“Your values and behaviours … are what make you.” Chris Long talks with Veronique Roca, Chief Engineer, BelugaXL, Airbus.

I had no idea when I was a teenager that I would one day be working in the aeronautical industry; that I would one day be a Chief Engineer for Airbus, and in particular working on an iconic aircraft in the European skies: the BelugaXL.

I have always been curious, passionate about what I do, with a strong ambition for achievement. When it was time to choose a career path, I opted for a higher education course in engineering at an aeronautical university.

It was there that I discovered just how immense and varied the aeronautical industry playground was, and I quickly realised that I would not like to specialize in one field of engineering but rather work on overall aircraft integration.

I was very lucky – my first job was exactly that, working for Airbus in the loads domain, where the objective was to understand an aircraft’s response to the forces applied to its structural components such as the wing, HTP [horizontal tail plane], fuselage, etc. With such a technical background and opportunities to increase the scope of my activities further while working on the A330 and A380, I was nominated Chief Engineer for the A330 and then for the BelugaXL, the role which I currently hold.

The Whale of the Skies

The BelugaXL is a unique aircraft, made by Airbus for Airbus, a lifeline between our 11 plants in Europe and our final assembly lines in Hamburg, Germany and Toulouse, France. It is an integral part of our industrial system, and a key enabler for our production ramp-up. When a vote for the livery was opened in 2017, our employees responded with just under half of them voting for the one that was finally selected: the charming smile with the sparkling eye.

How Did We Do It?

We took an A330 from the assembly line in Toulouse and used the bottom fuselage, wing, engines, landing gears, and vertical tail plane. We defined the junction elements at the fuselage frames to then fit the 8m-wide upper part of the fuselage coming from our design-and-build partners. We adapted the rear part with added surfaces to ensure lateral stability in all flight conditions. We adapted the air conditioning system, as the main cargo hold is not pressurised. We defined the door systems, operative on the ground only, with two actuators on articulated arms to operate our 3t heavy main deck cargo door, 24 hooks linked to latching and locking chains, as well as sensors to ensure a fully locked door. We defined the cargo loading system, also only operable on the ground, with 41m-long rails and motorised rollers to position the load at the pre-defined area, and locks to maintain them in position.

We did it together with a number of suppliers in Europe and the US, from launch in November 2014 until now, ready to certify and entry into service by year-end 2019.

The first flight of our smiling whale of the skies, 19 July 2018: what a success. A glorious summer’s day in the south of France, under a clear blue sky, the aircraft was airborne, behaving just as per simulator tests. An incredibly successful start to our flight test campaign.  And here we are, just over a year later, finalising this campaign, with our documentation ready to be presented to EASA to obtain certification.

What an incredible opportunity it has been to be part of this adventure, collaborating with the small team that was created and dedicated to this programme.

Being a Woman in Industry

I honestly see myself as being no different to anyone else in this industry. Your values and behaviours, rather than gender, are what make you, and this is what is important.

Hard work and remaining humble in order to keep listening and learning from the team around me have been my key success factors. This has paid off; the permanent smile on our BelugaXL is proof of that.

Whenever you see this whale above you over Europe, please smile back!  

Published in CAT issue 5/2019