Class Acts: Miles Petersen

Despite rocky takeoff, Petersen was able to soar at WashU, thanks in part to finding his people

Miles Petersen poses in his Design Build Fly shirt
Miles Petersen has always been interested in airplanes. Now, he's set to graduate from the McKelvey School of Engineering and begin a job with aerospace company Boeing. (Photo: Jerry Naunheim Jr./Washington University)

To some people, an airplane symbolizes getting away, maybe even escape, but Miles Petersen has a different perspective.

“I think flying is pretty incredible. Seeing a plane flying above me is just magical,” he said. But he doesn’t imagine getting away from it all. “Planes play a positive role in today’s world,” he said. “They connect people. They bring families together.”

Petersen expects to graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the McKelvey School of Engineering and — no surprises here — a minor in aerospace engineering.

A Southwest Airlines plane takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as another lands in the background. (Photo: Miles Petersen)

Miles Petersen loves airplanes — a passion that will serve him well in his new job working for Boeing in Seattle.

His love goes beyond his new job, his studies in aerospace engineering, or even his trusty “Fundamentals of Aerospace” textbook. Petersen likes to go outside, look up and just see planes. He photographs them as they come in and out of airports — some bringing people home from vacations, others shuttling presidents to important destinations.

“There are a lot of unique planes you can see,” he said. “A rare plane or special paint job or in St. Louis, they do test flights.”

You can find his work on Instagram.

For Petersen, planes connect him to fellow aerospace enthusiasts; they connect his life in St. Louis to his friends and family back in his native Delaware; and planes connect his past to his future, a future working at aerospace giant Boeing Co. in Seattle.

Petersen cannot recall a time when he wasn’t crazy about planes. “I’ve always loved the window seat,” he said. In high school, he asked for an aerospace engineering textbook for his birthday — a book he still has within arm’s reach.

When he came to WashU, Petersen didn’t waste any time, joining a Design Build Fly (DBF) team freshman year. Hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, DBF is an annual competition, each year with different themes but always the same goal: “We come together to figure out an approach, design an airplane, and then we fly it.”

The plane briefly flew … and then crashed. Still, Petersen recalled it as one of his most exciting WashU memories. “One of the most rewarding experiences was when I saw our plane freshman year and the tail of the airplane was the shape I had designed it to be. It was amazing to see my work as part of a larger piece.”

Despite the crash, he kept with it, even becoming administrative president of DBF. In the meantime, he also won the Linda Kral Prize for Outstanding Accomplishments in Aerospace Engineering and was elected into the Pi Tau Sigma Honorary Mechanical Engineering Society.

This year, Petersen said, the first iteration of their plane didn’t fly. “But we rallied together, rebuilt it to gather data, and we had one of the most successful days in the club’s history,” he said, with 10 successful flights and landings.

The Design Build Fly team poses at the 2022 competition. (Photo courtesy of Miles Petersen)

At the national competition, held in May, the team scored its best-ever finish, placing 11th out of about 100 college teams from across the country.

Petersen’s background doesn’t necessarily shout aerospace engineer. His parents are in the humanities, both art historians. They have been nothing but extremely supportive, Petersen said. “That being said, I think my dad may wish I’d taken more humanities classes.”

His next stop is Seattle, where he has secured a job with Boeing as a weight engineer, ensuring that components of planes are balanced and not overweight.

“I’ve always had the end goal of working in the aviation industry,” he said. “It’s sort of surreal. I can’t wait to get started.”

Leave a Comment

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.