Engineering Success: The UC Davis Alumni Trio Behind Mesotech's Meteorological Milestones

Three people wearing business casual attire in front of an office building with the Mesotech International, Inc. logo on blue glass.
From left: Johnathan Walters, James McDaniel and Chris Swinehart in front of Mesotech’s headquarters in Rancho Cordova, California.

From the lecture halls of the University of California, Davis, to the forefront of aviation meteorology, three College of Engineering alumni have struck lightning in the meteorological monitoring landscape.  

As part of the Sacramento-based company, Mesotech International, Inc., Chris Swinehart '09, Johnathan Walters '10, and James McDaniel '18 are designing, manufacturing and installing world-class Automated Weather Observing Systems, or AWOS, for airports worldwide with the goal of enhancing flight safety by providing the most accurate, reliable and accessible weather data on the market. 

UC Davis Beginnings, Unified Success 

UC Davis played a pivotal role in shaping the careers of Swinehart, McDaniel and Walters, each taking to heart the university's impact in their own unique ways.  

Swinehart, now chief operating officer, has seen the company grow from six employees to almost 30. As he reflects on his professional journey, Swinehart remembers being a fresh UC Davis graduate with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering eager to prove his engineering prowess. 

He played a crucial role in all stages of development of Mesotech's milestone system deployed in 2011, the AN/FMQ-23 and helped install the first system at Hurlburt Field, Florida. This system set the foundation for Mesotech to develop the next generation of their flagship Automated Weather Observing System – Airport Weather Advisor© and positioned Mesotech as one of only three companies with FAA-certified AWOS . 

Reflecting on his time at the university, Swinehart stated, "The education at UC Davis set me up to be a life-long learner and to think critically." He added, "While on-the-job learning is crucial in any industry, UC Davis set the foundation for me to come in ready to learn, grow and innovate." 

Walters, who earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at UC Davis, has worn many hats at Mesotech, from traveling the world as a field engineer to leading software development. In addition to his contributions to the AN/FMQ-23 system, he helped revolutionize aviation weather perception through his contributions to the development of AWOS Live, an innovative web app that offers real-time aviation weather information, seamlessly blending technology with necessity. In his current position as principal engineer, Walters leads the development of Mesotech's fleet management software, ensuring system health is consistently monitored. 

As director of operations, McDaniel, an alumnus of UC Davis' mechanical engineering program, shines in the administrative sphere, adeptly managing government contracts and streamlining the company's production and warehouse processes, ensuring efficiency and precision.  

"We've always strived for unparalleled excellence," McDaniel said. "Our dedication to innovation has led our small team to design systems and provide customer service that are benchmarks in aviation meteorology."  

Collaboration: Beyond the Numbers 

In 2020 the trio was tasked with developing an upgrade solution for aging United States Air Force weather systems. Swinehart, McDaniel and Walters led the Mesotech team in this comprehensive overhaul, aiming to modernize the global fleet and laying the groundwork for their most recent contract award, which was announced on September 5, 2023. 

On Sept. 5, Mesotech secured a $31 million contract with the US Air Force to expand their support of Fixed Base Weather Systems. 

"While this contract presents numerous technical complexities, our entire team's individual strengths and collective determination enable us to chart the course to success," said Swinehart.  

Unified Purpose, Global Impact 

A collection of meteorological sensing equipment mounted to a red tower in front of a mountain in Alaska.
A Mesotech Airport Weather Advisor® system in Anchorage, Alaska.

Mesotech has installed systems on every continent, including Antarctica. Thanks to the innovative efforts and expert management of these three UC Davis alumni, as well as Mesotech's engineering, remote monitoring capabilities and ongoing support, these systems withstand the test of the elements with limited downtime.  

Swinehart, McDaniel and Walters attest that their collaboration unified by purpose and the educational foundation from UC Davis are key components of a small company like Mesotech being able to have meteoric influence on the future of aviation meteorology.  

"Collaboration, especially with diversity of thought, leads to groundbreaking innovations," Swinehart said. "Don't assume a small group of motivated individuals can't make a large impact." 

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