Ruby
 

30 years of our engineers

By: Dave Gunner

May 1, 2019

Our engineering team celebrate their 30th birthday this month. Terry Flynn, who was there at the very beginning, tells the story.

2 May 1989

Thirty years ago today, Terry Flynn made an entry in the tech log of G-TKYO before its flight from London Gatwick to Newark. As the first log completed by an engineer from our newly created engineering team, it marked a pivotal moment in our history.

The tech log is a document carried onboard each aircraft which details its maintenance status. Any defects are recorded by the pilots and rectified by the engineers. Each rectification requires a signature from a suitably authorised certifying engineer. Once any defects are cleared, the aircraft as a whole is signed out back into the care of the captain by a certifying engineer before every departure. It’s a big responsibility. Today, to mark the 30th anniversary of that first signing, Terry went back to Gatwick to watch twins Stacey and Ash Hobden, our youngest qualified certs, perform the same time-honoured task on a Boeing 747 before it jetted off to Florida. We spoke to Terry about the engineering team’s early years and his career since.

Terry joins Stacey and Ash Hobden on the 747 flight deck. Terry can be seen wearing his original 1989 jacket and tie, issued four years before Stacey and Ash were born!

Growing pains

Back in the spring of 1989, we’d been operating for five years, and our fleet was growing to three Boeing 747s. But the world of aviation was changing. British Airways had recently taken over British Caledonian, and that was causing us a few headaches. BCal had always maintained our aircraft, and now BA wanted to ramp up the cost. With a fourth aircraft on order and the contract due for renewal, we made a decision to start our own engineering division. In scenes reminiscent of our start-up five years earlier, a group of determined and hardworking pioneers set about the massive task, and as always, it needed to be done in a decidedly short space of time.

Richard joins some of the 96 original engineers outside Atlantic House, Gatwick, in 1989

A tap on the shoulder, a new career

Recruitment for the new team was very much by word of mouth, which is how Terry Flynn found himself signing up. His long and distinguished Virgin Atlantic career started with a tap on the shoulder in January 1989 from ‘Leaning’ Les McKinty, the engineering manager for our fledgling airline. Les passed Terry a slip of paper with the message: ‘Phone this number’. The interview was short and to the point. “Do you have the necessary approvals and licenses, do you want to work for this new airline, when can you start, and are you ok with this money?”

Terry (centre) inspecting an early 747 engine.

New horizons

Terry spoke to his dad about the new opportunity. He questioned the logic of leaving British Airways, but Terry had other ideas. “My mind was made up. This was an opportunity to be in at the beginning of something, and that doesn’t happen very often. I’d not enjoyed my nine months with BA especially after 14 years at British Caledonian and its predecessors.” Even at his exit interview from BA, they were trying to cast doubt. “My foreman told me that Branson was a clown and to come back and see him in six months when the airline wouldn’t exist,” he says.

Terry standing next to Richard at the start of the Heathrow hangar project

Three months to set up

On his first day as a Virgin Atlantic engineer, February 1st 1989, he joined with Steve Branch and their first job was “go buy some tools, whatever we need”. And so began the Virgin Atlantic engineering division. In a manic three months, tools had to been obtained, the team assembled, all the processes put in place and the licences approved by the CAA before the team of 96 engineers were ready to take over the maintenance of our fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft. And on 2 May 1989, Terry went on-board to sign an item in the tech log for the first time. Terry was reminded recently by the then chief engineer; Paul Chappell (now enjoying retirement in the west country) that we received the certificate of airworthiness for the aircraft less than an hour before departure.

Since that day 30 years ago, Terry’s incredibly varied career has gone from strength to strength. Although his specialism is avionics, he’s spent time as a flight engineer on the 747 classic, technical trainer for aircrew, a certifying engineer, shift foreman at Heathrow when we moved there in July 1991, a project manager and maintrol manager (twice) working in our Operations Control Centre.

A major highlight was project managing the build of our Heathrow hangar between 2000 – 2002, and its entry into service was certainly a memorable occasion. “Our hangar was first opened in a celebration ceremony to unveil the world’s first Airbus A340-600 to enter passenger service; G-VSHY. The unveiling called for a great celebration complete with a visit from Richard Branson, Claudia Schiffer and dancers hanging from the ceiling while Liberty X performed!”  The aircraft then flew off with staff and invited guests to star at the Farnborough Airshow

From G-VIRG to G-VLUX

Terry currently works in our aircraft asset management team, a complex role which involves bringing new and used aircraft into our fleet and liaising with the various lease companies and managing their final departures when they leave the fleet. During his career, Terry has either physically worked on or been involved with, the operation or acquisition of every single one of our aircraft, from G-VIRG (Maiden Voyager), our first 747, to G-VLUX (Red Velvet), our newest Airbus A350, due to be delivered later this year. Not bad for a job move that nobody thought would last.

330 years of service. Left to right, Steve Richardson, Gary Wright, Chris Pearson, Graham Temple, Andy Malins, Mark Horton (moose), Jeff Luther, Terry Flynn, Simon Richards, Dave Greenstreet and Rod Fenwick

Roll of honour

Our engineering team now consists of over 750 people, all dedicated to making sure every flight is a safe one. They also work hard to try and get you away on time. We have hangars at Heathrow and Gatwick, teams all around the world and specialists in all aspects of aircraft maintenance. They’re the best in the business and have been looking after our fleet, day in day out, for 30 years. It says an awful lot about the spirit and camaraderie of our engineering team that of the small group of people who started back in 1989, 25 are still working here to this day.

  • Debby Ropke, Coordinator, information services, 787 fleet management.
  • Rodney Fenwick, assistant material supplier
  • Geoff Clark, head of regulatory affairs
  • Terry Flynn, manager, aircraft assets
  • Chris Pearson, surveyor, quality assurance
  • Toby Haskins, engineer, technical operations
  • Nigel Scott, senior analyst
  • John Drillsma, supervisor, aircraft maintenance, Gatwick
  • Paul Robinson, engineer, technical operations
  • Charlie Gould, certifying engineer, Gatwick
  • Ian Flight, engineer, programmes and configuration
  • Dave Greenstreet, technician, Gatwick
  • Mark Horton, engineer, cabin technical operations
  • Andy Malins, manager, quality assurance group
  • Trevor Young, certifying engineer, Heathrow
  • Conrad Lowen, senior engineer, design and development
  • Simon Richards, supervisor, aircraft maintenance, Gatwick
  • Jim Forsyth, manager, aircraft maintenance, Gatwick
  • Gary Wright, certifying engineer, Gatwick
  • Geoff Barker, certifying engineer, Heathrow
  • Jeff Luther, surveyor, quality assurance
  • Steve Richardson, head of compliance and risk assurance
  • Matthew Killick-Calver, certifying engineer, Gatwick
  • Terry Lock, cabin technician, Gatwick
  • Michael Lacy, senior engineer, design and development (technical)
  • Graham Temple, engineer, technical operations

To fly on an aircraft maintained by this wonderful group of people visit the Virgin Atlantic website.

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Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

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