"I love the variety of work I’m given, so being a Leonardo employee is different day-to-day. I also have direct contact with the end product and get onto the helicopters on our airfield."
In November 2018, Paul won two awards from the Royal Aeronautical Society which recognised his contributions at Leonardo. The first was the Young Persons’ Achievement Award (RAeS Young Engineer of the Year) for exceptional achievement or promise in aerospace, while the second – Herbert Le Sueur Award – was awarded to the young person whose studies will be enhanced by attending a UK or European aircraft conference.
I studied at the University of Glasgow, which specialises in rotorcraft, so I became aware of AgustaWestland (now Leonardo Helicopters) while I was there, successfully applying to join the company’s graduate programme in October 2014.
The biggest reason for joining Leonardo was because it's the only helicopter manufacturer in the UK that has the capability to design and build the aircraft and then support them throughout their operational lives. Being on the graduate programme meant I would be able to test my hand and see a range of engineering roles before deciding which one to pursue. The ability to try everything is what really captured me!
When I finished university, I thought an aircraft dynamics or aerodynamics role was probably what I'd like to pursue. Therefore, I did a six-month placement with the Fuselage Aerodynamics department, before spending time in the Structural Dynamics and Aircraft Structures departments. Although it wasn’t an area I’d previously focused on or enjoyed, I also decided to do a three-month placement with the Avionic Systems department (Aircraft Electronics).
I was put onto the Norwegian All Weather Search And Rescue Helicopter (NAWSARH) programme and was given the opportunity to install the Obstacle Proximity LIDAR System (OPLS) on the aircraft. OPLS is similar to a car’s parking sensor system – it gives the pilots audible and visual cues as to how close the aircraft is to a cliff face or an obstacle – so it significantly enhances safety during difficult rescue missions. It was amazing to be given a real, big task, providing a true insight into what an avionic systems engineer does. I absolutely loved it and extended it to a six-month placement, which ended up being the final one of my graduate scheme.
If Leonardo hadn’t given me the opportunities to try a range of engineering placements, avionics is an area that I would never have explored. Likewise, if I’d gone to another company, I may have gone straight into aerodynamics and not had the opportunity to undertake placements elsewhere.
I finished the graduate scheme at Yeovil in October 2016, and was working as an Avionics Systems Engineer until October 2018, when I was promoted to Senior Avionics Systems Engineer.
One of the reasons I really love my role as an engineer is because it’s so varied, interacting with departments all over our Yeovil site, from design concept through to installing equipment on the aircraft. Over the course of any week, I get involved in a range of activities, including planning test programmes, writing test schedules, performing testing on the aircraft itself, supporting the build line and installing solutions. I also support customers around the world, providing guidance on how to fix equipment if there are issues.
Working on the OPLS, which is fitted to Norway’s AW101 search and rescue helicopters, has provided so many opportunities for hands-on engineering – on the airfield and in the aircraft; as the avionic systems specialist responsible for all technical and certification aspects, I wrote the aircraft ground test procedures, and proposed the testing that the flight test team would conduct in the air. I also was involved in flight trials, supporting flight crews from the ground, before writing up the results and formulating the qualification document to provide evidence that requirements had been achieved.
Ever since joining Leonardo, I’ve tried to get involved in various STEM activities. The graduate programme provides lots of these opportunities. During my first year, I was heavily involved in the Flying Start Challenge (FSC), going into schools to explain the science behind flight and the engineering principles that are used to design aircraft, as well as helping them build their gliders. In my second year I was on the FSC organising committee.
I also chaired the company’s Apprentice and Student Association Committee during Leonardo’s centenary year. Although I applied to be Vice-Chair, I ended up being Chair, through various circumstances. I was thrown in at the deep-end, but it was a really good opportunity and everyone was very supportive. It resulted in me developing my interpersonal skills and interacting with people around the company, including great exposure with senior managers and the Managing Director.
That year, the committee raised £70,000 for Blind Veterans UK and Yeovil Opportunity Group, which provides specialist support for local children with additional needs, and their families.
I love the variety of work I’m given, so being a Leonardo employee is different day-to-day. I also have direct contact with the end product and get onto the helicopters on our airfield, rather than working on an isolated product that is later implemented on an aircraft I never get to see. It’s terrific.
Additionally, colleagues are incredibly supportive. As a graduate, I was given responsibility for significant tasks, but I never felt scrutinised. More experienced employees are always happy to share their advice. I should point out that it’s not all work either...we have a laugh too!
The satisfaction of getting hands-on with real equipment – implementing the OPLS on the AW101 helicopter and then see it working – has been incredibly rewarding, particularly when you see the customer use it and get feedback that they’re really happy with it.
It's also nice that Leonardo recognises its people by nominating them for awards. I had no idea I’d been nominated by colleagues and managers for these two RAeS awards until I was told I’d actually won!
I’ve been in my avionics engineering role for just over two years, during which time I’ve tried to get a real foundation and insight into what the job entails, understanding as many different systems as I can, to be an effective avionics systems engineer. In the future, hopefully I’ll be able to design the system architecture on a future aircraft.
I’m also on the RAeS professional development programme, actively working towards achieving Chartered Engineer status.