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Ben Bryan is a University of Wyoming graduate who spent almost a decade in Denver designing and building spacecraft like the Mars 2020 rover and deep-space vehicles. He recently moved back to Wyoming for a better quality of life. He is now the director of engineering for Weatherby, a world-renowned firearms manufacturer that moved its operations from California to Sheridan this year. He took a moment to answer some of our questions.
Wyoming Business Council: Did you grow up in Wyoming?
Ben Bryan: No, I grew up in Alaska. It was destiny that I ended up in Wyoming. For college, I was checking out engineering schools in mountain regions and drove through Laramie on my way to Montana from Colorado. I stopped and toured the University of Wyoming and fell in love with it . I earned my structural engineering degree there and stayed in Laramie for about 13 years.
WBC: And then a job in Denver lured you away?
BB: While in Laramie, Lockheed Martin called and asked me if I wanted to build spaceships for a living. And, well, that sounded pretty great. So yes, I moved to Denver to design and develop spacecraft for 10 years or so.
WBC: What were some of your projects there?
BB: I worked on several big programs, including working with NASA on Mars 2020, which will be the next rover going to Mars in July next year. I helped with assembly, testing and launching of several deep-space vehicles. It was a thrill to be a part of such a cool industry.
WBC: So how did you end up in Sheridan?
BB: I was building and leading spacecraft teams for 80 hours a week and going to Florida for five months at a time for launches. I have a wonderful wife and three wonderful kids. I enjoyed my job, but I enjoy my family more. So, a little more than a year ago, I chose to leave aerospace to go to a place where I wanted to live and raise a family. I knew I wanted to live in the mountains, and Sheridan topped my list. We moved to Sheridan for a better quality of life.
WBC: And Weatherby happened to be hiring former spacecraft builders?
BB: Weatherby was a blessing in disguise. Ever since the company moved to Wyoming, they’ve been thinking in a whole new direction. The firearms industry hasn’t changed much since World War II, and it’s ripe for innovation. Weatherby is embracing that. They’ve hired an aerospace guy to create some new products and features in this old-school industry.
WBC: Can you share anything about those products and features?
BB: For example, with Lockheed Martin, I designed energy-dissipating devices into spacecraft. So now, we applied something like that to rifles. With this device, shooting our large-caliber rifles feels as easy as shooting a .22. We’re also working with new types of materials, like carbon-fiber and titanium, and with 3D printing.
WBC: What do you see or hope for the future of Wyoming, particularly for engineers ?
BB: I’m part of a consortium that’s working to bring aerospace into Wyoming. I’m connecting Wyoming companies to the contacts I’ve made in the industry. Wyoming has everything it needs to nurture the industry: a desire to diversify, a strong cowboy work ethic and a top-notch engineering program at UW. Even without an aerospace-specific degree at UW , all the excellent engineering programs offer opportunities in aerospace. The state’s interest in diversifying into manufacturing ties into aerospace perfectly, too. Someone needs to build the hardware that goes into space.
WBC: Do you ever miss building spaceships?
BB: Fortunately, I still get to dabble in consultant work, and I still get a chance to participate in launches. But I love that I now get to work where I want to live, rather than being forced to live where I want to work. I love the outdoor lifestyle, and I wouldn’t go back to living in Denver. And I love working for a company that allows me to innovate and put my engineering skills and background to work.