All posts by David Kimbell

Longtime aerospace engineer, aircraft nut, founder of Kimbell Apps and Aerospace Nation. Resident of Bristol, England, but with a curiously Canadian accent. When not blogging or hacking around with aircraft stuff, he daydreams of being a rock star, and actually plays the part at an occasional gig.

Engineering in 2014: A Tale of Two Centuries

I have this fine morning read three articles that allowed me to travel about 50 years in time in the space of an hour.

(1) The first is yet another Fleet Street article, alleging that UK industry has insufficient engineers for its specialist sectors. That’s news? It only provides further evidence that over two decades, government and industry in the UK (and I surmise, much of the western world) have failed (or refused) to solve a solvable problem.

The article suggests that if you’re a well qualified engineer, you’re sitting pretty. The world is your oyster, you can name your price and laugh at the days ahead.

What’s weird is that a quick perusal of readers’ comments on the article will tell you that engineers today feel like doing anything but laughing.
Continue reading Engineering in 2014: A Tale of Two Centuries

Good human connections trump technology every time

An intriguing blog post has me reflecting on the value of social media, and LinkedIn specifically.

Amongst my industry peers, as well as amongst my age group, I was a very early adopter of LinkedIn. When I started playing with it, I remember thinking:

If this thing takes off, it will be the end of the recruitment industry.

My thinking was that LinkedIn would make it easy for the talented and the talent seekers to connect directly, thereby making the recruiter unnecessary. Cut out the middle man. Makes sense, right?

Eight years along, and nothing of the kind has happened. Recruiters have taken to LinkedIn like ducks to water. Most employers, the people actually needing the talent, have stayed on the sidelines. If anything, roughly two-thirds of the unsolicited connection invitations I receive on LinkedIn are from recruiters, seeking to expand their pool of possible candidates.

Just goes to show, you can’t predict human behaviour.

In hindsight, it does makes sense.

Most employers of any size above 25 have developed procedures to govern their human interactions, thereby turning them into machines. Social machines, to be sure, but machines nevertheless.

Machines that lose parts by wear, failure or attrition, want those parts replaced by more parts, identical if possible.

The fact that the part comes wrapped in a human being is, well, coincidental.

The machine’s control system would rather throw money at the problem (read: hire a recruiter to source the necessary people, sorry, parts).

The programme manager who’s short 15 engineers wants engineers in here now. I don’t care if they’re male, female, green, blue, black, what they look like, what their names are. They just have to be reasonably likeable, have skills x, y and z, and fit into our salary structure. Hurry up, go get ’em.

Time spent networking and building human relationships is, well, time wasted. (Or just plain scary.) Much easier to throw money at the problem, and get someone to do our networking for us. (I’m not sure it is, actually, but I can’t prove it.)

This rant is not to be critical of recruiters whatsoever. They deliver a service that their customers don’t want to do themselves.

What IS now clear is that it’s foolish to think that social media, or any other technology, can dig us out of a hole that only the patient building of valuable human relationships can solve.

The ones who invest that time and energy are the ones who win.

More turbulence ahead for Big Aerospace

I have generally refrained from making observations on current events in the aerospace world. Today’s an exception.

The union of Boeing machinists has rejected Boeing latest contract offer, which Boeing was using to extract pension and benefit concessions from the workforce, else they will move the work for the proposed 777X elsewhere.

I’m not taking sides in the argument. But I do suggest this:

Boeing managers, this is what happens when you treat your skilled engineers and technicians like chess pieces to move around on the board. They sweated blood for you on the 777 and 787. This is how you thank such sacrifice?

Union employees, this is what happens when you entrust your career and future to a large lumbering giant, in a world of ageing workforces, ballooning debts and unrealistic expectations. Nice cushy pensions and benefits (for either managers or workers) are not realistic expectations. Quit trying to live in a world that’s long gone. Start preparing for an ex-Boeing life.

Both sides: Wake up, quit trying to fight old battles, and collaborate to reinvent Big Commercial Aerospace in the 21st Century.

And those of us spectating from the sidelines in this particular skirmish, don’t smirk. This problem is coming your way soon. Plan for it now.

Big Aerospace needs to be reinvented. It needs to re-learn how to think Light. Nimble. Agile. Collaborative.

Otherwise it might soon become Small Aerospace.

A student’s take on studying aerospace

It’s time for another guest post!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that there was a sudden spike of traffic on this site. Well here is the guy who was probably responsible for it. Seems he liked the site, so he told a few friends, who told a few friends, who told . . . . . .

I quickly found myself chatting online with a very switched-on graduate student named Ilhan Akcay. We agreed that he should write a post.

This will obviously be of interest mainly to those approaching or in their university years, and less to those who are post- university. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for his writing this post. Now that I’m in the second half of my ball game, my memories are bound to be a little hazy, and times and technology have changed a lot.

Here is Ilhan’s take on what it’s like to actually do a course of study in aerospace engineering.

Continue reading A student’s take on studying aerospace

Three Career Questions to ask yourself regularly

Here are three questions to ask yourself when contemplating your current, or a new, career situation:

Are you global, or are you local?

Do you like checking in with the same crowd every morning, in the same office, preferably close to home? Does your brain get excited by travel, meeting new people with different experiences and perspectives? Do the same faces and the office banter cheer you up, or get you down? Does what’s happening on the other side of the world fascinate you or bore you?

This is the global versus local question, and it’s not really my question. I chanced upon it on Derek Siver’s blog. He’s a well-travelled entrepreneur, who settled in Singapore a few years ago, and decided that he really ought to try and put down some roots and get to know the locals. Within a short time, he was frustrtrated and dissatisfied. He realised that what was going on next door just didn’t interest him as much as what was going on in the next country.
Continue reading Three Career Questions to ask yourself regularly

Happy Birthday! And a Question

I never was very good at keeping track of birthdays.

Aerospace Nation is a year old! In fact, it was a year old last month.

Applause, please! (Clap, clap, clap . . . . . )

Over the last year, the site has been launched, dropped (for several months, due to personal circumstances), relaunched, re-themed, and visited over 6000 times, including over 300 in one day (which made my jaw drop, because I hadn’t posted anything new for several days – Whoever was responsible for that, thank you!)

Indeed, to all of you who have visited, to all who have commented or emailed . . . . . Thank you. You have made the site a success.

I’ve sought to write material that helps 21st Century professionals forge a successful and satisfying career wherever you are, with a particular slant towards those working in aerospace.

In all of that material, I’ve had to make guesses at what your situation and problems were. Educated guesses, because I know the industry inside out. But still guesses.

So for my sake as well as yours, I’d like to turn the microphone over to you.
Continue reading Happy Birthday! And a Question

Security or Significance? Choose.

Here’s an article which will probably both ring true with you, and disturb you at the same time.

The essential point is, an awful lot of people, in an awful lot of walks of life, seem to find themselves doing work that is peripheral, or completely disconnected, from what they value, and from what they thought their employer was all about.

And it leaves them feeling worthless, unvalued, unhappy, even ashamed.

They do it because it keeps them alive, and it provides enough income.

The world of traditional aerospace, being by its very nature traditional, conservative, and bottom-line-oriented, is no exception.

It is therefore worthwhile asking oneself the following question then, no matter what stage in your life and career you find yourself:

Which matters more to me: Security? Or significance?

Because if security (of lifestyle, income, schedule, etc) matters more, you had better have some tolerance for doing work that you don’t value. For at least some of the time.

Conversely, if significance matters more to you, you will have to keep your wits about you, and be prepared to take bold action when required.

Because the inevitable trend is towards work that is dull, commoditized, and security-oriented.

The action you will need to take will include refusal to do work that doesn’t matter to you, or to the people you care about.

That’s risky, of course. Security goes out the window, at least for a while.

Though if you stick to your guns, in the long run, security might come back in the front door, and you get the best of both worlds.

Whatever the case, ask yourself the question. And choose.

To freelance is divine!

Up until now, I’ve been quite selfish with Aerospace Nation, doing virtually all the writing.

Time to fix that.

One avid reader kindly volunteered to share his experience of freelancing (also called contracting). What a brilliant idea.

Jon Mercer isn’t an aerospace hack. He’s spend most of his working life in IT. While nursing a passion for flying machines. Of course. Doesn’t everybody?

But the story he’s about to tell could very easily be that of an aerospace techie. (The one exception being: While you might be able to get into IT armed with only a history degree and a willingness to hack, you can’t get into aerospace like that. The aerospace world is rather backward that way, to its detriment.)

What’s cool about Jon’s story is how he sort of fell into freelancing, and then discovered how much happier he was that way. That’s a theme that resonates. I can count on one hand the number of freelance people I’ve met who regret the switch from permanent employment. The vast, vast, vast majority of freelancers are happier, richer, and wish they’d made the jump earlier.

With a few exceptions, the language below belongs to Jon. Where I have added anything, it is italicized, in brackets, and prefaced by DK.

Read on!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was one day in the late 1990’s.

There I was, sat at my desk, when suddenly the voices around me fell silent.

Something was being passed from desk to desk. You could follow its progress from the red faces and embarrassed expressions.

Someone had brought a freelancing magazine into the office . . .

Backtrack to the mid 1990’s. I was temping after finishing a History degree and wondering what to do with myself.

Continue reading To freelance is divine!

Why I’m pessimistic on the long-term career potential in big commercial airframers

I’ve been fascinated with Big Birds since I was old enough to walk, and I’ve worked directly in commercial aerospace for 15 years.

This is the first time I’ve seen this situation.

For the next 5-7 years, the only two significant commercial airframers on the planet will be preoccupied with developing their existing products.

Boeing will have their hands full delivering the 787 and all its variants, and launching the 737 MAX and the rumoured new 777 variants.

Airbus will meanwhile be preoccupied with developing the A380 (and boosting sales), delivering the A400M, and getting the A350-900, -1000, and A320neo family through flight test and entry into service.

Neither airframer is wasting any breath talking about new airframe concepts that we might see next decade. Each will occasionally do some public daydreaming about a blended wing-body concepts, transparent fuselages, etc, etc. (I suspect they do that more for the PR benefit potential than anything.)
Continue reading Why I’m pessimistic on the long-term career potential in big commercial airframers

Rewrite-the-Rules should go hand in hand with Simplify-the-Bureaucracy

The FAA will soon, it appears, be simplifying the complex, bureaucratic Part 23 process for certifying general aviation aircraft.

Fantastic! Bravo. Applause, clap, clap, clap . . . .

Long overdue. I can only hope that it revitalises a dying industry, and encourages new free thinkers, and old free thinkers who left in frustration, to go back to the drawing board (CAD station?) and start designing new aircraft.

Two questions:

(1) Is EASA listening?

Sure hope so. Indeed, why isn’t EASA blazing this trail?

(2) How about Part 25 next?

Begging yer pardon, folks. But when roughly one-third of the non-recurring cost of a new aircraft programme is purely due to the paperwork and processes required to certify the aircraft, that’s too much bureaucracy.

Commercial aircraft are complex machines. Flying cities, if you will.

But surely Keep-it-simple-stupid‘s first cousin is named Keep-it-as-simple-as-possible.