I chose aerospace other than I liked building and flying model airplanes and rockets when I was a kid.

What activities or organizations were you involved in?

Beer drinking, mainly, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. I’m sure I was involved in other activities, but I can’t remember what they were — probably because of the beer drinking.

What is your favorite thing about Iowa State?

Going to football games. Go Cyclones!

Describe your career path.

I started at what was then McDonnell Douglas Aircraft in St. Louis, Miss., working on the advanced AV-8B Harrier Program. I was there for two years and then moved to southern California to work for Northrop [Grumman] on the B-2 program.

In 1988, I left to work for a very small company doing research on high agility aircraft. In 1989, I went to work for Rockwell [Collins] on the X-31 Demonstration Program.

Then, in 1991, it was back to Northrop and for a second stint on the B-2 Program. Now I’m working on a program that will demonstrate the first-ever landing of an unmanned aircraft, flying wing configuration, on an aircraft carrier.

What is your title now?

Director, N-UCAS [Navy – Unmanned Combat Air Systems] System Engineering, Integration and Test.

What are some projects you’ve worked on?

B-2, X-31 and N-UCAS.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in your career?

First Flight of the X-31 Aircraft on Oct. 11, 1990 — my 33rd birthday. I was leading the X-31 Flight Controls organization at the time.

What is your best memory of college?

Getting my first job offer and then graduating. I have many fond memories.

What do you wish you would have known while in college that you know now?

Our time on this rock is very finite, very short, we need to understand that and live accordingly — every day.

What advice do you have for college students, particularly those in engineering?

Study hard and get your degree — you’ll be in great demand if you have good engineering skills. An ISU engineering degree is very well respected. Do first things first, but, equally important, make time to party with your friends and enjoy your time in school. Finally, maintain a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle — exercise regularly and eat well. And quit playing video games and texting 24/7.