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Turning a passion into a career

Award winning second year apprentice Thomas Hornsby discusses his love of engineering and how he grew this into a career at BAE Systems.

The IET’s Mary Jane Halstead with BAE Systems apprentice Thomas Hornsby and Managing Director Chris Boardman.

Early years

From a young age I loved to play with Lego and Meccano and could often be found dismantling and attempting to rebuild toys. I suppose this must have given me a push in the right direction at a young age, but my main influence had to be my father. Dad was an engineer at British Aerospace for over 30 years and would fix cars in his spare time in the garage. If there was a car in there that’s where you’d find me, with a spanner, even if I wasn’t old enough to do anything. As I grew up so did my interest in aviation and engineering. At 12 I joined the Air Cadets and began air experience flights at 14.

First project

At this time I also got my first motorbike, which was from a friend’s back garden. It had been left on its side for three years and became my first big engineering project. It was in no shape to pass its MOT but with the help of a Haynes manual and all the pocket money I had, slowly each part was cleaned, repaired or replaced. After a few trips around the block I took the bike for its MOT. Passing with no advisories, it became roadworthy just in time for my sixteenth birthday. Ever since then I’ve been fixing friends bikes and cars in my spare time, never missing an opportunity to learn or practice a new skill.

Turning a hobby into a career

After sixth form I enrolled onto an autosport engineering and technology foundation degree course. This taught me a lot about design and development of engines and anything that went fast. After a year I joined the BAE Systems apprenticeship scheme, which I’ve loved.

The apprenticeship

The first year focused on mechanical and electronic hand skills; learning how to rivet, drilling and manufacturing parts in various ways and using some interesting materials such as aircraft grade aluminium and carbon fibre. It also included a CAD section and project section, which was to create a task for apprentices to use all their skills in one job.

I also really enjoyed working with aircraft. In the workshop we had a Tornado GR1 that was used for flight-testing before being delivered to the training centre. Here we were given the chance to follow maintenance or repair procedures, remove actuators or sensors and reinstall various components.

What followed…

Towards the end of the first year the apprentices were divided into two groups: craft and technician. Craft continued with hand skills and the technicians worked on the design and aircraft sections. This is the route I followed, which led me to winning two Military Air and Information Apprentice Awards and my placement at Warton on Typhoon systems integration.