James P. Renna

James P. Renna

Chief Engineering, Global Commercial Aircraft, Sikorsky Aircraft
Lockheed Martin Corp.
BS AAE 1986

For his deep and detailed technical insight into the physical principles of helicopters that has driven success across Sirosky’s three helicopter product lines

James (Jamie) Renna remembers being equal parts discouraged and inspired during the first week of freshman physics at Purdue. As the professor called out general physics-related questions, students were encouraged to shout out answers.

“I could not keep up. Not even close,” Renna said. “I knew right then that I wanted to keep up with this group of smart students. The race to become a professional engineer was on!”

Now an accomplished helicopter engineer, Renna has never lost sight of how his degree afforded him the necessary perspective to deal with complex designs as systems rather than a collection of components. It’s a distinctive skill that he sees time and again in Purdue Engineering graduates.

“Purdue engineers seem to grasp the need for multiple compromises to make the overall system better, even if that means sub-optimization at the component level,” Renna said. “This may seem like a small attribute, but I have found it to be unique and most welcome among young Purdue alumni.”

Renna has recently retired as the chief engineer for global commercial and military systems at Sikorsky Aircraft, a Lockheed Martin Company.  He was responsible for all technical activities across most aircraft models, including design, development, integration, and future strategies. He also served as the principal representative to the customer on technical matters and provided management oversight to all program engineering activities and requirements.

Described as technically gifted and an outstanding manager and leader, Renna spent more than 35 years at Sikorsky, where he started as a structural test engineer and rapidly moved up the ranks. As director of dynamic systems engineering, he led more than 400 engineers in the design of helicopter rotor systems, drive systems, and structural analysis. In his role as vice president of engineering safety, test and evaluation, he led more than 350 engineers and technicians, achieved four years of mishap-free experimental flight tests, and oversaw the introduction of minimum safety equipment lists for Sikorsky aircraft models. In 2019-2020, he was the chief engineer for the Sikorsky S-76, S-92, and S-70 aircraft.

Through his leadership, Renna has consistently demonstrated integrity and meticulous detail in the safety of the systems he develops. When performing incident and accident analysis, he insists on uncovering the root causes, no matter how they reflect on him, his team, and his company. After a multi-fatality accident involving a Sikorsky aircraft, he was tasked with presenting information to both technical and non-technical audiences, the latter requiring him to convey sincerity and reassurance. Renna was gratified both professionally and personally when he was repeatedly personally asked “to brief audiences on this difficult and emotional topic.”

At Purdue, he delivers frequent guest lectures, mentors Aeronautics and Astronautics (AAE) students, serves on the AAE Industrial Advisory Council, and was honored as an Outstanding Aerospace Engineer in 2010.

“Engineering requires skillful navigation amongst a great deal of uncertainty. Assumptions are necessary. Risk is absolutely unavoidable,” Renna said. “Purdue prepared me for an engineering career where the answer is not in the back of the textbook. Judgment will be needed. Facts must be challenged, and collaboration amongst peers is essential.”

Career Highlights

2017-2022 Chief Engineering, Global Commercial Aircraft, Sikorsky Aircraft Lockheed Martin Corp.
2014-2017 Director, Dynamic Systems Engineering, Sikorsky Aircraft, Lockheed
Martin Corp.
2010-2014 Vice President, Engineering, Safety, Test and Evaluation, Sikorsky Aircraft
Lockheed Martin Corp. 
1998-2010 Director, Dynamic Systems Engineering, Sikorsky Aircraft Lockheed
Martin Corp.
1987-1998 Structural Test Engineer, Sikorsky Aircraft, Lockheed Martin Corp.


1986 BS Aeronautics and Astronautics, Purdue University
1991 MBA, Business Administration, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute