The son of a flight instructor and an aerospace engineer, RJ Gritter (GMS Class of 2005) grew up hanging around airplane hangars with his mom and dad. He fondly recalls his dad letting him tinker around with mechanics' tools from a very young age. Any of the GMS teachers who had RJ as a student, even from toddlerhood, knew that he was always thinking like an engineer.
He started building and flying radio-controlled airplanes in Middle School. In high school while attending the Early College at GTCC, RJ began to earn recognition and sponsorship opportunities while participating in flying competitions across the country. Not surprisingly, in 2010 RJ enrolled at NC State in the Aerospace Engineering Program.
Guided by his passion for flying, the semester that RJ finished high school, he also began a "summer job" at Atlantic Aero (a Greensboro based company dedicated to aircraft service, sales and maintenance). There he joined a team that was testing out a new Honda flying test bed engine. He continued with the project "on the side" as he started his first semester at NC State.
Within a few months the project at Atlantic Aero took off and RJ was invited to return to the project full time. It was a fantastic opportunity since it perfectly aligned with his field of study! He took a one year hiatus from NC State and worked at Atlantic Aero with a team of three engineers, plus a Japanese R&D team from Honda Jet, to prep the new engine for market. He helped build instrumentation systems that communicated to the engine and displayed metrics on the cockpit dashboard. RJ's co-workers (professionals in the industry) trusted his skill, knowledge and determined spirit enough to allow him to work on projects independently. RJ says, "There were some things that I just had to teach myself and I was grateful that my teammates let me do it." Test flying that engine was the pinnacle of his experience!
The following semester he returned to his studies at NC State. About his return, RJ said "The work experience made me appreciate school a lot more! I could immediately apply the engineering principles from class to my experience on the Atlantic Aero project. I found that I was very unique in my department because I had practical knowledge."
These days RJ reports that he lives in the lab on campus, and even when he is not doing projects for school, he enjoys building aircraft models for pleasure. For the past two years he has been president of the Aerial Robotics Club at NC State. This summer he will be working on a graduate-level project developing un-manned aircraft prototypes. And next March he will travel to Poland with two other pilots representing team USA at the world championship for Indoor Aerobatic Flying. He has also earned a name for himself as a featured pilot in a documentary exhibit called Flight Adventures at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis Planetarium.
RJ enjoys keeping in touch with his classmates from GMS. When asked to recall a specific fond memory of his time at GMS, he said, "There are so many, its hard to think of just one. I really appreciated the relationships that I formed with all of my classmates. As for my experience as a student at GMS... I wouldn't have had it any other way." Montessori alumni stay connected to each other long after graduation.
In September, RJ will be flying one of his aerobatic radio-controlled airplanes in the Winston-Salem Air Show. He will graduate from NC State in 2015 and has plans to pursue graduate school as a means to help him realize his dream of becoming a professional aircraft designer and test pilot.