Case Study: Sophie Robinson
“One of the good things about engineering is that there are a lot of opportunities where you can use your skillset to make a difference, and make a difference in lots of different fields as well!”
Sophie grew up in a working class family from a mining village in the North of England. As a child, she remembers wanted to be an astronaut and being fascinated with Lego (she claims to have had the equivalent of her body weight in Lego!) and Meccano. Her parents encouraged her to go to university: they saw it as a good route to a professional job. Sophie recalls:
“When I was young I was always really into maths and science. I would have done a pure maths degree but there was something always nagging in the back of my mind […] I always wanted something more practical.”
With this combination of academic interests and practicality, she thinks engineering became an “inevitable” career path.
After she finished a PhD in flight mechanics from the University of Liverpool, Sophie got involved in many projects as an aerospace engineer. It’s a job she describes as being involved in the whole lifecycle of anything that flies: design, certification, operation, maintenance and safe disposal (decommissioning).
Sophie’s currently a senior flight dynamics engineer at Vertical Aerospace, a company working on creating the world’s first commercial eVTOL aircraft – electric vertical take-off and landing. It’s planned as an air taxi, to transport people and goods on short journeys.
Vertical’s aircraft will be 100% electric, affordable, and could help ease road traffic in densely populated areas.
“All of the technologies to make this kind vehicle happen exist, we are not conjuring things out of thin air that don’t exist at the moment. It’s all about bringing those technologies together into a package to make it happen.”
A lifetime achievement
In her current role Sophie is responsible for the simulator that will train pilots to fly the aircraft: she needs to be creative and logical. She also studies the performance of the air taxi, in particular how manipulating the controls translates into aircraft motion. The air taxi will be a once-in-a-lifetime achievement for Sophie and her colleagues, so she tells us that hard work is essential.
“Why did I become an engineer in first place? Because I wanted to be involved in projects like this, it’s completely innovative! That is human nature, we always want to find the next step, the next new thing. How can we put together the different technologies we’ve developed?”
Nothing great is easy
Outside of work. Sophie enjoys travel and particularly swimming. In 2012 she swam the English Channel, inspired by the first person to do so, Captain Webb, who said, “Nothing great is easy”. She has his quote as a tattoo.
“I am a mermaid when I’m not an engineer!”
She often colours her hair a different colour as this makes people notice and remember her. She says it‘s a good conversation starter!