Whether the next President of the United States is red, blue or purple, one of the helicopters in POTUS’s fleet will be made by the aircraft manufacturer Sikorsky, with electrical systems designed by Shelter Island High School Class of 2002 graduate William Theinert.
William is the oldest of the three Theinert brothers; Billy, Joey and Jimbo, sons of Chrystyna Kestler. The boys grew up on Shelter Island and graduated from the Shelter Island School. William’s younger brother, Joseph was killed in action in 2010, while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. James, the youngest of the three, is a teacher of mathematics at the Shelter Island School.
William described going to school on Shelter Island as “A great education, and a wonderful learning experience,” where the size of things suited him well. “I really enjoyed the smallness and closeness.”
His interests then as now, were math and science, and he found plenty of support and encouragement especially in math classes with Carol Andrews, computer classes with Walter Brigham, and Jack Reardon’s shop classes.
By the time he left Shelter Island, he felt ready for the academic demands of college, “There were just more students. Academically, I felt well prepared.” After graduating, he began a West Point training program, but changed course, going to Drexel University in Philadelphia before landing at Stony Brook University, where he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 2009.
His first engineering job was with Northrup Grumman in Bethpage where he was hired to work on Navy surveillance aircraft. When Northrup Grumman downsized and the job moved to Florida in 2013, William joined the aircraft manufacturer, Sikorsky at their Stratford, Connecticut facility to avoid leaving the Northeast.
With 7,000 employees, and billion dollar contracts, Sikorsky is a leader in air vehicle design. After starting in another part of the company, William was able to join the team working on a new presidential helicopter, a contract that Sikorsky was awarded a decade ago.
The presidential fleet of helicopters includes more than one kind, and the workhorse vehicle that William is working on will replace one that is essentially the same green and white chopper that whisked Richard Nixon from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base after he resigned from office in 1974.
William said his work is very rewarding, and not overly challenging, since it turns out that these aircraft rely primarily on analog circuit technology, rather than digital circuits that are used today in many high-tech applications.
“It’s sort of a throwback,” he said. “We still deal with analog circuits. Not too much digital work.”
That doesn’t mean the new aircraft is simple, just that it is a hybrid of analog and digital technology.
“Certain systems are going to be newer and digital,” he said. “Not less than by any means.”
The demands on Marine One are incredibly complex; they need to transport the President quickly and safely, but also to allow for sophisticated and secure communications with leaders of the U.S. military and other world leaders.
The aircraft also needs to get very, very good gas mileage, and have a bathroom.
Much of the project is classified information. “The new one we are making is based on a commercial aircraft,” William said. “I cannot get into the details.” What he can say, is that he is designing the electrical systems for a Presidential helicopter that Sikorsky will deliver in time to take the Leader of the Free World to work in 2022.
For Shelter Island High School students looking for career advice, William has one word – Excel.
“For my area, or any larger business or corporation, Microsoft Excel is used so much more than you can ever imagine,” he said. “No matter what your major is, get really good at Excel. If you figure out how to use the formulas, you can really stand out.”
William learned Excel at Shelter Island High School, and realized just how valuable a skill it could be when his bosses at Sikorsky gave him an assignment that might have taken months — to check 25,000 connections on the aircraft — a task involving numbers and unique characters. He figured out how to apply Excel to the problem, and completed it in four hours.
“They couldn’t believe I finished it so fast,” he said.
Working in a large corporation, changes come often. William said he has worked in several departments at Sikorsky and definitely likes his present assignment best of all.
In 2015, Sikorsky was acquired by Lockheed Martin, and some of the changes that came with new management William likes very much. One is an adjustment to the work schedule that gives employees every other Friday off, a quality of life improvement that is especially welcome to William since he got married in 2016, and he and his wife, Nancy, had their first child, Cooper, on January 3, 2017.
Sikorsky has also started to offer tuition reimbursement for employees who decide to pursue a graduate degree, a policy that encouraged William to go for a Master’s in Electrical Engineering. The birth of his son earlier this year rearranged his schedule a little bit and delayed that plan, but he still makes time to get back across Long Island Sound to Shelter Island every month or two.
But not by helicopter.