From tinkering to Typhoons

Posted on 18 Jun 2014 by Callum Bentley

The next article in a series of guests contributors leading up to this week's Manufacturing Summit at the International Festival for Business, Alicia Humphries, an engineering apprentice at BAE Systems shares her experience in choosing the life of an engineer over the university degree route so many of her peers were choosing.

Since I was a kid I’ve enjoyed taking things apart just to see how they work only to then put them back together again. Helping out dad around the house with DIY, making and fixing things was more fun than make up, hair and dolls. I think I just liked to be nosey and ask a lot of questions. I haven’t changed much.

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When I was in school, I loved anything that I could put my mind to, like science, maths and resistant materials. I liked to see the theory behind things and then put it to use in a practical environment. At school we were only ever fed information about going to sixth form and university, never any options that didn’t involve being sat in a classroom listening to somebody.

After trying at sixth form for a year, I found my niche when I enrolled on an aeronautical engineering course at college. I loved it! This was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be.

After applying successfully for a craft engineering apprenticeship with BAE Systems in 2012, I haven’t looked back. While all of my friends are just finishing university now with their degrees, I’m coming to the end of my second year, with a good wage, recognised qualifications, a job that I love doing and some amazing friends.

The first year of my apprenticeship was spent in the training school in Preston. This was all about learning the basics in a range of different skills such as electrical, machining, CAD, aircraft fitting, fabrication and aircraft maintenance. One thing I won’t forget from the first year was just how much filing is needed to make something square and flat! This was a good opportunity to see what I loved doing most. I thought I would have gone down the electrical side of things, but it wasn’t until I found out I was scared of electrocuting myself I thought otherwise, but I did love seeing the end product of my hard work.

As well as the time that was spent in the workshop – three days a week – one day a week was spent in college. In the first year I was working towards the final year of a Level 3 ONC in aeronautical engineering. This supported a lot of the work that we were doing the rest of the week, giving me the theoretical knowledge behind why certain materials are chosen, how electrical circuits work and what they do.

Since the first year I have specialised as an aircraft fitter and spent the second year on the job at Samlesbury in Lancashire. While being at Samlesbury, I have had placements in a number of different projects and different buildings such as on the F-35 pulse line, Eurofighter engine bay doors and F-35 carbon fibre sub-assemblies. Just like the first year, three days are spent on the job while one day is spent in college. I am just about to come to the end of my first year of a HNC, which has covered subjects like health and safety, mechanical science, material engineering and electronics.

In August I move to Warton where I’ll have the chance to work on the Flight Line and Eurofighter Typhoon final assembly. Getting to see the aircraft that I work on fly and land is something that I can’t wait for! It’s what my job is all about, and what makes it so rewarding!