Jacco Hoekstra

Jacco Hoekstra is professor of Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) in the Control and Simulation research group at TU Delft.

An interview with Jacco Hoekstra

What has been the highlight of your career?

‘The period I spent working for NASA at the NLR on the Free Flight Project. We were looking at whether it is possible for pilots in the upper atmosphere to serve as their own air-traffic controllers. That project had it all: an interesting, challenging mathematical problem and plenty of experiments using the flight simulator. It turned into a textbook example of a project that had a completely different result to the one we were expecting. We thought that the pilot/traffic controller combination would only be possible in low-traffic areas, but to our surprise we found the opposite to be true. These findings had an enormous impact – and made us instantly famous. We were asked to advise the American government, and found ourselves in the glamour of the media spotlight. A unique experience! A second highlight was the move I made to TU Delft. Before that I had carried out research at the NLR for 16 years, largely involving flight simulators. An enjoyable and instructive period – a boyhood dream. But I’d always felt an affinity for education, too. I’m very happy that that is one aspect of my work at TU Delft.’

What do you enjoy most about your work?

‘I have an enquiring mind, and I enjoy explaining things. What I enjoy most is the fact that I can now combine the two in my work. Teaching a lecture room full of students is great, but I also enjoy being a solitary ‘nerd’. I can’t choose between the two. In my lectures my aim is always to awaken students’ curiosity and motivate them. I get them to interact by being enthusiastic and asking the right questions. The creative side of teaching makes it really interesting.

What is your greatest challenge at the moment?

‘Developing the new Chair of CNS/ATM here at AE. I am starting from scratch; there isn’t a ready-made group. I have the honour of¬† ‘shaping’ and developing the chair. Another challenge is the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Introduction to Aeronautical Engineering’, which starts on 3 March. Wherever they are in the world, the MOOC gives everyone free access to TU Delft teaching. I subscribe to that ideal, and that’s why I’m involved. More than 10,000 students have registered already! It’ll be an exciting challenge keeping them all happy. I just hope they won’t all start e-mailing me! I’m also very curious to find out how the online lectures come across, as I’m talking to a camera rather than a full lecture room.’

Why Delft?

I studied here as an undergraduate, and although I then spent 16 years working at the NLR in Amsterdam, I jumped at the chance when NLR asked me to consider a part-time professorship. TU Delft then also offered me the post of dean, which came as a great surprise. My love of education and the prospect of working with young, smart students persuaded me to accept.

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