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From V-Formation flight to Vahana

Nov 27, 2017


Geoffrey Bower is the Chief Engineer for Vahana, an electric, self-piloted, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft project. He works at Airbus’ A3 facility, our advanced projects operation in Silicon Valley, USA. Geoffrey is also a former Airbus Fly Your Ideas finalist; along with his team mates from Team Stamford ADG, he reached the finals of the 2009 edition of the competition, with a proposal for aircraft to reduce energy consumption by building on the model of migrating birds and flying in an inverted V formation. 

Having made a career of his passion for finding new and better ways to fly, what does Geoffrey’s current role involve? “As Chief Engineer, I oversee the technical design and testing of Vahana. We are about to begin ground testing, which is the final step before first flight.”

Geoffrey manages the demands of all aspects of the aircraft design. “The key skill in this role is to understand the trade-offs between all of the engineering disciplines that impact the aircraft design. Building the lightest structure, the quietest propeller, or the most efficient wing does not necessarily make for the best overall aircraft design.” 

Remembering his student success, Geoffrey says that “Airbus Fly Your Ideas afforded me great experiences such as attending the final round of the competition in Paris and visiting the 2009 Paris Airshow at Le Bourget.”

Today, one thing has not changed - just like in Fly Your Ideas, working with great colleagues (or team mates) is key to success. “The most enjoyable part of my job is working with the fantastic team of engineers, project managers and technicians to transform our original sketches into a full-scale flying prototype in such a short time.”  

For anyone already thinking of new ideas for future editions of Fly Your Ideas or other student competitions, Geoffrey has some good advice. “Start by brainstorming lots of ideas. Next, critically evaluate and identify the one idea you think will have the biggest impact. Then get to work fleshing out the details and doing the analyses to prove that it is an impactful idea.”

For Geoffrey, there’s always a chance to learn and develop new skills. “I’ve learnt to navigate the project level trade-offs between schedule, cost, and risk, especially since A3 is set up to execute projects on very short, ambitious timelines. Continuous learning is also vitally important, especially for Vahana, where we are incorporating non-traditional aerospace technologies like electric propulsion and machine learning.”

What advice would you give someone who wants to work at Airbus? “Work hard in school, take courses that interest you, seek out internships, and of course take part in competitions like Fly Your Ideas!”