"It was great that the company was receptive to me challenging myself and trying new things out."
I graduated from the University of Liverpool (UoL) with a First Class MEng in ‘Aerospace Engineering with Pilot Studies’, which included doing my Private Pilot’s License at John Lennon Airport. Part of the reason I chose the UoL was because they had that unique option, providing me with a theoretical grounding of an engineering degree, as well as the practical training of flying on a Piper Tomahawk light aircraft.
I didn’t realise at the time, but the UoL is one of Leonardo’s two UK Centres of Excellence for Advanced Rotorcraft Research (alongside the University of Bristol), so I had lots of exposure to the company throughout my four-year degree. Many of our degree modules had a helicopter focus. My main project for the last two years of my degree was about making the UoL Engineering department’s helicopter simulator more realistic, with a secondary element focused on developing training modules that would reduce pilot workload.
My university project supervisor, who I’m still in contact with, strongly recommended Leonardo’s graduate scheme. The mentoring from the university and exposure to the company nailed my decision to come here. Then, doing the two-year graduate programme (from September 2013), meeting the people in Yeovil and seeing the technology being developed and produced at the full site cemented my decision to pursue a full-time role at Leonardo.
The level of opportunity at Leonardo is something not many people get in other areas of the aerospace industry, in terms of the interaction with the aerospace product they’ve developed. My first placement was in Helicopter System Dynamics, doing main and tail rotor dynamic simulation modelling. I then moved into a project management role in the AW101 International Civil Projects office. This involved taking a step back from the detail, but ensuring all the technical elements of the programme were addressed correctly and on time. I subsequently moved into experimental and production helicopter flight testing, which included flying on-board during the delivery of an AW169 to Italy, and monitoring the performance handling characteristics of an AW101 with the ramp open at 10,000 feet!
I also worked on the development of the Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DAFCS) software for the South Korean International AW159. In a nutshell, the AFCS is the autopilot and auto stabilisation system for the aircraft, the purpose of which is to reduce the pilot’s workload by several orders of magnitude. This was during my final six-month placement on the scheme, and I was given lots of responsibility quite early on in my career working on a system which, quite frankly, the aircraft cannot fly without.
Alongside my placement work, I also took part in a community project with others from my graduate intake. Named ‘Project Cycle’, we cycled 800 miles over 12 days as a team from one of the Leonardo sites in Milan back to Yeovil (via the Alps and the English Channel) raising over £16,000 for charity.
Since graduating, I’ve done a variety of roles. The graduate scheme helped me realise that I really enjoyed and thrived in a high profile, high pressure programme. So when I finished it in September 2015 and started my full-time role in the AFCS department, I was given responsibility for the design and development of the DAFCS software for the maintenance system, pre-flight test system and cockpit alert system of the International AW159, at a time when the programme was under extremely tight deadlines. In November 2019, the DAFCS team was presented with RAeS Bronze Team Award for our work on the programme.
I did that role for two years, before moving into the AW101 International Avionic Systems team, initially working on the Osprey 30 radar programme. I worked with suppliers to ensure detailed technical tasks were completed on time and to requirement, whilst also conducting integration and test activities on the aircraft. Using the experience gained from this, I then took over responsibility for leading the RDR-1600 weather radar activities, working alongside other young engineers. It was great that the company was receptive to me challenging myself and trying new things out. Just because you come off the graduate scheme in a particular job role, you’re not defined by it; there are opportunities beyond it.
In November 2018 I was seconded to the DAFCS Software Verification and Validation (V&V) team, undertaking V&V to achieve Level A software assurance of the DAFCS. My involvement in this project finished in March 2019, before I moved to a Senior Project Engineering role, working in the Wildcat In-service Support Team (WIST), having been specifically asked to join the team by the AW159 Chief Project Engineer.
My skillset now means I’ve had exposure of the full product lifecycle, from initial design through to final certification and in-service support. This was recognised with me winning the RAeS's Alan Marsh Award in 2019 for exceptional technical and leadership promise, of which I'm incredibly proud.
Leonardo Helicopters’ set-up means you gain the experience and knowledge of older engineers, as well as the mindset of younger keen and enthusiastic engineers. I’m currently pursuing my chartership with the RAeS through the company-led Developing Engineering Programme (DEP), which was set up by the Head of Engineering to allow young engineers to continually develop themselves.
During my time as a graduate and ever since, I’ve been a keen advocate of STEM and have organised several events which have seen about 1,000 students participating. In 2016, to celebrate the Royal Aeronautical Society’s (RAeS) 150th anniversary, I worked with RAeS to create the world’s largest ever Cool Aeronautics event, here in Yeovil. It has since become an annual event that Leonardo continues to support. I was also on the Flying Start Challenge organising team, managing the logistics of the final at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovil.
As part of my aim to encourage students to pursue careers in STEM, I organise and deliver interactive lessons about helicopter aerodynamics in local primary and secondary schools. This gives students an insight from an industry perspective, and allows me to share the excitement of such a career – something I feel I have an obligation to do!
I’m also involved with promoting Leonardo’s work experience summer placement programme in Yeovil. Two of the first participants are now doing apprenticeships with Leonardo, so it’s great to see their progress.
Management has been supportive of ideas I’ve proposed, as long as the initiatives haven’t negatively impacted my workload and deadlines.
I have a very good mentor who’s helped me scope out a career plan. Over the next 2-3 years I’ll be supporting the WIST programme as a Senior Project Engineer, interacting with a variety of departments and gaining a better understanding of the mechanical side to complement my knowledge of avionics.
Once I have fuller grounding, I’ll be looking to take on a small team lead role, perhaps back in the Avionics department. I hope to do that for 2-4 years, building up experience, before managing a department – maybe within Avionics, maybe internal to core engineering – for 2-5 years. After that, I’d like to be a head of department, and then…who knows?!?!