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An Aero Engineer may Specialize after Two to Four Years’ Training


STUDENTS LEARNING WING AND FUSELAGE CONSTRUCTION at the Brooklands Aerodrome premises of the College of Aeronautical Engineering. At Brooklands the students assemble complete aircraft and gain experience of working in aerodrome conditions. The theory and general practice of wood-working are also taught in the London workshops of this college.

AS A career, aeronautical engineering has much to recommend it to the ambitious young man. It is essentially an interesting occupation, and it offers generous reward for initiative and hard work. The trained man has the choice of many different branches, in practical work and in theoretical and research work. In such a rapidly expanding industry, opportunities are bound to increase, although they are already plentiful.

From the point of view of a career, civil aviation is of paramount importance and no one can put a limit on its possible expansion. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of regular air lines in the world, and their extension is unremitting and universal. Engineers are required to maintain all the machines used on these routes, to build new aircraft for them, and to design fresh types to meet the ever increasing demands of speed, comfort and utility.

Apart from the machines used on air lines, there are those owned privately, used by flying clubs or used for special purposes such as racing or record breaking. Engineers are required to design, build and maintain all these as well. There are also openings for trained engineers as salesmen and on executive and administrative work at airports. In every branch of aeronautical engineering sound training is necessary. Those considering aeronautical engineering as a career will be well advised to give careful thought to the question of their training.

Considerable responsibility rests on the ground personnel in aviation, for the safety of pilots and passengers largely depends on their work. Faults in the structure of an aircraft, or in its engines, may lead only to a forced landing, but they might also be the cause of fatal accidents.

It is the duty of ground engineers to ensure that every machine is airworthy to the last nut and wire before it is flown. Ground engineers are not mechanics who merely carry out certain practical routine work, but highly qualified engineers who understand the principles on which every item of an aircraft is based.

When he has signed his name against the record of work done to an aircraft, the ground engineer takes full responsibility for its correct execution. He must, therefore, receive careful and proper training, and in Great Britain the Air Ministry issues licences for ground engineers, to gain which, examinations must be passed and a certain amount of practical experience obtained.

There are five classes of these licences and they are termed “A”, “B”, “C”, “D” and “X” ground engineers’ licences. Categories “A” and “B” concern aircraft frames, categories “C” and “D” aero engines, and category “X” aircraft instruments, magnetos, parachutes and miscellaneous items.

Licences “A” and “C” permit an engineer to pass out aircraft before flight and after adjustments which come under the heading of general maintenance have been made.

Aeroplane engineering as a career

ALL TYPES OF CONSTRUCTION must be understood by an aero engineer. This photograph shows the building of an all-metal fuselage frame in which the various tubular members are joined together by welding. There are several forms of welding, all of which are covered during a course of aeronautical engineering.

PUPILS ASSEMBLING AIRCRAFT ENGINES. In the foreground of this photograph, which shows students at the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School, is an inverted type engine with the upper half of the crankcase removed. The big ends of the connecting rods attached to the two end cranks are visible. The second student from the left is checking clearances by means of feeler gauges, which measure accurately to one-thousandth of an inch.

The “B” and “D” categories permit the engineer to pass out aircraft after complete overhaul, or after considerable repairs or reconstruction. Considerably more practical experience is required for these licences than for the “A” and “C” licences. For the first four categories, licences are generally issued for specified types of engines or aircraft, and for category “X” for specified items such as parachutes. The following details give the main qualifications for each licence.

For licence “A” there is required a knowledge of inspecting and testing the whole airframe, of rigging, adjustment of flying controls and correction of flying faults in the machine. A knowledge of defects and deterioration in all the materials used is needed also, as well as familiarity with instrument installation.

The “B” licence covers the general principles of the inspection of aircraft construction. This includes a knowledge of all materials and parts used in an aircraft and of the way in which they are tested, in addition to a knowledge of inspecting and testing the complete aircraft.

To obtain a “C” licence the engineer must understand the construction and top overhaul of the particular engines covered by his licence, the installation of the engines and of their instruments in the airframe, and the inspection, adjustment and testing of the engines and their instruments after installation.

For “D” licences a knowledge is required by the engineers of all aspects of the general principles of the inspection of aero engines during construction and complete overhaul.

The “X” licence covers special duties in connexion with one or more sections. These sections cover parachutes, magnetos, and the repair and reconditioning of aircraft instruments.

Whatever branch of aeronautical engineering is chosen, a basic training in practice and theory is required. Further, although in some branches it is unnecessary to hold Air Ministry ground engineers’ licences, the equivalent training is required. Most students, therefore, qualify for at least one or two of the five categories of ground engineers’ licences.

Undoubtedly the best way to obtain training in aeronautical engineering is to attend one of the institutions specializing in such training. Examples of these institutions are the College of Aeronautical Engineering at Chelsea, London, and Brooklands, Surrey; the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School at Hatfield, Hertfordshire; the Airspeed Aeronautical College at Portsmouth, Hampshire; and Air Service Training, Limited, at Hamble, Hampshire. Courses of tuition available take from two to four years to complete, and cost approximately from £200 to £300.

Not everyone is in a position to afford the time or money to be trained at an aeronautical college. An aspirant is not thereby debarred from making a career of aeronautical engineering. It is possible to obtain the necessary practical experience by working in an aircraft factory, or by becoming apprenticed to a firm of aircraft manufacturers. The theoretical knowledge may be obtained either by attending a technical institute in the evenings, or through a correspondence course.

The wide scope of the curriculum at a training college and the methods adopted are illustrated by the following description of the College of Aeronautical Engineering. This college is concerned solely with the training of aeronautical engineers. Apart from its various workshops at Chelsea, it has premises at Brooklands Aerodrome, where work on complete aircraft is carried out and where the students become accustomed to normal aerodrome conditions.

Instruction is arranged so that practical and theoretical training progress together. Thus are avoided the possible disadvantages of apprenticeship and of purely technical training. The instruction covers considerable ground and does not merely encompass the requirements for the Air Ministry ground engineers’ licences. Elementary work is undertaken in such a way that its relation to the completed job is fully appreciated. For instance, elementary fitting is learnt side by side with the assembly of a complete engine. Not only does this emphasize in the pupil’s mind the importance of the detail work, but it also assists in maintaining the keenness of his enthusiasm.

BUILDING A FUSELAGE MOCK-UP at the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School. A mock-up is made to check the dimensions and design of a new type of aircraft before work is begun on the aircraft proper. The mock-up in this picture is of an aircraft designed—and to be built—by students themselves.

The first fifteen months of the course are spent in the London workshops. Then follows a period at Brooklands Aerodrome. Finally, after a further short spell in London the student is sent for six months to one of the aviation firms cooperating with the college, to obtain experience in ordinary commercial conditions.

This experience helps the student to obtain his Air Ministry “A” and “C” licences, after which he is entitled to his diploma. There are three grades of diploma. Initiative is encouraged but individual supervision is always present, so that the failure of a student to grasp properly any point is quickly noted and overcome. All lectures deal with the theoretical side of the work of the section through which a student is passing.

The practical part of the diploma course covers twenty sections, in all of which a student has to obtain a satisfactory pass. Six of these concern work on aero engines, six concern work connected with the aircraft frame and the remainder cover general engineering practice and items such as maintenance of parachutes and drawing-office experience. To make the course as wide as possible in its scope, “Theory of Flight”, “Aerodrome Management” and similar subjects are included in the theoretical training. Right from the beginning the student comes into contact with aero engines, and has to handle the assembly of an engine during his first term. High-power - including radial types - and light engines are dismantled and rebuilt by every student.

Overhaul of Engines

The first type of engine dealt with by a student is the Napier Lion. Later he has to overhaul completely a Rolls-Royce Buzzard. During this work all parts are checked for wear, and crankshafts and similar parts for balance. The student next works on Bristol Mercury radial engines, and finally he learns all about the lighter types of aircraft engines such as the Gipsy, Hermes and Pobjoy.

During this engine work no slackness is permitted, every engine being treated as though it were going on to an aircraft for use in flight. After completion of the assembly work, all engines are tested. The larger types are taken to Brooklands Aerodrome and, with airscrews attached, are tested in special cradles. Light types are similarly tested in the engine workshop at Chelsea, and some engines are given a test for brake horse-power on a hydraulic dynamometer. Two or three students work together on each engine, and remain on the same engine throughout its overhaul and tests. All the tools required by a student during his course are supplied by the college, a returnable deposit being charged to cover losses. Large numbers of these tools are made by students themselves at the college.

Should a student quickly complete the syllabus for a term and have time to spare, he is given experience in production work, such as making tools, and other equipment. Experimental work of all types is undertaken including design, pattern making, foundry work and machinery.

The castings are produced in the college foundry, one of the sections through which every student has to pass. All types of castings are dealt with, and the student learns about the fuels and mould materials that are used.

In the machine shop all forms of turning, milling, gear-cutting and similar processes are taught; in the metallurgical laboratory practical experience is obtained in mechanical testing and heat treatment; in the woodworking shop the student is mainly concerned with pattern making, propeller design and wing construction; in the welding shop he becomes familiar with all aspects of oxy-acetylene welding. As the student works steadily through these and the other shops his knowledge increases to the stage where ho is ready to deal with complete aircraft. He is then transferred to Brooklands Aerodrome.

HIDDEN INTRICACIES underneath the nose of an Airspeed Series 111 EnvoyHere he learns about the construction of wood and metal fuselages and wings, sheet metal working, wing covering and doping, renewals of certificates of airworthiness, instruments, parachutes, radio and items of a like nature. Special construction jobs such as the building of gliders and light aircraft are undertaken also.

HIDDEN INTRICACIES underneath the nose of an Airspeed Series 111 Envoy, revealed by the removal of a panel. The aircraft maintenance engineer knows the purpose of every such control rod, wire, pipe and electric cable. Every item has an important duty to perform and the engineer must see that each part is sound and in proper working condition.

From time to time innovations are introduced which increase the interest in the college work. For instance, the college organized a competition for the design of a light aeroplane, the winning design to be constructed by students at the college and eventually flown. The chief factors required in the design were quick take-off, good average cruising speed, slow landing, reasonable range and the ability to carry pilot and one passenger.

A somewhat similar innovation is the design of the T.K. machines by students of the De Havilland Aeronautical Technical School. Four of these machines have been designed, and three built entirely by the students. The T.K.1, a two-seater biplane, took fifth place out of a field of forty-three in the 1934 King’s Cup Race. The T.K.2, a low-wing cabin monoplane, obtained fourth place in the King’s Cup Race of 1935. In 1936 it won the Heston-Cardiff race at a speed of 182·2 miles an hour. The T.K.3 was treated as a design exercise only, and not built. The T.K.4, a low-wing monoplane, made the fastest time in the 1937 King’s Cup Air Race of any machine under 240 horse-power.

No “specimen” work is done by students at this college. Every drawing and calculation which a student makes is for a specific design which is being built and which may be flown. Periods are spent by students in all departments of the De Havilland factory, and all their work is subject to inspection by Aircraft Inspection Department and works inspectors. A student must attain the same standard of finish as that of a skilled workman.

The Technological Institute of Great Britain is one correspondence college which makes a feature of providing the necessary theoretical knowledge for ground engineers’ licences. The cost of the course for one licence is about £5. As far back as 1929 the Royal Aeronautical Society approved this correspondence college’s training courses for the Society’s Associate Membership and Associate Fellowship examinations.

Conditions of Apprenticeship

These examinations are often of more value in certain branches of aeronautical engineering than the Air Ministry licence examinations. Aircraft designing is one instance in which they are particularly valuable.

It is desirable for a student to specialize in one branch of aeronautical engineering when his basic training has been completed. The Air Ministry licences cannot be obtained until the age of twenty-one is reached. But by the time a student has reached that age, if he has been attending an aeronautical college, he should have gained the necessary practical experience. The firm of Armstrong Whitworth is one of the aircraft manufacturers which take apprentices. No premium is required, and during the whole period of the apprenticeship wages are paid according to the apprentice’s age on a prearranged basis.

Boys between sixteen and eighteen years of age are taken for a five years’ apprenticeship. They may either receive a general training in fitting as applied to aircraft engineering, or in the erection and assembly of airframes. A third class of apprenticeship is open to boys who have received instruction at a Public School until they are eighteen or nineteen years of age.

This class of apprenticeship lasts three years, and includes two years in learning fitting-shop details, six months in the wing assembly section and six months in the fuselage assembly section.

In whatever way an engineer receives his training, he should learn to fly if possible. He may do this either with a flying club or school, or he may join the R.A.F. Reserve. The holding of a pilot’s licence may help a student to obtain a good position when his training has been completed. Learning to fly emphasizes, as nothing else can, the importance of the engineering work the student is being taught.


AIRCRAFT ENGINES IN TEST CRADLES at Brooklands Aerodrome. Aero engineering students who have overhauled and reassembled these engines are preparing them for test runs which are carried out with propellers in place to put a load on the engines. These test runs are performed with the same care as the engines would receive if they were to be used in flight.

[From Part 16, published 21 June 1938]

You can read more on “All-Metal Construction”, “Evolution of the Aero Engine” and “Rigging an Aeroplane” on this website.

Aeroplane Engineering as a Career