Alan Staple is the chief designer for the Lynx helicopter at AgustaWestland. He has been with the firm for 27 years.
How did you get into the industry?
After obtaining my A-level results, Brunel University contacted me to see if I wanted to do a new special engineering degree, which required sponsorship. They set me up with two interviews, one with a mining company and the other with Westland Helicopters.
I was offered both jobs and went for Westland because my father had been an armourer at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and I was really interested in the aerospace industry. I did work placements with Westland during my degree and joined them when I finished.
How did you work your way up to your current position?
I started out in the research department specialising in control systems, looking particularly at vibration control, which is an important technical area with helicopters. The work turned into a full-blown research and development project, which gave me a broader understanding of the aircraft.
I later did an MBA to get a better business understanding and broaden my skills further. After that I got on the managerial ladder and worked my way up to the job I am doing now.
What does the job involve and what are its benefits and challenges?
We have about 700 engineers here in the UK, and upwards of 100 of them are working on the Lynx at any one time. I make a lot of decisions about the design concept and ensure the work of different engineering projects integrates into the final product. It is hard work as this is a very competitive industry producing a lot of pressure to keep costs and timeframes down.
I really enjoy the variety and challenge of the job, however. I’m proud of the Lynx too, I first saw it at an air show when I was 14 and now 30 years on I’m its chief designer. It still holds the speed record at just under 250mph [400kt], and our new model, Future Lynx, will bring it to the forefront of the industry for the next 25 to 30 years.
What advice would you give to people wanting to get into this area of the industry?
You have to be patient in your first years – it’s important to specialise to get recognised in a field and build a reputation. From there you can broaden your skills and start to work your way up through management responsibilities.
A degree can be essential for some roles, and I would always recommend one like mine that involved building up practical skills as well as theoretical knowledge. Here at AgustaWestland, however, we still have apprenticeships and those people can be offered training and even degree placements.