The Friday before break, I finally got to tour the Raytheon plant in McKinney! My mentor and I had discussed this since my first interview with him, but with forms and different priorities (as it wasn't terribly urgent), we pushed it back a few weeks. This time, I toured almost the entire facility, walking in heels for an hour and a half (not very proactive on my part, I'll admit). I could tell the place had pretty tight security, with the gates, a couple of guards, and no photography. There weren't a lot of signs outside, so it took some navigating to find the main entrance. After I went in, I greeted my mentor and proceeded to tour the plant.
Some of the areas I found most interesting were the reliability analysis section, the simulation area, the clean room, and the RF testing area, among others. Some of those areas require thorough prevention of contamination, such as the full-body cover up in the clean room, while others are intended for workers' protection, like wearing a lab coat and grounding tape to prevent electric shocks. The simulation area has many chambers for high pressure, turbulence, vibration, and temperature to test the durability of products in a high altitude situation. Nearby is the reliability analysis section, which focuses more on small-scale components such as soldering strength, materials used in chips, and inefficiency. I didn't actually get to go in the RF testing rooms, but based on the pictures, they looked a lot like sound-proof rooms with the walls and floors lined with pointed foam triangles. These triangles help absorb RF waves and prevent reflections that could interfere with the signal being tested. On the other hand, if the triangles were not made of foam, but instead metal, you would actually need a surface with as few pointed areas as possible to prevent reflection (this was shown in one of the bomber's wings, which was smooth and slightly curved to prevent radar detection).
Now, if you're wondering where the software engineers come into play, many are located in the cubicle sections with small conference rooms nearby. Most of the "interesting"-looking sections are actually where technicians and hands-on employees work, whereas the software writers and managers tend to be in the cubicle area. Half the time, I was confused as to where I was because of the many wings, labs, and cubicle areas (there were probably a few hundred cubicles total). But the most eye-opening realization I had was the fact that all these sub-sections (reliability, error analysis, etc.) were somehow interwoven to produce amazing defense software and devices. There were so many individual tasks for each sector that it was difficult for me to envision how this company could run with numerous projects simultaneously running. Overall, it was truly interesting to see the physical operation of such a large plant- something you can't envision unless you see the scale and specificity in person.