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17th January 2022

From playing with LEGO® to making the Airbus A380 fly

Hear how one of our alumni reached for the sky and followed her passion.

Vicki Murdie CEng MIMechE, Innovation Lead for the Future Flight Challenge, UK Research and Innovation.

I’ve always enjoyed building and tinkering with things to figure out how they worked - LEGO® and Meccano were staples of my childhood. I remember once taking apart a broken toy typewriter and trying to repair it. I think I made it worse, but I learnt something from it.

My fascination with flying began when I was eight and my family went on holiday to Jersey. The plane and how it flew captivated me and I decided I wanted to be a pilot. Researching the role, I discovered I needed a degree to apply for many of the training schemes. I’d loved science and maths in school and had taken them at A level. But it wasn’t until my physics teacher suggested I take part in an ‘Insight into Engineering’ course, run by The Smallpeice Trust, that my eyes opened to aerospace engineering.

The ‘Insight’ courses gave girls the chance to experience a week at a UK university, seeing what it would be like to study engineering. But that year they also ran one in Helsinki, Finland and that’s the one I was selected for!

It was rather scary meeting 20 other girls at Heathrow and flying off to meet 20 Finnish girls who were also interested in engineering. We went on tours of engineering companies, listened to inspirational speakers, worked on a group design-and-make project and experienced Finnish sauna culture. During that tour, I experienced my light bulb moment, as I saw a way to combine my passion for aviation with my love of science and maths. Most importantly, I made friends with other girls who were interested in the same things as me.

The course helped me make the decision to study Aeronautical Engineering at Imperial College, London. During my degree course, I realised I loved engineering even more than flying, and was passionate about jet engines.

When I left university, I joined the Rolls Royce graduate scheme and stayed with them for 18 years in various engineering and project management roles. I’ve worked on the engines for some of the most iconic passenger aircraft, including the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I look at those planes and know exactly what I did to help make them fly.

One of my proudest moments was watching the first A380 flight, powered by four Trent 900 engines that I had been involved in the testing and approval of.

I now work for UK Research and Innovation as an Innovation Lead for the Future Flight Challenge. We're bringing people together to deliver an ambitious aviation research and development programme for drones, Advanced Air Mobility and electric regional aircraft. Working with government, industry, trade bodies, catapult centres and academia, I lead work on airspace integration and safety, supporting the resolution of key issues facing the industry. This role is very exciting as it is so broad and experimental. We’re helping make things only seen before in science-fiction films a reality!

Throughout my career, I've been a keen STEM ambassador. This gives me the opportunity to talk to young people and normalise engineering, which excites them about it as a career. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or who you are, anyone can become an engineer. We’re normal people, with a passion for creating extraordinary things. If that sounds like you, then go for it and reach for the sky!

To learn more about our engineering courses, including this year's Aerospace Engineering courses, supported by Virgin Atlantic, please visit: https://www.smallpeicetrust.org.uk/momentum-events

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