Helen Halie – Systems Engineer

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Since I was very young, I knew I  wanted to be to become a Pilot, growing up in Eritrea  and  my house wasn’t  far from the airport all I see from my door step was aircraft landing and taking off the idea of flying was really fascinating to me. We had a log war and on TV was always showing fighters. From that point I started to be more and more interested on fighters and airplane.  I had no idea where to start, when I started to look the training, I realised that it was too expensive and I couldn’t afford the training. I therefore decided to study A Levels and I studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry and then go to University. I knew something else was out there in the industry other than being a Pilot. I then found out about Aeronautics and engineering and thought wow! If I cannot fly it, I could design aircraft! And I decided to go for it, I didn’t know anything. I told myself that I must go to University and study rather that dreaming all day and night to be the next Pilot cadet. I chose to study at Kingston University in London as they have a lot of aeronautics and space connections. Whilst I was at University, I got chatting to Airbus at their outreach events, they were really supportive invited me go and visit the Portsmouth site. It was amazing experience; I get to learn a lot about airbus and their product that gave me a hope that one day I will be able to be part of the team who build Aircraft and spacecraft.

Also, I loved to attend lots of air shows  as it gives me excitement and hope whilst I explore my options.

When I was at Kingston, my tutor organised work placement opportunities in Toulouse France with Airbus. Whilst I was out in France, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in space! I was very enthusiastic to know more about Airbus and was offered the 12-month Mechanical engineering placement in Bremen Germany site I worked on Ariane 5 rocket, I have done Thermal analyses for the Upper Liquid Propulsion tank.

After I completed the placement, I spent some time working in Retail whilst I completely my studies, working Saturdays and Sundays. I was then at university Monday to Friday. I then started to send my CV out along with multiple job applications.

After I finished my degree at Kingston, the Royal Aeronautical Society offered me a scholarship to study for a masters and Cranfield University in Astronautics. I also worked on a project for NATS on Single European Sky air traffic management. It was an eye-opening opportunity to work with air traffic controllers. you learn that the aerospace industry is big, Aerospace engineering degree is a green passport for every opportunity you can think of in Aerospace industry.

Following on from this I got a job working for Rolls-Royce on the A350 XWB Engines for 12 months. It was an amazing experience I will take it with me for rest of my life. Funny enough when airbus did the flight test with A350 I was in Airbus Hamburg Germany to see the test flight a few years after I found my self working on that airplane engine  So now every time I fly, I check the engines, Hoping  to see the Rolls engine. in my heart the A350 and XWB are the best airplane and engine, of course after A380 with Rolls engine.

My next adventure after was finally getting the opportunity to work for the European Space Agency, I successful got onto their young graduate schemes as a ground system engineer and I loved it! Working in ESA made me feel that finally I reach my destination. I loved every second of my time.

Typical day

My typical day involved a mix of validation, and verification. I spent a lot of time reading requirements and designs) and understanding what needs to be tested, Developing Test Cases for functionalities according to the Business requirements. Executing all the test cases and report defects, define severity and priority for each defect.


My advice would be to never give up on your dream, I managed to find a career that I love and I get excited everyday the thought of working on things that fly, but I had to persevere. For my last role, I had to apply 4/5 times before I was successful, so be persistent and don’t be scared to be out of your comfort zone. The Aerospace sector sounds big, but in reality, in some ways its small. Make sure you build upon your relationships to back you and other companies will look out for you. Networking and keeping in touch with people is vital, make sure you are also updating your network on a regular basis to stay on top of new trends and opportunities.

Skills & tips for new entrants into the sector

Education is different in the UK compared to other parts of Europe, in UK they emphasize that you learn about the soft skills that you need for work. Where as in Europe you often learn more ‘hard skills’ or those skills that are more related to specific jobs. You need to also build your reputation, don’t be afraid to ask for help and to ask lots of questions whilst you decide which pathway is right for you. Look out for everyone opportunity, if you get onto an internship, make sure you make the most out of it. Ask people to help train/teach you, ask to take part in projects and take part in the other training opportunities you might have access to.

The exciting thing for me when I was working at Rolls Royce was seeing the A350 fly and know that I was part of that.

For me personally, the most exciting thing was working on the Rolls Royce Engine for the A350. I knew that I was going to part of history, and It was great to think that I was one of the few people to was on the team and when every A350 takes off. I think that I had something to do with that! My advice would be to make sure you keep going, achieve your ultimate career goal until you feel proud of what you have achieved.

Biggest challenge for me personally is that I wish the industry was more diverse and open minded to diversity and becoming more inclusive. Sometimes it makes me sad as I see the industry isn’t progressing as well as others particularly on topics such as inclusivity with regards to gender and race. I would say the lack of open mindedness was the biggest challenge for me and this also makes me sad because the industry is losing out on a lot of very talented individuals it was a challenge to bring in a new personality and also trying to fit in. However, whilst I was working at the European space agency but I really did make an effort in particular around gender but also the recruitment process was very open minded and welcomed diverse applicants.

Women in the sector

I just wanted to take a note I mentioned the importance of women in the sector, my advice to a woman starting out in the aerospace industry is to make sure you bring everything you can and keep pushing and going for your goal. Find champions within your workplace whether they are other women or whether they are male champions, sometimes you might get under represented and overlooked but don’t let this get you down one day you will be the boss and everyone will look to you for advice and leadership. Finally, dep in my heart I know one day I will be flying the A350 but until then I will be around the space world until then  I hear you loud and clear


Aerostories #Engineering #Pilots #Operations

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