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Innova Composite Helicopters – Insight Series Part I

Posted by: Matt

Innova Composite Helicopters are an innovative helicopter manufacturing company based on a small rural airfield about 15 minutes’ drive from Albany on Auckland’s North Shore. Innova Composite Helicopters are currently looking to recruit a number of additional Engineers to help them attain NZCAA Part 27 type certification for their unique single turbine rotorcraft. The design of the rotorcraft features a unique monocoque composite fuselage that delivers unparalleled impact and corrosion resistance.

The team at Innova are passionate about what they are achieving but we were keen to find out more about what makes Innova a great place for engineers to continue developing their careers. We managed to grab some time with Nina Heatley, Engineering Manager at Innova Composite Helicopters. This is what she had to tell us;

How did you get into aviation?
I had an engineering consulting business specialising in design of composite structures. The founder of the helicopter program used our services to produce the original airframe design. An ongoing involvement in that development program lead me to join the company full time in late 2014.

What are the biggest changes to the current aircraft design compared against the original concept?
From the experimental design, our engineering team has completed a design review resulting in the modification of nearly all components and systems. This was necessary to meet the requirements of CAR14, Part 27. The challenge for this team has been to create a design that was certifiable, while trying to retain as much of the original concept as possible.

What engineering/certification challenges remain?
We continue to work through the design review and finish analysis and reporting of that design. The next challenge with be to conduct the testing in order to demonstrate compliance with the rules and requirements. This is an exciting phase of the program because of the technical challenges involved in testing and the ultimate reward of validating a design.

What are the company’s main objectives over the 12-18 months?
Its a well defined programme of design review>testing>verification>certification

What kind of new recruits are you looking for to help you achieve those objectives?
Staff at ICH must be able to work autonomously and take responsibility for their results and productivity. While the design effort is very collaborative, project teams are frequently just one engineer, so you must be able to make decisions, take action and report back without the support of a project team. Conversely you will have the opportunity to review or contribute to others projects also, allowing a broader exposure to the program. The company is still small so staff must be flexible enough to take on a diverse tasks and occasionally tasks that are outside their job description. The advantage of this situation for Engineers is the opportunity to learn new things and know you will never be stuck in the same task day after day.

Aside from the obvious attraction of working on the development of such an innovative rotorcraft, why else would an engineer choose to work for Innova Composite Helicopters over another company?
The people working here are very passionate about the project so there is plenty of energy in the work place. We take our job activities very seriously but enjoy a friendly and relaxed work place with plenty of laughter.

Tell us a little about the challenges new recruits can look forward to getting their teeth into before the aircraft is ready for market? What happens after that?
This is a new design with no legacy data or operational history to build on. This is exciting in that you often have a lot of freedom in the design, but can present challenges in that many assumptions and careful evaluation of options are necessary to progress the design. You need to be able to form an opinion and be ready to support that decision with reasoned argument.

What kind of career paths or development opportunities can new employees expect during their time with Innova Composite Helicopters?
As we approach the end of certification of this first model, the company will grow in preparation for production. At this time there will be opportunities to take on the challenge of a production organisation or the option to remain in the new product development business to design and certify new models.

How important is a positive organisational culture for any business?
Designing and certifying a helicopter is hard work. It is a complex engineering problem and carries significant regulatory burden. The cooperative attitude of our team is essential to ensuring the requirements of the technical and certification activities progresses in parallel. We foster a culture of openness than enables anyone to raise issues as they are identified so that nothing is overlooked in the design.

Where do you see the future for your industry?
It has been a long time since a new manufacturer entered the turbine engine helicopter market. By offering a new look and safer airframe by utilising modern construction technology, we have seen significant enthusiasm from owners and operators for our product. This represent the opportunity to rapidly grow sales once certified, and deliver new solution to our customers. This is a great opportunity for New Zealand to grow a new export company and leverage the expertise that resides in the composite industry here. The helicopter industry is facing exciting developments in the expansion of the UAV market and Innova is well placed to follow that emerging market as well as expand our range of maned rotorcraft.

Thanks for those insightful comments Nina. Find out more about a career with Innova by clicking HERE

Categorised as: Engineering, Innova Composite Helicopters