Hi John! Please could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your job?
I’m an aircraft engineer and I work in the wind tunnel department.
We design, manufacture and test wind tunnel models for the aerodynamicists. A wind tunnel lets us blast air over or around our test models so we can see what happens!
Why do you think maths is important?
Maths is important for accurate calculations and estimates. Without these, it would be very difficult to design structures and systems. If the planes did manage to get off the ground, there would be a lot more crashes if our calculations were not correct.
How do you use maths in your job?
I use maths every day in my job because everything I do needs to be very accurate.
From making sure parts fit together to ensuring structures are strong enough and that there’s enough lift to take off – nobody wants to fly in a plane where the engineers have guessed the right sizes! Everything has to be perfect so that it all works together.
Do you have any advice for someone who may find some parts of maths tricky?
If you find some things in maths tricky then you need to find out what works for you. Whether it’s using acronyms like BODMAS or having maths explained in different ways, don’t be afraid to ask your teacher or your parent for some other methods of learning it.
What’s your favourite number and why?
Two, because there are two wings on an aeroplane!
If a school wanted to ask an engineer to visit their school, what advice would you give them?
Get the cakes in! Seriously, most big companies support school visits, and it’s normally possible to arrange it with the right contact. There are also lots of organisation such as Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) who can help with this.
Thank you John!
How do aircraft engineers use maths?
John does lots of calculations which use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Working out the area and perimeter of a wing is very important in order to be able to work out whether the plane will fly or not. ‘Lift’ is what we call the action of air having to travel further OVER something than it has to travel UNDERNEATH it. Hold a piece of paper to your bottom lip and blow over it – it will float up. This is lift. John needs to work out the area of the wing to make sure that the air has further to go over the top, rather than underneath it.
Using the example of lift from the geometry section, once John has worked out the area of the wing, he can then control the wind speed and use those measurements to calculate the lift and make sure that the plane will fly. He might use algebra to do this, so he can work out what might need to be changed.
Ratio and proportion:
It would be really expensive to build the first design of new technology at the size it’s eventually going to be. Once the designers have a very good design, and it’s been tested with computer programmes, engineers may make a model of that design. They don’t want to make it full-size, so they will make a smaller version which has to be exactly the right dimensions, so they will use ratio and proportion to make it accurate.