Mission Controller

Hi, I’m Shane Smith, technical lead at the Advanced Structural Testing Centre (ASTC).

I’ve got over 37 years of experience in structural testing at the University of Sheffield, working in the Civil and Structural Engineering department before jumping at the chance to come and work at the AMRC.

Shane Smith 2 croppedThe best thing about working in the structural testing team is that we work in one of the only UKAS accredited university laboratories in the UK. I looked after a testing laboratory in the university for over 20 years but nothing compares to this place – it’s totally different from other testing facilities! In addition the team have a positive can-do attitude and we look at inventive solutions to perform tests – no’s a word we don’t like to use!

My role in the Whiffletree project is Mission Controller. The project is essentially Steve P’s baby but we all help each other and work together to get results. I’ve been helping Steve implement the rig designs, check that what we’ve made is okay, fit all the stuff together; then I’ll be looking at doing load programmes and verifying them. All the team have their strengths but I’ve probably got a little bit more experience so am just overseeing the project and helping out where and when I can. Phil would say I’m the ‘Yes man’ – I’ll always find a way to do something.

The part of the Whiffletree project that I’m most looking forward to is when we actually run the programme and start to put some loads on the plane. Before we get to this stage though we need to verify the load – we need to make sure what we’ve programmed is actually what’s coming out of the actuator; we can’t just let the programme loose on the plane without checking as if it damages or breaks the plane we’ll be held accountable.

The most interesting project I’ve been part of to date was being part of the team that built a test machine that tests concrete cubes to simulate how concrete behaves in nuclear reactor walls. This was back when I worked in the Civil and Structural Engineering department at the University of Sheffield. Initially, those commissioning the test machine, approached machine tool companies to quote to build the test machine, however these companies refused to do it as they said it wasn’t possible. My boss at the time was adamant he was going to build the test machine so off we went! It took 2 years and weighed 36 tonnes but all the nuclear reactors around the UK have experienced extended lives because of the tests carried out at Sheffield on the machine we built. The machine is still in the Civil and Structural Engineering department today and is still the only one of its kind.

If I had the opportunity to fly any aircraft it would be the Vulcan. Firstly because it’s as old as me! But also because it’s awesome! If I were allowed to fly it I’d want to do a roll in it just for the hell of it.