International Women in Engineering Day
Happy International Women in Engineering Day! Now in its eight year, #INWED aims to raise the profile of women in engineering, and the amazing career opportunities available to women and girls in this exciting industry. At the BWPA, we are lucky to have many engineers within our membership base. SJ Huxtable is an aviation enthusiast and engineer, and here is her story.
What made you love flying and all things aviation?
Both my parents were pilots, so I grew up around aviation. However, by the time I was old enough to learn to fly, other hobbies, work and financial commitments became the priority. Fast forward almost 10 years, and a couple of significant events in quick succession made me reconsider what made me happy. I soon realised I needed to get back into flying and immerse myself into the challenge of getting my licence. I now hold my National Private Pilot’s Licence (NPPL) for microlights, and for Simple Single Engine Aircraft, which I completed in a Tiger Moth!
How did you get into engineering?
My engineering career began at Bray Plastics over eight years ago. Although I had no formal engineering experience, I had loved building model aircraft as a teenager and I had a base knowledge of engineering from helping my dad, an aircraft engineer himself. It was this, combined with my enthusiasm and willingness to learn, that shone through at the interview, and I got the job.
My initial role was as a trainee machine operator, but through training and self-teaching I have progressed to computer-aided design and manufacturing as well as programming, setting and operating specialist machines. My work also involves setting and operating manual engineering machinery such as lathes, milling machines and general equipment such as circular saws and pillar drills. In addition, I have taken on the roles of first aider, health and safety manager, fire marshal and go-to I.T. girl, to name just a few!
What do you love about your job?
Every day is different. I could be producing components from full engineering drawings issued by customers one day and then using pencil sketches or self-created drawings to produce one-off prototypes the next. My role is instrumental in the machining and complete assembly of various prototypes and small production runs, for example, tablet thigh mounts for fast jet and helicopter pilots, and various medical projects. I also helped introduce 3D-printing to the company, a technique which is incredibly versatile and offers many more options for prototyping.
The knowledge and skills that I have learned in my job are invaluable in my hobbies. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a taildragger 503 Rans S6 for sale on Afors (aircraft for sale). My dad and I flew up to Norfolk in his Auster to view it and, although it needed a bit of work, the price was right, it had almost a year’s permit and I knew this was the ‘plane for me – just my size and it was a side-by-side two-seater. At the end of October 2019, my dad flew it home and my rebuild project began.
As is often the case, it turned out to be in need of a considerable amount of work, and needed a full strip and engine rebuild. Sadly, a lot of corners had been cut in its previous life – mandatory permit directives ignored, and generally poor maintenance and engineering work carried out. In total, it took 10 months, a lot of help and instruction from my dad (who is conveniently a retired aircraft engineer, and Light Aircraft Association inspector!), a like-new engine rebuild by Eccleston Aviation and superb customer service from Rans USA to get it to the stage where we were ready to test fly.
What would you say to anyone considering a career in engineering?
Engineering is such a rewarding and fulfilling career. It has given me the opportunity to plan, design, create and see the finished working result, which I love. I really enjoyed rebuilding my own aircraft as well as maintaining it and helping my dad maintain his, so being able to use and hone my skills outside of the workplace is an added bonus. There are so many ways to get into engineering, and by no means is university a must. With so many varied engineering career paths to follow, why not follow your passion and see where it takes you!