Deborah Thomas – Aircraft Modeler, FlyZero, Aerospace Technology Institute

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My Aerospace interest started at 14, when my father started flying lessons at our local flying club, Welshpool, I used to go with him and showed an interest in having lessons myself. I had lessons and shortly after my 17th birthday took my first solo flight, and shortly after gained my PPL. This had given me the bug of flying, I knew it was beneficial to have a strong Maths and Physics education to make flying a career option, so I studies Maths and Physics at A level, and Maths and Astrophysics at degree with the intention of gaining my ATPL and trying to get a Commercial Pilot job after university. I graduated in 2000, and as I was applying for the sponsored flying scholarships, 9/11 happened, and wiped out the industries need for commercial pilots. My scientific education was broad enough to be accepted onto an engineering companies graduate scheme, which was a brilliant experience, I had the chance to experience working in several departments, and had my first training in software coding and really enjoyed this. But, I still had the desire to work in aviation and applied to Airbus in Bristol, my coding experience had given me enough experience to be taken on as a modelling and simulation engineer on the A380. From there I spent the next 16 years working on some great projects, A400M, A350, Avionics test rig development and a more electric aircraft research project, with a few years in the middle to work for Boeing on airborne software for the B787 landing gear health monitoring system.

During this time, I met my husband and had 2 beautiful children. When my youngest child was going to school, I learnt of the easyJet Amy Johnson Initiative, and this sparked my interest again in commercial flying, after some research, I realised it would be possible through the modular route, so, alongside my engineering job and family life I set about the training, and in 2018 I completed the Multi-engine CPL/IR and applied to easyJet, I was successful in my application and started as First Officer in 2018 flying the A320 family.

Due to the massive reduction in flying due to the covid pandemic, my engineering career helped with an opportunity to work on the FlyZero project, an ATI research project to accelerate the aviation path to Zero Carbon aircraft. I am currently on a one-year secondment from easyJet to work on the project as ‘Aircraft Modeller’ to work in the Aircraft integration team creating mathematical models of the aircraft concepts studied during the project.

What is life like working in your role?

I love flying and I also love being involved in the engineering challenge of aircraft design, it is the perfect career for me. Both roles are very complimentary but day to day life for each is very different. Every day is a school day, there is so much to learn and so much research continually being performed, you are never finished learning.

What does a typical day look like?

In my flying role, airlines run 365 days a year, I could be rostered any day of the week, for either morning or afternoon flights. I would prepare for my day by looking at the flight plans, including weather, notams, routing. Drive to the airport and meet the rest of the crew at the aircraft, there are over 200 pilots at Bristol, so generally I will not have met the captain or cabin crew before, so we introduce ourselves, brief for the flight and board passengers. We fly either 2 sectors or 4 sectors a day.

For my engineering role, we work Monday to Friday 9-5, the days are spent researching the zero carbon technologies, gathering information and have discussions with members of different teams, creating aircraft models and writing reports and presentations.

What are the skills required?

Be curious and interested in the subject you are working on, determination and persistence also helps to work in the area you want to. Barriers maybe put in the way from time to time, but being flexible and open to opportunities can help overcome these. A scientific and engineering background is needed to understand the wide variety of systems and topics, and to understand the aircraft systems for a Type-rating course for an ATPL. A methodical and systematic approach also helps to be successful.

What is the most exciting/challenging part of the role?

For flying, the most exciting part of the job, is every flight!. I enjoy each day, and get a lot of satisfaction from completing a successful flight, of transporting 180 people to their destination safely. The most challenging is to combine the flying rostering with family life, although it has been surprisingly possible with some organisation.

For engineering, the most exciting part is to be able to influence the possible future of zero carbon aircraft, and help it become a reality, which is very important to me. The most challenging is that this is a very ambitious project, one of a kind, a lot of work needs to be done in the next year, but it is very exciting.

Any advice to give to new entrants in the sector

Reach out to people in the sector for mentoring. Make your hobby your job. Be persistent, if a barrier gets put in your way, be creative and find another way, climb over it, go-around or dig under. Be confident in your abilities, and do what you are interested in.


Aerostories #Pilots #Engineering #Operations

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