Women in Engineering - A Voyager Force Profile

While all eyes are focused on the UK Referendum on membership of the European Union, June 23rd is also National Women in Engineering Day, which is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the profession and to encourage a new generation of female engineers.

To understand the challenges and rewards of pursuing a career in engineering, whether in the military or on the civilian side, we asked the views of three colleagues, each of whom took a very different route to their current role. These are their stories…

 

Rebecca is an Unlicensed Mechanic working for AirTanker Services, based at RAF Brize Norton. After completing a two-year foundation degree in aerospace engineering at Newcastle College she is now working towards becoming a fully qualified B1 Licensed Mechanical Engineer. Rebecca explains what it was like making the leap from studying art at A/S Level to working on the RAF’s flagship Voyager programme.

“A career in Engineering was not really something I thought much about, especially when I was at school because it wasn’t a career path that girls were pushed towards at all. I happened to see a prospectus for the aerospace engineering course at Newcastle College and went from there. My dad was in the RAF and we lived at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus for three years, so I’d had some experience of the military way of life.

“The course is run in conjunction with Kingston University and we had the opportunity to be hands-on with a number of different aircraft, including a 737-200, a Jet Provost trainer, a Piper Aztec and a BAC 111. I was one of only three girls on the course, which I think underlines the need to encourage more young women to consider engineering as a career path.

“I joined AirTanker in June 2015 from my previous job working for Panasonic Avionics at Heathrow and I really enjoy the role. The sheer variety of what we do is probably the most rewarding aspect – dealing with both military and civil certified aircraft, small modifications, major conversion programmes – you are learning all the time.

“My aim is to become a B1 Engineer which involves gaining three years’ experience and completing 12 or 13 exams, which I’m part way through at the moment.

“My advice to girls thinking about their future career would be to keep an open mind. Consider the subjects you study; maths and the sciences are important. Be confident and with the right support, you can do it.”


Liz always had an affinity with aviation, but the opportunity to start a career in the industry came out of the blue when she joined AirTanker in September 2014 having just graduated from Portsmouth University with a degree in Physical Geography. She hasn’t looked back and is now thoroughly enjoying her current role as a Technical Systems Analyst.

“There has definitely been a degree of chance in how my career has taken shape so far. When I first came to AirTanker the organisation was still quite new and my role was to work as a ‘temp’ on reception covering maternity leave.

“I’ve lived in the area all my life, but knew very little about the company. I enjoyed the experience and was eager to learn more about the business, so when an opportunity came up in Tech Records doing a contracting role I grabbed it with both hands.

“Working in Tech Records introduced me to how we manage maintenance schedules, components, airworthiness reviews and all the other records that are the basis for how we track the health of the fleet. It was a really useful stepping stone to my current role as Technical Systems Analyst – I couldn’t have taken this position without that experience.

“I’ve been part of the last three aircraft acceptance teams out in Madrid, [where the A330 is converted to the military Voyager configuration by Airbus Defence and Space], which helped to increase my technical knowledge further and it’s made me even more determined to pursue my ambition to get my B2 licence. I’m quite a hands-on person and being in an aviation environment has convinced me that this is that right career path.

“I think in terms of engineering as a career option for women, we’ve broken down a lot of barriers, but there’s still quite a long way to go.”


Senior Aircraftsman (SAC) Technician Jennifer considered a career in the military right from her school days and after attending sixth form college she joined the RAF and has spent the past nine years gaining hands-on experience across both rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft. She is currently working as an ‘A’ licensed engineer at AirTanker as a member of the RAF Embedded team.

“It was all about the RAF for me when I was at school. Growing up I enjoyed fixing cars or tinkering around with anything mechanical and I always had an interest in aircraft, so by joining the RAF I was able to combine those passions.

“After completing basic training I attended a technical school at RAF Cosford to become an RAF maintenance mechanic. I worked on the Chinook helicopter fleet, which is based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, before returning to Cosford to complete my apprenticeship and NVQ in aeronautical engineering.

“I spent three years working on the VC-10 as a technician, then applied for the Voyager posting in 2012 and started work on the Voyager fleet in 2013. I’m studying for my B1 licensed engineer qualification and have a few more modules to complete.

“The variety of the job is really fascinating because it covers everything from routine maintenance to aircraft rectification and there is always a new challenge just around the corner. Last night’s job was a wheel change on the aircraft.

“I enjoy the fact that when I’m deployed in support of global operations I feel that there’s a real purpose to my job and that I’m making a contribution. I’ve found being in the RAF a very rewarding career so far.

“Certainly, when I was at school there was no mention of engineering as a career option for women. Choosing to join the RAF has given me lots of opportunities and when I leave there are different options, including working as a Sponsored Reservist on Voyager. I also quite like the idea of a role that supports the air ambulance service.”

23 June 2016