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Royal Aeronautical Society



Helicopter design and development is often referred to as 'rotorcraft' technology by aeospace professionals ('fixed-wing' is used for aeroplanes). With such a different way of flying compared with conventional aeroplanes, enabling versatilty and agility in the air, helicopters have become essential for both civil and military operations. All three UK armed forces use helicopters - the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Army Air Corps.

Therefore, there are many specialist rotorcraft technology experts and engineers who develop the blade technology, engine design, airframes and electronic and electrical systems for application in a wide variety of helicopter products.  

Helicopters play an essential role in humanitarian missions, both at home and overseas. Most UK counties have Air Ambulance services which are used for serious accidents and incidents where patients require urgent hospitilisation or paramedic treatment. In humanitian crisis such as the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, only helicopters could be used to reach victims as roads had been destroyed and landing strips were few and far between in the mountains. In the same year, the London Air Ambulance service played a vital role which saved many more lives in the London bombings.

Helicopters are also vital to police operations and the coastguard via the RAF Search and Rescue Force.

There is also a huge number of private helicopter firms around the UK who are often contracted to provide some of the above services, in addition to uses such as transporting VIPs and the rich and famous on business and leisure trips.

UK Helicopter Design, Manufacture and Operations

AgustaWestland is the UK's manufacturer and has a partnersship with the UK Government to develop new aircraft. Key products designed and built at their UK site in Yeovil, Somerset include the Super Lynx and EH101. Many other UK aerospace firms also supply some of the high-technology components for rotary-wing aircaft including Rolls-Royce (engines), Smiths Industries (avionics and cockpit displays) and BAE Systems (autopilots and flight control systems) with major contributions to the world helicopter market. QinetiQ also carry out servicing contracts and within the RAF, Royal Navy and Army Air Corps there are both flying and engineering officer and NCO roles available.

In Europe, the EADS company Eurocopter is world leader and other international names include, Bell, Boeing and Sikorksy. Numerous British-based system suppliers have achieved substantial market shares in this market, with the civil and now military Health Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) for helicopters being a UK-led concept and technology which has achieved global success. 

The large number of helicopter operators in the UK means there are also many roles available in maintenance, with the same EASA licence system in place as for fixed-wing aircraft as well as Engineering Officer roles in the RAF. The Army Air Corps helicopter fleet is looked after by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).

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Case Study

Laura Creek

Engineering Graduate, AgustaWestland

I joined the AgustaWestland Graduate Development Programme after graduating from the University of Cambridge in 2009 with an MEng in Engineering.

I have now completed my first year during which I have had placements in two very different departments, both of which have provided me with challenging and rewarding tasks. These placements have given me the opportunity to apply the knowledge I gained at university to real-world problems, as well as developing and broadening my knowledge of rotorcraft engineering and the company as a whole.

I am also working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer for which I have been assigned a mentor. This involves regular meetings to discuss placement opportunities and to assess my progress. The Graduate Development Programme is greatly helping me work towards Chartership because of the wide range of opportunities that are available to me.

AgustaWestland is an exciting place to work, providing many opportunities to develop as a professional.

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Laura Creek  :: Engineering Graduate, AgustaWestland Laura Creek  :: Engineering Graduate, AgustaWestland

Robert Hyams

Engineering Undergraduate (12 Month Placement)

Having done three years’ Electronic Engineering at the University of York, I was quite happy to continue my degree straight through to the end. However, seeing a presentation from AgustaWestland, I realised that a year of developing my skills whilst watching helicopters flying past my window sounded like a brilliant idea and successfully applied for a one-year sandwich placement.

Throughout the year I was able to meet people from all over the business and aerospace industry and develop skills in all areas of the business from system design to aircraft performance. The undergraduate scheme offers something special through placements in different departments over the year, and the final product is unlike any other within the UK, I am still in awe of the helicopters we build.

Upon return to university, I feel that I have strongly developed and added to my engineering skills set and have increased my future job prospects through a great placement year with AgustaWestland.

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Robert Hyams :: Engineering Undergraduate (12 Month Placement)