The Star Malaysia - Star2
The rise of aviation and aerospace engineering
By TINA CARMILLIA
WITH the airline industry consistently making global headlines last year, the aviation field saw a surge of interest among the general public. The disappearance of Malaysia Airline’s MH370 and the crashes of MH17 as well as AirAsia Indonesia’s QZ8501 created a storm on social media. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be aviation “experts”.
But what does it really take to be one? A lot, as a matter of fact.
The field is exciting, but also demanding and dynamic. Assoc Prof Capt Ir Dr Mohd Harridon Mohamed Suffian, test pilot and head of Research and Innovation at Universiti Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology, says: “Prospective students have to look at situations or problems from various angles to produce the best solution. There may be failures but students learn from these failures. The industry evolved by looking at previous failures and rectifying them.”
The industry is a large, inter-disciplinary field that can be divided into research, design, testing, product support, training, and management:
Researchers investigate aerodynamics, propulsion and computer modelling in aviation institutions and laboratories.
Design engineers may work in a more corporate setting to create new or redesign existing aircrafts, spacecrafts and engines to improve performance.
Testers examine these vehicles with wind tunnels, flight simulators and strain gauges for the research and design teams to improve the technology.
Product support personnel gather information regarding maintenance, safety and efficiency from customers and users and coordinate with the researchers and engineers for upgrades.
The ones who train these teams are in the teaching field – commonly as lead engineers and lecturers.
Those who supervise the budget, personnel and business-related matters of these activities are in the management.
The range of jobs in the industry also include air traffic controllers, pilots, air marshals, airplane inspectors and aircraft loadmasters, all of whom are involved in the operation of aircrafts or even spacecrafts.
The operation of an aircraft can be divided into two types – civil aviation and military aviation. While military aviation has a concentration on efficacy and stealth, civil aviation focuses more on flight comfort and services for passengers.
With flying becoming more accessible because of low-cost carriers, customer demands for comfort and safety also increase. To meet these demands, the industry needs engineers and researchers with the relevant qualifications.
Airlines are now providing not just the traditional first-class seats with more comfortable seating and fine-dining services but also more lucrative offerings such as aviation flat beds and private lounges with bathrooms.
Etihad Airlines, for example, came up with the The Residence, a 125sq ft (11.6sq m) private three-room penthouse in the nose cone of the airline’s Airbus A380. Hailed as the most luxurious living spaces in commercial aviation (so far), the penthouse interiors were designed by Acumen Design Associates.
Communication and Internet connectivity for in-flight passengers are also some of the recent upgrades in civil aviation industry. It will come as no surprise if craft-to-craft communication becomes a reality. In fact, Boeing is at work creating a swarming system for larger drones – a technology that may work its way into passenger planes.
Evidently, the future of aviation and aerospace will see more of such brave innovations from industry thinkers and tinkers. When Malaysia produces more professionals in aviation and aerospace engineering with advanced qualifications, it will not be too unlikely for the country to build its own spacecraft.
“Now is the right time to consider this field as a career since the aviation industry is booming and will triple in size in the coming five to 10 years. More aircrafts are being produced and they require extensive maintenance and overhaul, which in turn requires a lot of manpower,” says Dr Mohd Harridon Mohamad Suffian, who is also a Malaysian astronaut candidate.
Someone with a postgraduate degree in aviation or aerospace engineering could embark on the path of being a full-fledged researcher, actuating research upon flight and aviation-related matters.
“He or she could work at airlines in the technical and engineering department actuating analysis upon the structure, engine and avionics of airplanes. In some postgraduate programmes in aviation or aerospace, students learn and get involved in management practices and are often put in managerial positions in airlines or aviation companies,” says Dr Harridon.
Where’s my flying car?
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, changed the world when they first got their flying machine off the ground in 1903 despite claims from smug scientists who insisted that a powered aircraft could never fly. We have come a long way since then. The Soviet Union, now Russia, then launched the first spacecraft, the artificial satellite Sputnik, into space in 1957.
So perhaps, ideas that seem improbable – such as flying cars and passenger jetpacks – may soon become a commercial reality. While the flying car has been depicted in many works of fantasy and science fiction from as far back as at least the 19th century, it continues to be merely a conception of the future and the idea has not quite taken flight yet – with the few prototypes in existence now facing more challenges than just being able to take flight and remain in the air.
But when the idea does come to fruition, you can bet your education fund that aviation and aerospace engineers will play a major role in its advancement. Welcome to the age of aerospace.