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January 24, 2014

Reaching the skies by starting in Greenville

Zachary Reeder credits hometown for aviation success

GREENVILLE — Aviation engineer Zachary Reeder gets to help build some of the world’s most advanced aircraft, but he owes it all to the lessons he learned while growing up in Greenville.

“I, as a creative engineer, am a product of this community,” Reeder said.

Reeder was the keynote speaker for Thursday’s Greenville Chamber/Board of Development Annual Banquet. Reeder graduated Greenville High School and Texas A&M University and currently works at Scaled Composites, an aerospace and specialty composites development company located in Mojave, Calif.

Reeder explained much of the wisdom he acquired from his childhood he uses every day in his career, lessons he put to use almost immediately upon graduating.

“I had been out of school with a bachelor’s degree for about three months when I got started in all this,” Reeder said.

His current project is the “Stratolaunch”, which will be the world’s largest aircraft when completed.

Reeder said one of the common misconceptions about engineers is that they are all genius nerds and obsessed with science and math. Instead, Reeder believes the most successful engineers are the ones who truly love what they do.

“Some of the best kinds of fun are really hard and exhausting,” Reeder said. “You can design an airplane with seventh grade math, maybe less.”

Reeder said some of the most important words of advice he put to use came from when he built model airplanes as a kid.

“Doesn’t matter how nice the paint is, if the wing is on crooked,” he said.

Two other principles came from his days being part of Odyssey of the Mind (now known as Destination Imagination) in the eight grade.

“Don’t be afraid to start something you have no idea how to finish, you’ll figure it out,” Reeder said. “If the rules don’t say you can’t do it, then you can.”

Performing in the Greenville High School Band taught Reeder that, “Talent is sort of a myth; practice makes perfect.”

And, as a member of the Greenville High School football team, Reeder said his coaches taught him “You are capable of about 50 percent more than what you think will kill you.”

Reeder said his two most important lessons came from his parents. He noted it was his dad who taught him, “Everything can be broken down into chunks simple enough to understand,” while his mom learned to appreciate his artistic creativity and told him, “It’s OK to paint a lizard on the wall in the bathroom.

“That all happened before I left Greenville,” Reeder said.

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