Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Home RSS

Island native Dale Wagner does the near impossible

January 15, 2020
By PAULETTE LeBLANC ( , Pine Island Eagle

When Dale Wagner was growing up on a farm in Pine Island, he had no idea that tinkering with engines and piecing boats together would one day lead him right into space. With help from his team of fellow college seniors, Wagner successfully built the world's highest power to weight ratio outboard engine, something generally done over many years by a team of senior engineers and the financial backing of a fully operational company.

He describes the experience as having been a great adventure. Having no propensity toward math back in high school, Wagner didn't even have an interest in attending college at the start of his academic career. His parents insisted he obtain an associate degree, and local support came by way of scholarships from the Matlacha Hookers and Kiwanis Club encouraging Wagner, with a desire to see him go to college and do something with his innovative nature. He said his first two years at FGCU flew by and his original disdain for mathematics did nothing to stop him from obtaining a degree in engineering from UCF, which would eventually lead him to a job offer from Boeing.

"I didn't actually want to go to college when I first started," said Wagner. "I wanted a job with Honda."

Article Photos

Dale briefing his team and Honda engineers at Honda's R&D facility on test objectives.


Wagner had been working as an outboard technician at their dealership in Matlacha. Although it would turn out later that Honda's research and development department was too small to secure a job here in Florida, that didn't stop Wagner from telling the company about the motor he and his team were building. Striving for longevity and reliability is something Wagner knew to be true of Honda, so selling them on an idea that was somewhat flashy by comparison seemed like a long shot. He took that shot by making a phone call, which, in the moment, seemed to go nowhere.

"About halfway through the project we were doing research for building this engine and seeing a lot of potential," he said. "I remembered from my experience working at the dealership that they have a research center here in Florida. I searched Google Maps and found that there was a listing for the Research and Development Center on the east coast, with a phone number. The picture was of some guy holding a fish, so I thought it might be a misplaced fishing charter. I called the number anyway and it went straight to voicemail. It didn't say anything about it being a Honda research center, so I left a voicemail telling them my name and that I was doing this very ambitious project. Halfway through explaining all of this, the voicemail cut off, telling me I had reached the maximum time for a message. I didn't even have a chance to leave my phone number. Around an hour later the lead engineer for Honda's R&D called me back. I was thinking no way - you're not from Honda. He told me he'd had to look up my LinkedIn account to find my phone number in order to call me back."

After that phone call, Honda came out to UCF to meet the team and see the boat they had set up with the engine the team had built. They invited the whole team out to the research center where Wagner and his crew got to see what the engineers actually do there. The team was given parts and funding to make the project a success.

"I think they were more interested in funding our student project in order to help young engineers succeed than having the actual intellectual property - they didn't really care about having this research for themselves," said Wagner.

Having a great passion for aerospace from early on led Wagner to apply for every job available at the Kennedy Space Center, Boeing, NASA and Blue Earth. He found Boeing's Phantom Express program especially resonated with him.

"It's a Phantom space plane," said Wagner. "A miniature space shuttle capable of leaving and re-entering the atmosphere within a 24-hour period - basically it can launch and land in less than 24 hours, and then launch again, which has basically never been done before."

Wagner admits that he has a special love for projects that have never been done. Now that he's taken the job with Boeing, he's most looking forward to being an engineer in the space industry and being surrounded by people for whom it's common to go to the moon. He also plans to continue work on his outboard engine.

To little kids who may be dismantling household items in order to see how they work, Wagner says, don't stop and don't be afraid. He recognizes the role innovation plays in taking on a project like he did and said you have to be willing to take something apart whether or not you think you can put it back together.

"That kind of fear will stop you from even starting," said Wagner. "Doing things you've never done before is the only way to really learn."



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web