Critical flight testing role keeps BAE's IT staff on the right course

Best Places to Work in IT team see direct results as aircraft take off

Best Places to Work in IT team see direct results as aircraft take off

Mike Bhatti, flight test ground station manager at aerospace and defence company BAE Systems, has no doubt why his department won a Computer Weekly Best Places to Work award earlier this year. "It is job satisfaction," he said. "That is what helps us keep our staff."

Job satisfaction comes from helping develop some of the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world. The software engineers are involved in the whole lifecycle of software development from initial requirements analysis for an aircraft with the customer, through design, development and final testing before the aircraft goes into use.

"We are the service provider to the flight test development programmes, working on aircraft such as the Typhoon, Tornado, Hawk, Nimrod and Harrier," said Bhatti. "We get a lot of satisfaction knowing that we are working with leading-edge technology, making a contribution to something very important. We can see the results of our efforts when the planes take off and make a successful flight."

The data processing group provides the technology to analyse the performance of aircraft during and after test flights.

"What sets us apart from other flight test centres is that whereas they monitor flight data during test flights, they only analyse it offline after the flight," he said. "By contrast, instead of it taking us a number of days to analyse the data, we have a real-time analysis facility, so we can analyse most of the telemetry data during the test flight and determine whether a manoeuvre was successful.

"By the time the plane lands, the engineers can go straight into a debriefing with the pilot and the aircraft can be ready to fly again straight away."

Unlike much of BAE Systems' IT, the 27-strong flight test ground station team has not been outsourced because its skills are recognised as vital to the business.

"The ground station is a centre of excellence within the UK, and our flight test engineers appreciate the contribution made by my IT staff," said Bhatti.

"Our equipment is keeping pace with technology where business needs justify it, our datacentre was upgraded last year, and our real-time analysis facility is being upgraded this year."

Quite a few of the ground station staff are aerospace engineers as well as IT professionals, which is useful as the team has to be able to work closely with all the personnel involved in test flights.

"When we took the team on we ensured that some had an engineering background, but the real turn-on happens within the flight test community - people here are not as concerned about salaries as they are about the flying," said Bhatti.

The enthusiasm for flying carries on into private lives as well. A number of the IT staff have their own pilots' licences.

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