Tom Hartas

Tom Hartas

What is the name of the company you work for and what do they do? 

I currently work for BAE Systems which is the UK’s leading aerospace and defence company. BAE Systems is one of the largest and most successful defence contractors in the world. The company’s operations span across six continents including North America, Europe and the Middle East. More specifically, I work for BAE Systems Military Air and Information (MAI) unit which caters for the aerospace defence sector. MAI is at the cutting edge of the aircraft industry and a world leader in the aerospace defence sector.

What is your role within the company?

My role within the company varies between each placement. Throughout the year I will undertake 3 placements across different departments. During my first placement I was part of the airframe research and technology flight dynamics team. I was tasked with analysing wind tunnel force and moment data for a NATO study regarding stability and control prediction methods for unmanned combat aerial vehicles. This was a learning curve for me as I had to work with stability and control computer models as well as exercise my Matlab skills.

For my second and placement I transferred into aerodynamic test otherwise referred to as the wind tunnel department. Throughout my time here I have had the chance to work in the low and high speed wind tunnels as well as the hot gas lab which is a facility unique to BAE Systems. One advantage of working across multiple facilities and teams was the opportunity to work on a wide variety of interesting projects. One such project was the testing of a future combat air system in the low speed wind tunnel. As part of the test team on this project I became heavily involved with every aspect of the test phase from model installation and the calibrating of equipment to the actual operation of the tunnel itself. I was also responsible for constructing the test plan prior to the test phase. For my third and final placement I moved to MAI’s future projects department as part of the advanced systems, architectures and disruptive technologies team. 

As well as placements there is also the opportunity to undertake stretch assignments which you are encouraged to do by your early careers manager. I practically get involved with every opportunity that comes my way. I have worked with organisations such as Tomorrow’s Engineers, become a STEM ambassador and visited schools to help deliver engineering workshops and talk about BAE Systems. 

A typical day on placement

At present I am working in aerodynamic test. The great thing about this placement in particular is that in my opinion there is no such thing as a typical day since the work is so varied. For simplicity my typical day can be split into three types; pre-test day, test day and office day. On a pre-test day I will be in one of the facilities helping to check, calibrate and install equipment. On a test day typical responsibilities will include set up procedures and checks, health and safety procedures, operating equipment or entire wind tunnels, photographing evidence, model changes and shut down protocol. On an office day I typically write statements of work, test plans, construct and give presentations, attend meetings with customers and I also organise and give the odd tour around the aerodynamic test facilities. As you can see the work is highly variable which I believe makes it more interesting and enjoyable.

What are you enjoying the most and are you involved in any interesting projects?

I enjoy the variety of work and the added advantage of being able to move around different departments. This means I get to work with different teams on different projects which keeps the whole experience interesting and challenging. The opportunity for personal development is immense. An added bonus is that I work alongside an active airfield so I get to witness, on an almost daily basis, fighter aircraft such as the Typhoon doing vertical take offs and manoeuvres. The most interesting projects I have been involved in relate to future combat air systems and unmanned aircraft. I find these projects particularly exciting since these concepts are at the forefront of development in the aircraft industry.

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

University can give you the technical skills you will require to become a good engineer but working for an international company you can begin to develop attributes like professionalism, how to communicate with customers and applying knowledge and skills to real life engineering problems and projects. You also get the opportunity to work in a team of engineers that are experts in their respective fields and you can learn so much from these people.

Today’s job market is a very tough environment and I knew that I had to do something that would separate me from other candidates. Experience is invaluable and a great way to build a portfolio of experience and a strong CV is to do a placement year. 

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I would like to develop my communication and problem solving skills in particular. I find giving presentations to any audience challenging and I hope that by practicing this skill throughout my placement year I can improve and become more comfortable with these situations. I have already given several presentations to both technical and non-technical audiences and spoken to students at a local secondary school. As a result I feel I am making good progress towards this development goal. Problem solving is an essential core skill of an engineer and I hope that the challenging work at BAE Systems will allow me to enhance this skill further.

By taking a year in industry I am able to explore different areas of engineering and this will help me decide which area of engineering I would like to pursue as a career. In turn this means I can make an informed decision about which electives I wish to take at university.

Do you have any tips and advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

I would highly recommend doing a year in industry. I have found that Industry is very different to university and I would encourage you to try new things. The experiences gained will be invaluable and will help you in the job market. In job interviews you will have more to talk about than just your grades and time at university. Not to mention that you will appreciate what time you do have left at university. With regards to applying for placements be proactive and start early. Be meticulous when applying to placements and put the time and effort in.