BUFFALO, N.Y. – Megan Whalen was slightly apprehensive
about starting an internship at engineering firm Cobham this
Cobham, after all, designs and builds some of the world’s
most sophisticated pressurized gas systems for NASA, Boeing, the
U.S. Navy and others.
Whalen, a mechanical engineering student at the University at
Buffalo, found comfort in her first assignment: using SolidWorks, a
computer-aided design program, to test a nitrogen inerting system
designed for unmanned aerial vehicles.
“I’m familiar with that program because I took a
class on it at UB,” said Whalen, of Marilla, who returns to
UB this fall for her senior year.
Like many of Buffalo Niagara’s leading engineering firms,
Cobham has strong ties to UB, particularly the university’s
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. UB engineers have been
working at Cobham since the company formed as Carleton Aviation in
East Aurora during the 1950s.
Fueled by the success of making oxygen regulators for Boeing
707s, the company expanded in the 1960s by providing a similar
product for NASA’s first human spaceflight program, Project
“Every astronaut since John Glenn has breathed in outer
space using our equipment,” said Jeff Ehret, Cobham senior
business development manager, while gesturing to a case containing
the regulator used by the famous astronaut.
The company also developed pressure suit controllers that
military members use to keep cool when encountering dangerous heat;
oxygen valves for submarines; and components for NASA’s space
In 1987, British manufacturing company Cobham bought Carleton.
Officially called Cobham Mission Systems Division, it operates in a
100,000-square-foot facility in Orchard Park that employs roughly
275. It continues to work with many of the same government agencies
and private industry that it did as Carleton Aviation.
At Cobham in early June, Whalen worked on the nitrogen inverting
system. She used SolidWorks, the computer program, to show how a
handle that clamps down part of the system is supposed to react to
stress. She refined the handle’s design to make it
The work is a minor but important task on just one of the dozens
of life support projects that Cobham engineers are engaged in,
Whalen, who grew up loving art class, said she was drawn to
mechanical engineering because it has many different
That’s true, said Dean Millar, director of UB’s
Engineering Career Institute. He noted that Whalen is among dozens
of engineering students who have interned this past academic year
with one of Buffalo Niagara’s leading firms. The companies
make everything from medical devices and aerospace components to
working with high-pressure gas systems and advanced materials.
Cobham has offered paid internships to UB students since 2006,
according to Tama Gresco-Sauers, Cobham’s human resources
director in Orchard Park. Additionally, the company annually
provides one student, in this case Whalen, a $2,000
The internship program, she said, has been remarkably
“Most do so well that we often hire them to work part time
in the fall during the school year. And some we’ve hired full
time upon graduation,” Gresco-Sauers said.
That’s something Whalen, who has a few more weeks left on
her internship, is interested in.
“I love it here,” she said before turning her
attention back to the nitrogen inverting system.