Megan Loffell – Senior Flight Physicist


PLAYING A PART IN AVIATION’S FUTURE

In layman’s terms, Megan works out how things fly and how well they perform in a given environment, considering the unique characteristics of the flying article, be that an aircraft, a helicopter, a missile or UAV -she’s worked on them all. She then compares that to how you want it to fly and to perform and works out how to make the two align. She does this both by predicting what should happen according to calculation and simulation and by analysing what actually does happen when you fly it. “It’s just a trade-off between mass, power and drag essentially”, she said with a smile.

Megan has made engineering her career for 11 years now and she loves the fact that she’s never done the same thing twice. She noted: “There has always been a new challenge to face and new problems to solve; you always have to think on your feet and approach things differently each time.”

And it’s the practical side of her work that Megan loves the most – seeing the fruit of her labour and watching something fly – hopefully in the way that she predicted,(but sometimes not. She said: “When you finally get to the point when you can see the thing that was on the computer, in the air and working in real life – that’s just really good fun.”

BE WILLING TO FAIL

Having grown up as the youngest of three children in a family full of engineers, Megan admits she was probably influenced by her grandfather, father and older siblings having spent much of her childhood playing with her brother’s Meccano and helping her father “fix just about anything”. She also gravitated towards maths, science and biology at school.

Despite all those signs however, it wasn’t until having to choose her subject for university that she settled on engineering.  She recalled:“I remember sitting on my bed flicking through all the university brochures and I thought…Aeronautical Engineering! That sounds cool.”

Megan has spent her career so far working on very challenging and exciting projects, ranging from the design of a four-seater turbine helicopter, surface-to-air missiles and a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft all the way through to a hydrofoil catamaran.

When asked about the skills that she has needed most in her career she said: “You need to be able to start approaching a problem without necessarily knowing where the solution is going to come from. You need to be willing to try many things that aren’t going to work to find the one that does.”

Recognising that isn’t easy for a lot a people, which is what makes it a key skill, but one that can be learned, she said: “You just have to keep trying and be OK with being out of your comfort zone .It’s OK not to know what the answer is; you have to figure it out. Don’t be afraid of starting again; trying something else – it’s all part of the process.”

RETHINKING WHAT WE THOUGHT WE KNEW

When Megan came to work for Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, she took a lead role in a project working to revolutionise the future of aviation. It’s her job to figure out how the capabilities of the hydrogen fuel cell influences what the aircraft can do. As Megan describes it:“It’s making sure that overall, we have a workable solution, considering the operational requirements of the customer.”

“This is the most challenging project I’ve worked on so far”, declared Megan “and when it’s flying, it will be exceptionally rewarding”. And she is very mindful of the revolution in aviation that has started. She noted:“It’s going to be incredibly interesting to figure out how all these new technologies are going to work in aviation or how they will need to be adapted to be of use in the industry. To understand how these technologies will influence how aircraft will be used in future,.we have to rethink what we thought we knew.”

ADVICE FOR FUTURE ENGINEERS

Megan’s confidence and enthusiasm about the value of engineering is both simple and inspiring.

She advised:“Do what interests you and don’t over-think it. If it appeals to you, go and get your engineering degree. The skills you learn will be so relevant to many other things; don’t think you’re locking yourself into a certain type of career - you’re actually opening yourself up to more opportunities than you realise”.

And as with every engineering problem Megan has ever faced, you will always learn something in the process.