Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Class of 2020: Darin DiTommaso
Darin DiTommaso’s career has been defined by a constant journey of learning.
Though he’s been with one company since obtaining his bachelor’s degree from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University, there hasn’t been a dull day at GE Aviation in 30-plus years.
DiTommaso has made sure of that.
He’s kept it fresh working in a variety of roles, whether it be technical or leadership, and been impactful at each step. All the way to now leading engineering for GE Edison Works. DiTommaso’s willingness to be a lifelong learner and ability to not just adapt but excel in each new role spurred his meteoric rise — and has landed him among AAE’s elite. He’ll be honored April 12 with the School’s highest honor for its alumni, as an Outstanding Aerospace Engineer.
“It’s a great honor to be included among some of the most accomplished Purdue alumni,” said DiTommaso, who will be celebrated with eight other alumni in a virtual ceremony.
DiTommaso (BSAAE ’88) had no choice, really, but to be an aerospace engineer. Not with his upbringing.
His father Dante worked at General Electric Aircraft Engines, and older brother David was a pilot. Darin looked up to them both, and their interests aligned after Darin grew up surrounded by airplanes and gravitated toward math, physics and science in high school. When it was time to choose a college, the Cincinnati native knew about Purdue’s reputation in aeronautical and astronautical engineering and opted to stay in the Midwest.
It was one of the best decisions he could have made.
“Aside from a strong technical foundation, Purdue gave me the ability to problem solve by employing your full intellect in a creative fashion,” DiTommaso said.
DiTommaso appreciated that all the courses required students to think, not just memorize or apply known formulas. He enjoyed Professor Francis Marshall’s computer-aided aircraft design course that taught students how to explore the design space in an airplane given a set of mission requirements.
“Those kinds of classes plus just the typical engineering classes really forced you to think about how to apply the principles to solve all kinds of variations of problems,” DiTommaso said. “Some of the lab classes (with) Professor (John) Sullivan in the AERO lab offered the opportunity to do experimentation and learn through experimentation, so theory, then applied with practical hands-on work.”
AAE also provided a key ingredient to DiTommaso’s future: The opportunity to participate in Cooperative Education program. His first Co-Op rotation was with GE Aviation. As was his second.
By the time he graduated from Purdue, DiTommaso had a job lined up with GE Aviation, and he started there as an aerothermal systems engineer.
He spent about 17 years in various roles of increasing responsibility within the engineering division, including performance engineering, remote diagnostics and prognostics, and design engineering, among other things.
In 2005, he moved into an executive role and led the commercial and military preliminary design efforts that focused on the Leap, GEnx, Passport, Honda and GE9X engine programs, as well as a variety of advanced military programs, including adaptive engine products. He was responsible for the system level mechanical and aerothermal design, as well as associated technology maturation programs.
About six years later, he was named GM of Engineering Resource and Strategy Development and led the strategy to resource and develop engineering talent in support of the development and certification of GE Aviation’s Leap, Passport, Honda and GE9X product lines.
In 2012, he moved to GM of Advanced Design Methods and led a team across several GE businesses driving state-of-the-art engineering analysis methods and associated commercial software strategies.
DiTommaso’s next step was critical in his career — for him and the company.
In 2013, he established GE Aviation’s software and data science/analytics team and led GE Aviation’s vehicle health management P&L. The digital engineering team developed prognostic and operations software applications to leverage broad data sets and analytics and designed avionic solutions for commercial and military aircraft.
“I took a couple of opportunities in my career to explore some different things. One of which was the discipline around digital and analytics,” he said. “It’s really the application of data science to predictive capabilities around maintenance but also optimization of how an airline operates, route structures and things of that nature. Really the application of big data and analytics to solving problems not only at the engine level but at the aircraft level and then at the airline operations level. You start with what does the customer need. What are the top issues the customers face and how can we help them beyond the traditional engineering that you would do in designing and working on a jet engine, now this brings a little bit of a different slant with data science and analytics.
“It was just a new and interesting way to apply technical principles and solve problems in what, at the time, was a non-traditional way. In terms of the ability to store large amounts of data, the ability to process large amounts of data quickly and then connectivity, the ability to flow data in a much faster way, I felt, opened up opportunities to take the physics and augment the physics with all of this data to come up with solutions, whether it be durability, predictive maintenance and operations optimization.”
As DiTommaso’s career included putting technical skills to use but also trended toward leadership, he thought it was important to pursue a master’s in business. In 1988, he obtained an MBA from Xavier University.
“I think it just kind of gravitated to a combination of technical capability plus then an interest in organizations and the business aspects of our business,” he said. “I appreciated the technical but also appreciated how the technical evolves itself into a business.”
An MBA combined with his BS from AAE, DiTommaso continued to earn roles of increased significance at GE Aviation. He was GM of Advanced Technology Operation that had him leading a domestic and global team to develop a suite of technologies that supported new and existing product lines in digital solutions, advanced mechanical designs, aerodynamics, mechanical systems analysis, and application of advanced materials and design for additive manufacturing.
He is now the VP of Edison Works Engineering, leading the design, development and support of the military product portfolio.
DiTommaso called this role the most challenging of his career.
“It’s really a lot of product development, taking technologies and figuring out how to leverage those technologies in very innovative and unique designs to meet the needs of the customer. It’s a lot of organizational responsibility,” he said. “I am responsible for existing products as well as new products, and then being able to leverage technology to support both existing products as well as new products. It’s really a broad sweep of products and then trying to figure out how technology can help both those existing and new designs and then there’s a lot of support of the existing products. It all starts with the customer and what the customer needs.”
And DiTommaso isn’t done yet.
He said he’s constantly motivated by the challenge of doing new things and the learning that’s associated with that.
“Every time you’re doing something new, you’re also learning. You never stop learning. That’s really key,” he said. “The day you stop learning is the day the interest level falls off.”
More on 2020 class of OAEs:
March 29: Doug Adams
March 30: Chris Clark
April 1: Doug Joyce
April 2: Yen Matsutomi
April 5: Loral O'Hara
April 6: David Schmidt
April 7: Stevan Slijepcevic
April 8: Rhonda Walthall