Keeping the Spirit Alive

Diego sits at a table with model planes, a Northrop History book and an American flag.

By Mary Tuomala

For Diego Silva Molina, an advanced automation engineer on the F-35 program, the path to Northrop Grumman was paved by an unwavering passion for aerospace and a unique connection to the innovative spirit of Jack Northrop, one of Northrop Grumman’s heritage founders.

Diego was born and raised in Santa Ana Maya in the Mexican state of Michoacan, where his grandfather owned and operated a farm. Growing up, as career opportunities in the area were limited, Diego assumed he’d take over responsibilities on the family farm. However, during a family visit to Ojai, California, on his 15th birthday, Diego’s aunt asked if he wanted to stay with her in the United States for high school.

Although Diego did not speak English, he decided to take the leap, enrolling in the school’s English as a Second Language program for his freshman year. Despite the challenge of learning a new language and taking on high school coursework in a new country, Diego discovered a love for math and physics.

“Through hard work and many sleepless nights, I was able to graduate high school as an incoming mechanical engineering student at the University of California, Davis,” he said.

Unlocking a New Passion

During his junior year at UC Davis, a friend suggested that Diego consider a double major in aerospace science and engineering. Even though he had no previous interest or experience in aerospace, Diego decided to enroll in a jet propulsion class — a decision that would prove to be life-changing.

“The complexity of what an engine is and what it does was really mind-blowing to me,” said Diego. “Aerospace is a pioneering industry; the unknowns are always there, but the industry finds ways to make the impossible possible.”

His curiosity sparked, Diego started volunteering at the Aerospace Museum of California in Sacramento, California. One day in the museum’s gift shop, Diego saw a plastic model of an airplane he’d never seen or heard of before: the YF-23, nicknamed Black Widow II. Researching the YF-23 led Diego to Jack Northrop. He learned about Jack’s pride in his flying wing concept, and the challenges he faced getting buy-in for his unique aircraft design. Diego felt a special connection to Jack’s story.

“I imagined the frustration he felt when people did not believe in his designs,” said Diego. “I promised that one day, I was going to work for Northrop Grumman to continue the legacy.”

Dreams Become Reality

After graduating from college, Diego pursued his dream of working in aerospace, taking a job at a company that made aerospace parts. When a colleague shared that he was taking on a new role at Northrop Grumman, Diego’s passion for the company’s legacy came flooding back. In March 2022, Diego’s dream came true when, with the help of his former colleague, he joined Northrop Grumman to work in advanced automation on the F-35 program in Palmdale, California.

“Seeing the big buildings, the huge Northrop Grumman logo and American flag flying in the wind while walking to the office on my first day — it was impactful and surreal,” he said.

A Journey to Define Possible

Diego said he feels a special sense of pride being trusted with responsibilities that contribute directly to building incredible products. He still feels a connection to Jack Northrop and sees Jack’s energy reflected in his colleagues each day.

“Jack Northrop’s spirit is here. What he did in the past contributed to the Northrop Grumman of today,” said Diego. “The people that work here are passionate about our mission and truly love being part of this company.”

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