My colleague Bettina Chavanne has been commenting on efforts to foster an engineering workforce over the past few months. It's an interesting question, because you can't deny that aerospace engineering, while a tough academic discipline to follow, is a challenging and reasonably rewarding career. But it's not just money - there's a cultural factor involved.
Consider for a moment that an intersection on Fifth Avenue or Park Lane, or anywhere in any major city in the US or UK, would carry the name of an airplane company founder and CEO, who started as a pioneering designer. The is so far-fetched as to be ludicrous. There aren't a lot of Ben Rich, Clarence Johnson or Sydney Camm Avenues out there.
Moaning about the wider culture gets us nowhere, but another encounter last week in Paris points to something else. I spent quite a few minutes talking to a French industry communications guy, a few years younger than me, and was struck by his enthusiasm for - and knowledge of - the sort of work that put le Patron'sname on the Champs. (For instance, in the early 1960s, when active jammers in the US and UK were the size of refrigerators, the relatively small Mirage IV bomber had a full jamming suite on board.)
You can go through a complete aero engineering course in the US and never take a history class, or even listen to a lecture or an address on the history of the business. Is it strictly necessary? No. Does it help you tell people about your own job so that it actually sounds interesting? Absolutely.