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A Road Less Traveled: From VisSim to Geospatial

Mar 14, 2022

Tara Cullivan, the newest member of the L3Harris Data Products team, took a circuitous route to working in the Geospatial industry. “I grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri with hard working, middle-class parents,” says Tara. Coming out of high school, Tara had a strong work ethic, but didn’t have a clear idea of where to apply it. “Some kids know what they want to do when they grow up. I wasn’t that kid.” 

In her early 20’s, Tara found a flexible two-year associate degree program for Information Technology/Multimedia that allowed her to continue to work a full-time route sales job while attending school. “Within six months of graduation, I was lucky enough to land a job at FlightSafety working for a great manager who recognized my drive to make a difference.” 


At FlightSafety, Tara created 3D environments for commercial and military flight training. These 3D environments along with simulator hardware would put student pilots into a realistic simulation to train for multiple different real-world scenarios. 


While her passion continued to grow with 3D modeling, the salesperson inside was itching to make a bigger impact in the simulation world. After six years as a senior database modeler, she was promoted to project manager for the database team. This career move pushed her to go back to college. “This time, in my 30s with two young children to support, going back to college was even scarier than the first time. Once again, I found a working adult-based program at a local University that allowed me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business while working full-time and being a full-time mom.” 


The next two years are what Tara describes as the most challenging in her life. But it wasn’t long after getting her degree that she found herself leading a team on a large critical military program. The program took two years to complete and created a cutting edge, realistic environment that trains beginning military soldiers in the United States Air Force and United States Navy to learn to fly. 


With 11 years of synthetic 3D modeling under her belt, Tara moved on to the world of proposals. “I was one of the main points of contact for visual system sales and the only visual system proposal manager for a few years.” After that, Tara worked as a Sr. Defense Sales Manager where she served as the point person for large key accounts and put her combined sales experience and visual systems knowledge to good use. 


The COVID-19 pandemic gave everyone pause, and Tara, like many, took it as an opportunity for introspection. “As I reflected on my 17-year career in VisSim at FlightSafety, I found I was grateful for all the opportunities, but something was still missing.” With her kids in high school and living with the uncertainty of what her future was going to look like in the midst of a pandemic, she dusted off her resume and updated her LinkedIn profile. “I decided there was no time like the present to find the right company where I could combine my passion for sales and 3D database modeling background. I found the perfect company and position at L3Harris.” 

Tara also sees a convergence with the rising importance of visual simulations in pilot training. “With the rising cost of fuel, aging aircraft, along with a pilot shortage, simulation is posed to replace missions that would normally be trained in an actual aircraft. These simulations will train future pilots from full flight simulators to home desks or dorm rooms,” said Tara. “And the L3Harris Geospatial team has decades of experience and an abundance of passion to provide the core product solutions to create realistic simulation environments.” 


The correlated, accurate satellite imagery, elevation models (DTM/DSM), vector shapefiles, obstruction (DVOF), aerodrome mapping database (AMDB) and 3D building products available from L3Harris are critical in creating simulations that immerse the pilot into real-world scenarios. “The smallest inaccurate visual representation can cause a pilot’s brain to register that something isn’t quite right, “triggering” the pilot to remember they are in a simulated environment. This impacts the quality of the training because you want the pilot to have the same experience as a real-world flight to prepare them for any event – potentially saving lives in the air and on the ground.” 


If you’re looking for data to create simulated environments, or other geospatial data needs, be sure to reach out to Tara or a member of the Data Products team. They will work with you to make sure you get exactly what you need to meet your mission requirements, on-time and within budget. 




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