Lifting the lid on our Engineers of Tomorrow

Engineer Marcus Bailey on the flight deck of the Boeing 787-9

“They’re like formula 1 Ferraris. Thoroughbreds of the skies”. That’s how Ian Bannister, our Head of Airworthiness describes the latest generation of aircraft; the Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s. With his wealth of experience and a career in aviation spanning 20 years, Ian knows better than most how far aircraft design has come. But he is also in a great position to look into the future. Because Ian also runs our Engineering Graduate scheme.

Ian works in a specialised team of engineers called the ‘Design Organisation’, a privilege the company has earned from the aviation regulator – EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). This team are at the pinnacle of engineering excellence and authorised to design aircraft repairs and even make changes to the aircraft. It’s the sort of work that carries huge responsibilities and can only be performed after many years in the job.  During ‘Tomorrow’s Engineer Week 2017’ we asked Ian about our Engineering Graduate Scheme and how you can take that first step on the rung of the career ladder that can lead to making sure that our latest aircraft keep flying safely.

Ian Bannister

Ian Bannister

The journey of an engineering graduate.

There’s keen competition for places on our graduation scheme with most applicants having a degree in aerospace engineering with a maths and physics background. The successful applicants spend their first two years rotating around the back office teams, one of which will eventually become their speciality (more about that later). They also get to experience life at the sharp end a with a three-month stint in our maintenance facilities, on the line and in our hangars. To round off the training our future development engineers have the option of spending time with other departments such as flight operations, finance or risk and insurance. Along the way, they will start to build essential knowledge and skills needed in their career, ‘putting flesh on the bones’ as Ian describes it.

After their two years is up it is time to specialise in one of a number of engineering departments. As a flavour of just how diverse these areas are here is a bit more detail on just a few of them.

Structures

 The main body of the fuselage and wings that hold the whole aircraft together. These need to be strong enough to support the engines and landing gear, safely carry a cabin full of customers and cargo whilst absorbing the stresses of turbulence in the sky and immense loads on landing. The big development in this area is the use of lightweight carbon fibre composite materials. Ian has seen these evolve from a few small components like ailerons and flaps to almost the entire aircraft. It is due to the composite fuselage that the 787 can have such big windows and a lower cabin altitude, a real boon for anyone travelling on them. Composites come with massive advantages; they don’t corrode and are incredibly strong and lightweight. They also come with challenges and new ways of working. In the structures department, you’ll learn about fatigue, lightning strikes, ramp damage and corrosion and how to safely mend them!

Propulsion

The Engines and the Auxiliary Power Unit, the mini jet engine in the tail cone used to start the Engines. These units are incredibly complex and expensive parts of the aircraft that need to be kept in peak condition in order to make sure they operate safely and efficiently. You’ll be working with anything from monitoring trends of engine parameters to examining internal turbine blades using a surgical-like tiny camera guided by a flexible cable.

Avionics

This includes anything electrical on the aircraft. A world of; black boxes, software upgrades and connectivity. Modern aircraft have incredibly complex electrical based systems (the 787 even has electric rather than hydraulic brakes). Our 787s send reams of data on every flight to connected engineers on the ground.  As an avionics engineer, there’s very little of a modern aircraft you won’t be involved with. It’s an area that is changing at an incredibly fast pace.

Cabin interiors

The Boeing 787 Upper Class Bar, One if Ian’s projects.

 

Ian talks fondly about cabin interiors where he spent some time working on our 787. This involves everything our customers and cabin crew use. From our Upper-Class bar and mood lighting to things like emergency equipment and lifejackets. Here you work with our design, customer experience and cabin crew teams to make sure that we can deliver great onboard service safely and securely. Be prepared to learn all about aircraft seat certification testing!

What sort of person becomes an aircraft engineer?

“Passion for aviation and engineering is key,” says Ian. “Everyone I see has those qualities. If you love engineering and aircraft there are few places that would provide such job satisfaction. You get a real kick  from seeing an aircraft depart safely with 350 people onboard because you did it right”.

If some of that sounds scary, it’s not. Although this is all part of the day to day operation of any airline, it’s due to the skill, knowledge and dedication of aircraft engineers the world over that air travel is incredibly safe.

The challenges of tomorrow’s engineers.

It wasn’t that long ago that aircraft were designed on drawing boards with slide rules. Gone are the days when grainy sketches or black and white Polaroid images were faxed across to the design team for advice. Engineering is now all about communication with 3D modelling, CAD drawings and Skype calls. The future, according to Ian, will include robots, drones with scanners and increasingly advanced use of RFID labelling.

But that’s only a guess. It’s our next generation engineers who will really determine the future of aviation. These young, bright and fresh minds are the ones who will be able to look into the blue and find new opportunities for more efficient and safer air travel. The possibilities are endless, and that’s very exciting indeed.

Tomorrows Engineers Week

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week (#TEWeek17) aims to show how engineers are on a mission to make the world a better place.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week is designed to help address the fact that 186,000 people with engineering skills will be needed annually through to 2024. Over 300 employers and professional bodies from across the engineering community have been invited to join universities, schools and individuals in the week-long drive to inspire the next generation of engineers.

Find out more about our Engineering vacancies, including our Graduate scheme and Engineering Apprentices on our careers page

About 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.
Bookmark the permalink.