World Engineering Day 2021
To celebrate World Engineering Day, we introduce you to three of our members who work as engineers. Meaghan O’Neil, Lucy Wootton and SJ Huxtable tell us about their fascinating, and widely different, jobs.
I am a systems engineer at an engineering consulting firm in the UK. My job is to lead teams that design and improve products and manufacturing processes. Typically, I work on safety-critical applications, such as medical devices, healthcare applications, emergency services, or automotive applications. Before coming to the UK, I was Director of Systems Engineering for a Silicon Valley start-up. We were working on a revolutionary new insulin pump for type I diabetes.
My engineering career started with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, with a research focus on biology and genetics. About a decade later, I did a postgraduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that combined a Master of Business Administration with Systems Engineering. My thesis focused on system safety; both accident investigation and design of safety-critical systems.
Shortly after college, my sister flew us in a Socata TB200 from Washington DC to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina. It was this flight that really cemented my love of flying. It wasn’t until years later though that I began my flight training in the United States, gaining my Private Pilot’s Licence in 2018 and then going on to obtain my instrument rating and single-engine commercial license. Unfortunately, lockdown restrictions have prevented me from continuing my training since I moved to the UK at the end of 2019, but I will be working on my ratings as soon as the restrictions have been lifted.
My engineering background gave me a good foundation during flight training, for example when learning about the aircraft systems, air traffic control and what happens on the other side of the radio! Equally, flying has helped me with my engineering job, especially human factors such as cognitive overload, and changes in mental models through different phases of flight or a project.
Having studied Aeronautical Engineering for five years at Loughborough University, I graduated in the summer of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I have always had a real passion for the engineering side of aviation and understanding how aircraft work, as well as flying them! On leaving university, I set up my own business as a glider inspector. This allowed me to work while keeping safe doing a fairly solitary occupation and something I love. I probably would not have set up my own business yet if it had not been for the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of jobs in the aerospace industry, so that has been a real positive to come out of the last year for me.
I have been a glider pilot for over ten years and a light aircraft pilot for almost five. I qualified as a glider inspector back in 2014 (the youngest person to do so and only the third woman at the time).
The best part of my job as a glider inspector is coming up with innovative solutions to repair damaged components, often when some of the original parts or materials are unavailable. I really enjoy working with my fellow glider inspectors as they are so supportive and keen to share their knowledge, as well as being some of my best friends.
Most recently I have secured a role as an aircraft repair design engineer. I feel very fortunate in these difficult times to be working in the aeronautical engineering sector when so many people in the aviation industry have had to diversify to other industries to survive.
My engineering career began at Bray Plastics eight and a half years ago and, although I had no formal engineering experience, I loved building model aircraft as a teenager and I had a base knowledge of engineering from helping my dad, an aircraft engineer himself, with his various aircraft and car rebuild projects over the years. It was this, combined with my enthusiasm and willingness to learn, that shone through and I got the job.
My initial role was as a trainee machining operator, but through training and self-teaching I have progressed to computer-aided design and manufacturing programming, setting and operating specialist programs and computer operated machinery. 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.
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, which is incredibly versatile and offers many more options for prototyping within the company.
The knowledge and skills that I have learned in my job are invaluable in my hobbies. I maintain my own aircraft and last year rebuilt my taildragger Rans S6 microlight and helped my dad rebuild his Auster J4.
Engineering is such a rewarding and fulfilling career, giving the opportunity to plan, design, create and see the finished working result.