North Central College - Naperville, IL

Phillip Burke III ’85

While no one in the early 1980s could’ve predicted advanced technologies like Ethernet systems in engineering projects, Phillip Burke III ’85 has adapted to the pace of change in aerospace engineering. A physics major and 3-2 engineering graduate from Washington University, Burke over the past 26 years has helped design testing systems used by military aircraft and other planes for McDonnell Douglas and The Boeing Company (which bought McDonnell Douglas in 2000). Today he is an engineer in F-15 support systems focusing on automatic test systems for avionics. The F-15 (pictured below) is produced for Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Korea and the United States.

“When I first started at McDonnell Douglas in 1986, we designed most of our test circuitry,” says Burke. “It was hardware intensive with switches and knobs to control everything. Those technologies slowly gave way to embedded microcontrollers, then microprocessors, and eventually to today’s Ethernet controlled instrumentation. Most of our time now is spent on software design and testing instead of hardware design.”

Fifteen years ago he was part of the first group to design an Ethernet-based system using commercial hardware, still a favorite project. The testing philosophy the group developed is still in use today, he says, which is especially fulfilling.

In 2012, Burke worked on a system that was installed on F-15 Japanese military aircraft, which required a trip to Japan. He has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “I’ve been to some of the most beautiful places in the world, like Kathmandu, with the Himalayas in the background,” he says. “I’ve also been to places where one can’t imagine the horrors of the past. Like standing at ground zero in Hiroshima knowing someone was out doing their normal business only to leave a few reminders of his existence.”

Burke and his siblings, Cherie ‘86 and Nate ‘00, represent the second generation of North Central grads in the family. “During my first trip to visit North Central as a prospective student my parents Phillip ’58 and Faye ’59 Burke Jr. stopped in Dr. (Bill) Naumann’s office. I think that was the first time I realized that my family still had connections.” Burke immediately pursued the 3-2 degree. “My advisor, Dr. (Yueh-Ping) Liaw, professor of physics emerita, made sure my classes would fulfill the requirements for transferring to Washington University. She also helped me find a campus job setting up the labs. After graduation we stayed in touch for many years.” He considers many of his North Central classmates to be good friends.

He says his liberal arts background has been important to his career and to his municipal roles as chairman of the board of trustees of Sycamore Hills, MO, and secretary for Mayors of Small Cities. “My work supervisors will have me proofread their work. It also helps during my technical writing, planning courses and teaching foreign military students. And I can prepare grants while also understanding civil engineers.”