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Aviation Centenary Relay: Spreading their wings, Airbus graduates relay for charity

September 30, 2010

The Institution enjoys close links with Airbus, which is one of the engineering profession's most significant employers, and a strong supporter of professional development for its graduate engineers. It was with great pleasure that the Institution was able to support Airbus's Aviation Centenary Relay: in which 35 Direct Entry Graduates (DEGs) celebrated the end of their graduate scheme by embarking on an epic peregrination of iconic aviation sites using a variety of different modes of transport, to raise money for the Great Western Air Ambulance. Over teacakes and crumpets, we caught up with the graduates on a well-deserved pit-stop, to find out more about their endeavours.

2010 is a very significant year for the UK aerospace industry as it marks the centenary of the founding of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. This company established the West of England as a centre for excellence in aviation, with its legacy passed on to such evocative names as Bristol Siddeley, the  British Aircraft Corporation, British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, and latterly BAE Systems and Airbus, to name but a few.  Hundreds of thousands of people have worked in aerospace in and around Bristol over the last hundred years, and the industry not only continues to be a major employer in the West of England, but is still at the forefront of delivering world-class innovation.

Airbus remains one of the principal aerospace industry employers in the area, and its Direct Entry Graduate (DEG) programme offers graduates the opportunity to master managerial and technical skills, combining structured placements with focused training programmes at Broughton, near Chester, and Filton, near Bristol. At the end of the two year programme, DEGs organise an End of Programme Event (EPE).

A whole series of events have been taking place throughout the year, to celebrate the achievements of the aviation industry in the West of England, past, present and future.  As part of these celebrations, 35 of the DEGs decided to mark the successful completion of their graduate training scheme in style with an aviation-inspired charity relay event.

The graduates decided to walk, row, cycle, and fly between various UK sites important to aviation heritage, including RAF Cosford, Elstree Aerodrome, RAF Hendon, Vickers House in Westminster, Brooklands, Farnborough, and Old Sarum Airfield – a route that would comprise 11 relay stages, cover approximately 360 miles and take 36 hours.  The relay started out from Broughton, near Chester on 17 September, and at the end of the first evening, the graduates rested up at Farnborough before continuing on to Airbus’s principal UK site at Filton on 18 September in time to join 20,000-30,000 people for the company’s annual Family Day celebrations.

The Great Western Air Ambulance was the chosen charity to benefit from the relay, with the graduates hoping to raise £10,000 through their endeavours.

The Institution was pleased to be able to offer a welcome pitstop on the journey.  As they cycled up from RAF Hendon, en route for rowing the University Boat course race from Putney to Mortlake, the graduates stopped off for a well earned rest and an impromptu afternoon tea with Institution Deputy President, Professor Isobel Pollock in St James’s Park.

Alex Ross AIMechE, who works at Filton in computational stress analysis and structural engineering for the A350 aircraft, explained that the cyclists had found the Edgware Road rather a challenge, but otherwise had enjoyed the experience of cycling in London for the first time.  He said: “Each of us could choose how far we wanted to cycle today; some team members are cycling 105 miles, while others are doing 40-50miles.  It all depends on the individual’s fitness.  I’ve done about three weeks’ training in preparation for this.”

Rhiannon Johns AIMechE was the chair of the fundraising committee and she gave an insight into the hard work and effort that went into the event: “The Relay was planned as the grand finale to celebrate the successful completion of our two-year graduate training scheme.  This is the last chance for our cohort to be together, because everyone is heading off to work on different sites across Europe, including Toulouse and Hamburg, not just at Filton.” 

“There are six people on the committee, and between us we have had a lot of organising to do, after work and at weekends.  Co-ordinating all these people walking, flying and cycling has been quite a challenge, and because of the flying, we had to build in a contingency in case of bad weather.”

“Our aim for our End of Programme Event is to raise between £10,000 -£15,000, with a projected £8,000 expected from the relay event alone. It looks like we are on track to achieve that target, thanks to group sponsorship and a series of other fundraising activities including cake sales and a Speak Up Event, to which we invited a Toastmaster!  All costs for the relay event will be covered by Airbus Operations Ltd, therefore guaranteeing that 100% of all monies raised will be going to charity.”

“Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow when we fly down to Filton and join 20,000-30,000 for the Airbus Family Day – the highlight of which will be the three hour flying display which will feature the A380.”  Rhiannon is two years into working towards chartership and is pleased to be staying on at Filton, working on a stress-based engineering project.

Airbus graduate Jason Clarke came up with the idea for the relay, and his fellow graduate Ian Marr, took on the role of project lead and co-ordinator for the event.  Commenting on the event, Ian said: “This is a great opportunity to get everyone together.  I’m just relieved that we have such good weather for it!  About 90% of the cohort of graduates are involved in the relay; we’ve got a wide cross section of participants from structural engineers to aerodyamicists to electrical engineers to aero-physicists.  Our logistics guys have also had a very valuable role to play in the event.”

“We are honoured that Professor Pollock could meet us today and that the Institution has supported the event and kindly played host to us on a very timely pitstop.  We are also grateful to Rt Hon Gerald Howarth, who is a great supporter of the aerospace industry, and whom we will be meeting in Farnborough this evening.”

Ian and Navin Nayak proved to be heroes of the hour when they had to sprint around the streets of Westminster to deliver the baton to Professor Pollock for her to sign before the cyclists could move on to Putney to row.  Describing the baton, Ian said: “The baton has been specially designed for us, using materials that are used in aircraft manufacture at Airbus.  It is a DNA strand showing the evolution of aircraft history. It’s a great way to celebrate the first 100 years of production in Bristol and the future – both of the industry and for us as graduates about to contribute to the next 100 years of production.”

“For all of us, the relay has been a fantastic way to enjoy our time together, but also to prepare us for the proper start of our working lives – going into full-time roles, and hopefully putting this real-world experience to good use as we work towards the next rung on the career ladder.  The event has captured the hard work and dedication shown by graduates throughout the programme and will mark the end of a successful two years within Airbus.”

To donate to the Airbus Aviation Centenary Relay, please visit: http://www.justgiving.com/aviationcentenaryrelay

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