CAREER STORY #Phillip Sheen

I want to help SkyDrive become a leader in the market, and also to help nurture and grow a very capable team of engineers.

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Phillip Sheen
Aircraft Integration Team, Vehicle Development Group, AirMobility Division 
Graduated from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine with a degree in Aerospace Engineering in 1990. After graduation he has worked on a variety of civil and military projects for a variety of companies across 3 continents, but also took a career break to follow his passion for skiing and travel. Primarily working in Flight Characteristics, Control Law Design and Simulation areas, with some time working in Flight Test, and then progressing onto Aircraft Integration leadership roles. He has experience across all phases of the aircraft design cycle, from initial concepts through to certification and onto product support. He joined SkyDrive in August 2021 as Team Leader for the aircraft Integration team.

−  Please explain about your current position. 
I am the Leader of the Aircraft Integration Team. The Air Mobility Division is responsible for the design, development, certification and delivery of what is ubiquitously known as ‘flying cars’. The Aircraft Integration Team is part of the Engineering Team that’s responsible for designing and making the product.

Our team’s role is primarily to define the outside shape of the vehicle, but also covers lots of other aspects of the vehicle’s design.The design process is not completed by us alone, but together with the requirements of other teams, we design the optimal shape considering strength and other factors.

We have a pretty good overview Aircraft Integration team is made up of the following specialisations: Aerodynamics, Aeroelastics, Flight Characteristics, Loads, Noise/Acoustics, Performance, Simulation, Weights. We interact with a large number of teams within the company (Structures, Avionics, Propulsion, Safety, Flight Controls, Flight Test), and also externally with customers.

Few of the whole aircraft and the compromises that need to be made to make a successful product. Also, we provide lots of information and data to the other engineering teams so that they can do their work more effectively and efficiently.

I feel that the most rewarding part of being a member of the Aircraft Integration team is the opportunity to be involved in the various issues that arise during the design of an aircraft.

ーWhat kind of team is the Aircraft Integration Team?
The team is made up of some really smart and intelligent people who are pretty specialised (‘rocket scientist’ level smart) but, usually, they can explain their subject clearly and concisely to less knowledgeable people, like me.

ーWhat is your role in your Team?
My role as Aircraft Integration Team Leader is to make sure that my team and I help the company to design the best possible product for the customer within the constraints that we’re given in terms of time, money and technology. 

For instance, even as a technical leader, I understand the individual members’ skills  and coordinate with other teams. Support the motivation of team members. Help them to grow as professionals. 

ーHow do you communicate with your team members?
I basically speak English with them.  In my previous job as well, I basically communicated in English. I feel embarrassed that my Japanese has not improved much even though I have been in Japan for seven years, but the fact is that English is the base for communication with people from various backgrounds.

I have worked with people from many different countries, and I find it wonderful that Japanese people are not unwilling to accept foreigners, and they are very welcoming.

ーHow do you communicate with members who do not speak English?
With members who do not speak English, interpreters are there to help.
On the technical side, I try to speak with gestures, diagrams, documents, and simple words, and if it is still difficult, I ask other members to help me, and we can communicate 99.9% of the time.

What made me want to become an aerospace engineer was an air show that my father took me to when I was a child.

ーWhat is your background?
I went to University in London (Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine) and graduated in 1990. 

ーWhat made you decide to become an aerospace engineer?
I think that it has a lot to do with going to airshows with my parents when I was younger. 

My dad was lucky enough to have worked on some interesting aerospace projects in the 60’s, and we’d go to airshows regularly. As a young kid, there’s something quite impressive and inspiring watching an airshow – the noise, the manoeuvres, the speed.  

One abiding memory I have is of the Avro Vulcan displays that I saw during my multiple visits to the Woodford Airshow, where the aircraft was originally built .Looking back, I think that was probably one of the main reasons for me wanting to be an Aerospace Engineer.

To be associated with something so beautiful and graceful, but also something so complex, powerful and to some extent mysterious.  I know how an aircraft works, but there is still something amazing when you watch tonnes of metal, and literally millions of bits, take to the air with people onboard.

After working for British Aerospace and Boeing, I left the industry for three years to ski and work in a hotel bar and a ski resort.

ーWhat is your work experience?
After University, I started to work at British Aerospace, at the Woodford site where I used to go to watch some airshows.  I worked in the Aerodynamics Department in the Stability and Control Team for 5 years, working on a variety of projects such as the ATP, Jetstream 41, BAe 125-1000 and Avro RJ.

 I also had a period of time working with the Flight Test team.  I was also given responsibility for Control Law design within the company and was the industrial supervisor for 2 PhD students and collaborated on an international research project (GARTEUR) on FbW.

 Then at Boeing, I was working for the 737 ‘Classic’ team and I was involved in support to incident and accident investigations.  It was a great experience and was involved in planning a variety of very interesting flight tests and also supporting discussions with the NTSB etc.  I learnt quite a lot from that experience and it was interesting to compare the working methods and styles between two very large companies – both very professional, well organised and structured, but with different approaches.

Then Boeing down-sized and one Tuesday I was told that I would not have a job after Friday.  Bit of a shock, but not a lot that I could do …

ーWhat did you do then?
It was in Autumn of 1998, so I returned to Italy and decided that I would have another winter of skiing as the job market wasn’t very good at that time.  That season turned into 3 years away from the industry … I would do winter seasons skiing and working as a barman or in a ski shop , and the summer would be travelling around Europe, S.E. Asia and Australia finding various jobs to do to pay the bills but enjoying life and creating some great memories. 

ーThat’s a very rare experience. How do you feel when you look back?
I think I was very lucky to have had this opportunity as it gives you a different perspective on things and exposed me to a lot of people with different backgrounds and approaches to life – it’s quite easy to sit in the quite ‘privileged’ world of university educated engineers which is not the reality for the majority of people.

ーHow did you return to the industry?
In late 2000,  I was contacted by a recruitment agency for an engineering position in Italy.  I had the interview and was successful and joined Aermacchi and started working on their project. I worked there for 10 years, and moved to Piaggio where I was approached by Bombardier Aerospace and asked to join their team for the C-Series development and certification. 

I was initially working in the design team before transferring over to the Flight Test division and supporting the flight test programme, with responsibility for the Handling Qualities assessments of the aircraft. 

I was lucky enough to have been in the TM room (Telemetry) to support the first flight which is something quite special for  a career in Aerospace. 

The team was made up of people with various levels of experience and backgrounds and it was great to watch the team develop, grow and bond as the flight testing progressed – it was hard work, but also extremely satisfying work. 
We developed a great relationship with the pilots and Flight Test Engineers built upon openness and honest communication and that enabled us to get our job done efficiently.  It was 5 years from start to finish – again another good experience that helped to reinforce the need for good personal relationships as well as good technical knowledge and understanding to get the job done.

 It was another set of ideas and processes to learn and adapt to based upon a different cultural history, but it also showed that most people want to do the right thing.

I came to Japan, a country I had always wanted to visit.

ーWhat made you start working in Japan?
Just after we certified the first version of the CSeries, I was approached by a recruitment agency for a position with MITAC in Nagoya.  As Japan was somewhere that I had always wanted to visit/work, I jumped at the opportunity. 

I joined in 2016 and started in the flight characteristics team, but I quickly became involved in recruitment and management activities for the Aircraft Integration Department, particularly for the non-Japanese employees.  At the same time, I continued my technical duties and also became the technical authority for several teams and the representative for the department for problem solving and multidisciplinary discussions. 

I chose to work for SkyDrive because it has a vision and a passion for what it is doing.  I wanted to feel more involved and also to enter into a new area, with new challenges.

ーWhat made you join SkyDrive?
Since the suspension of the MRJ project, I talked to Mark, who lives in New York and is in charge of R&D at SkyDrive, and he introduced me to the company. I thought it was a very challenging project, so I applied for it myself via the website.

Actually, when I received the offer from SkyDrive, I had received an offer from another startup company.

I chose to work for SkyDrive because it was a small company and it has a vision and a passion for what it is doing.  Being small gives so many opportunities to grow and expand as a person, professionally and personally, as the company grows.  You get a much more complete vision of the project, of the issues but also feel much more involved in the successes as your contribution is much more direct and significant  than in a big organisation. SkyDrive seemed like a perfect fit since I wanted to feel more involved and also to enter into a new area, with new challenges

ーPlease tell us about your day at work.
I generally aim to work from home 2 days a week.
Basically I get up early, have a fairly relaxed breakfast etc.  I drive to work using the 1 hour of commute time to catch up on world news etc.  After spending the day meeting and discussing with team members, and doing individual work, I go and pick up my kids, prepare their dinner and just spend time with them. I go shopping, do some exercise or just watch TV depending on the day.  Usually in bed around 10:30.

ーHow do you describe SkyDrive?
It has a very strong internal team spirit.  The relationship is good, friendly, and open.  There are also quite a number of informal clubs with SkyDrive for various activities, so there is always an opportunity to keep yourself busy.

It understands and supports the need to balance work and life in order to get the most out of the members, and it is flexible about how and where people work.

ーDid your impression of SkyDrive change before and after you joined?
I think SkyDrive before and after starting is very similar to how I imagined it to be.  It wants to succeed and to grow and that is evident during all the day to day discussions.  That passion/desire may be slightly stronger than I had imagined before joining.

It is a small organisation that is growing rapidly.  It’s flexible and adaptive.  The organisation is made up of people with widely differing backgrounds and experiences and is forming its own identity and culture.

SkyDrive wants to be a leader in the revolution that is coming for mobility. I would like to support and contribute to the team and the company.

ーWhat kind of career would you like to have at SkyDrive?
My intention is to help SkyDrive grow and develop multiple products for our customers.  To help SkyDrive become a leader in the market, but also to help nurture and grow a very capable team of engineers.

One where I enjoy what I do and feel that I am contributing something to the team that I work with and to the company.  I’m not interested in titles or positions, just in trying to do the best job that I can do and feel proud of what I do everyday.

ーWhat kind of people do you think will fit well with SkyDrive?
Must be kind, hard working, technically experienced, and able to work in a team. 
Someone who can trust and work with other members would be perfect for this company. 

ーPlease give messages to applicants.
Because SkyDrive is a small company, you can have many different experiences, so I would love to work with people who enjoy being able to see the whole picture. We look forward to hearing from you.

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