Carla Jackson

Meet Carla Jackson, Flight Test Engineer, Civilian

"Make sure to fiercely guard your technical integrity."

  • Lead Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation (APMT&E) Air Traffic Management and Carrier Landing Systems, NAVAIR
  • Selected as only the second ever female Fellow in the Society of Flight Test Engineers in June, 2019.
  • Navy Test Pilot School Instructor 2016-2017
  • Former Test & Evaluation IPT Lead for P-3/S-3 Programs at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Marietta, GA. 
  • Former Senior Engineering Specialist for the B-2 flight test, where she achieved Subject Matter Expert (SME) status for flight management, terrain-following, and flight controls, weapons integration, and navigation for the B-2 flight test aircraft.
  • Worked at most major US test ranges and with the Navy, Air Force, Army, US Customs, and several international forces

     Carla Jackson grew up with a family that had ties to aviation. When she was in 3rd grade, her school did a play of the moon landing and she was the voice of mission control. Jackson got to perform the countdown and the launch and she remembers that sticking with her as something she wanted to do in real life. However, Jackson ended up pursuing music as a clarinet player and studied to be a professional musician at Indiana University. Unfortunately, Jackson blew out her hand, and it never healed properly so she had to find a new career path. The only other subject Jackson was familiar with was aircraft, so she decided to join the Air Force ROTC at her university. Jackson went from studying music to physics which was a big change but she persevered and finished her degree. She went on to get her Masters in Management and Program Analysis from Carnegie-Mellon University, and was picked up by Northrop Grumman to work flight test on the F-20. 

     Jackson’s career in flight test engineering has involved a multitude of programs and amazing opportunities. She found herself at Patuxent River after Lockheed Martin won the contract to build the next presidential helicopter. Jackson was working for Lockheed Martin at the time as head of P-3 flight test, and was chosen to start up the flight test team for presidential helicopter due to her skills and years of experience with Navy programs. Jackson regards Patuxent River as being a breath of fresh air because it was the first time she had worked with other practicing female flight test engineers. Jackson was always the only or first female flight test engineer anywhere she had worked until Pax River, and although there were men that still seemed to think that women did not belong in the field, Jackson, for the first time, was not alone. Unfortunately, Jackson had experienced discrimination on more than one occasion during her career including being denied a raise while the men got one, being excluded from group activities, and receiving rude comments during her pregnancy. This only pushed Jackson to be better at her job, she stated “you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to do it.” Her determination paid off once she started receiving validation from her peers that she was an amazing flight test engineer and an asset to the field. In fact, Carla Jackson became the second ever female Fellow in the Society of Flight Test Engineers in June, 2019. Jackson credits her success in the field to speaking up and advocating for herself, and encourages future flight test engineers both male and female to do the same. Flight test engineers are the ones in the control room, or sometimes in the aircraft, telling the pilots where to go. This is a simple explanation, but the job is anything but simple. Flight test engineers whether airborne or in a control room make real time decisions that impact people’s lives, Jackson stated “you can’t be one of those people that sits in the back and stays quiet, you have to be vocal and speak up if you see a problem, because it can mean life or death.”

     Jackson currently works for NAVAIR and mentors junior flight test engineers both male and female. She makes herself available to offer advice about their career decisions, assist in sorting out problems they face, and helping them find rotational assignments. Jackson is an inspiration and made a bigger impact than she ever expected. During a Sally Ride Science Fair, Jackson signed an autograph book of a female high schooler, and several years later while having dinner near Pax River, the woman who had asked for the autograph recognized her and spoke up to let Jackson know that she was the reason she became a flight test engineer. Jackson represents a generation of female flight test engineers who had to break down barriers to create a better work environment for the women that followed. She excelled in every career opportunity she encountered and despite discrimination or discouragement, she worked harder and persevered through it all.

Objects of Significance

Flight Boots

  • Carla Jackson had a difficult time finding flight boots for her small feet, the U.S. Navy did not have a diverse range of flight boot sizes, so she decided to go out and find some of her own. Jackson found these Doc Martens and named them her “Flower Flight Boots.” These boots became an iconic sight to see on the flightline. 


Flight Suit

  • This flight suit was worn by Carla Jackson for air shows. The Lockheed Martin patch can be seen on the left side. Jackson was the Test Lead and Senior Engineering Specialist for the P-3 Orion and Presidential Helicopter VH-71 program while at Lockheed Martin. 


Flight Jacket

  • This black flight jacket is Jackson’s most proud possession. On this jacket are two patches representing Northrop Grumman’s ATF-23 (YF-23) program. Jackson contributed to the YF-23 flight testing through development of initial software integration and flight test plans.

These patches represent the ones that Carla Jackson designed including the Presidential Helicopter VH-71 program, the P-3 Orion Program, and the PR-32 PMA-290 Program Manager Air Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance.

These patches represent the Society of Flight Test Engineers in which Jackson was the second only female to be inducted.

Notice something different about these two patches? Where are the program titles? The answer is, these patches represent top secret programs, therefore the text is in Latin and the program title is purposefully left out for security.