Thursday 27 February 2020


We hosted a parcel of 16 Transition Year teenagers at The Institute at the end of Rag Week. I was tasked to help greet them and give them a tour of the research facilities and, at the end of the day, get them to fill out Evaluation Forms and take a group photo. I also got to coat-tail on their visit to the aeronautical engineering hanger, which I'd never been inside. That gave me a few opportunities for vicarious war-stories of The Boy's years in the airline industry. He went to school near Dublin Airport and a, perhaps unsurprising, number of his pals' fathers were airline pilots. It was through one of them that he got his gig as a ground-handling agent [bag-slinger, toilet-tankerer; plane-batter] for Ryanair when it was still a modest almost local enterprise. A month before he started work, one of his predecessors had failed to follow the SOP [standard operating procedure] for walking in front of propellors and had been minced down to the waistband for his carelessness.

That led to a discussion about the damage done to the machinery from such contact with flesh-and-bone. Thankfully, man-meets-engine is much rarer than bird-strikes; not least because birds are too dopey (and illiterate) to read the SOP.  That means engineers don't really have to design turbo-fan blades to cope with human contact but do so need to take account of bird strike. I explained this to the youngsters [rapt because the story was potentially gruesome] by saying that engine-engineers will order a bunch of chickens; fire up the engine in their test wind-tunnel then lob birds into the intake and assess the damage. Everything went well, I said, until someone failed to follow the SOP [defrost the chickens before throwing them at the engine] with catastrophic results for the fan-blades. There was a moment of palpable confusion as they realised that the unfrozen birds were dead. Whoa lads, I added, they're engineers not a class of unhinged sadists; how do you think they'd get ethical approval for using live chickens in a destructive testing assay? Which served as a seamless side-step into Ethics in STEM which would be unlikely covered at school.

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