“You’re a capability,” was Dr Tony Lindsay’s insightful takeaway message for the first-ever winners of the Altitude Accord Scholarship Tour recently.

Dr Lindsay is the Director of Lockheed Martin’s (LM) STELaRLab. He was addressing students during their visit to the company’s impressive R&D lab – LM’s only such facility outside of the U.S.

“You’re young and have the latest skills. That’s what companies like ours need. Lockheed Martin has 52,000 scientists and engineers across the globe, but Australia was chosen as home for the STELaRLab because of the quality of its students and their niche skills,” he continued.

This was early and reassuring acknowledgement for students that their diligence in earning a place on the Scholarship Tour would reap rewards.

Our tour in July 2019 was part of the first student-focused outcome of The Altitude Accord, a partnership between Lockheed Martin Australia (LMA), Regional Development Australia (RDA) Hunter and the University of Newcastle, announced in February 2019. This three-way strategic and operational alliance actively seeks to raise the skills base of the Hunter’s future workforce by growing a ‘5th Generation’, technology-enabled talent pool. The Altitude Accord aims to ignite student interest in STEM careers in the Hunter’s defence industry and at Lockheed Martin Australia.

And ignite interest it has!

A group of 12 University of Newcastle Aerospace Systems Engineering students qualified for the inaugural prize as reward for ingenuity in executing their first-semester Introduction to Professional Engineering (ENGG1500) projects.

“The Scholarship was certainly a motivator. Students really committed to producing innovative and successful solutions to the engineering challenge we set them. They worked hard to apply their technical knowledge and develop a design that solved the problem. They learnt by doing – and they failed a few times – but the prize definitely played a role in their commitment to the task,” said Dr Dylan Cuskelly, Lecturer at the School of Engineering, University of Newcastle.

The qualifying competition saw the 70 strong first-year cohort design, construct and test a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that could demonstrate delivery of a payload to a designated area. Based on aircraft performance, ingenuity and a judges’ choice, three teams qualified for the coveted prize – a four-day tour to Lockheed Martin Australia sites in Melbourne and Canberra and attendance at the ADM Women in Defence gala awards dinner.

“From early on in the course, our team recognised the immense value that this scholarship represented and devoted a considerable amount of resources towards the goal of securing a position,” student Gerard Lazarus said on behalf of his team. “To say that the effort was worth it would be a stellar understatement!”

I was pleased to join the inaugural tour as part of the RDA Hunter team. The participating students were, indeed, overwhelmingly proud of their achievement, acutely aware of the gravitas of the people with whom they were networking and honoured to be part of it. And they had fun!

The Tour kicked off with an exclusive look at the brand new 3 Squadron Facility at RAAF Base Williamtown. Hosted by RAAF’s FLTLT Joseph O’Gara and LMA’s F-35 In-Country Lead, Mr Andrew Doyle, students experienced the F-35 close-up. They saw the fleet’s ‘car-park’, visited the hangar where the F-35 was in-situ, and the equipment without which it can’t be flown: the custom-fit CAD designed carbon fibre helmet which includes sensors, cameras and night vision so pilots can navigate in all conditions; and the 8kg G-Suit that regulates pilot blood pressure to avoid grey-outs during gruelling missions. They also learnt about the aircraft’s stealth and communications capabilities.

In guiding students through the impressive new $1.5 billion facility built to accommodate the F-35s in Williamtown over the project’s 40-year lifespan, FLTLT O’Gara said, “RAAF’s people are grown to have a breadth of experience rather than a specialisation. We’re about capability. There are so many systems associated with this aircraft as well as maintenance and sustainment, personnel management and air-worthiness – we need people to be adaptable. We actively help them build their skills and develop competencies.”

And Andrew Doyle reiterated, “Our work with RDA Hunter and the University of Newcastle is about helping to create the workforce of the future. The Altitude Accord gives students an idea of the career opportunities that are available for them. The excitement they get from understanding what we’re doing here at LM and the realisation of the possibilities and how they can be involved is really satisfying for us.”

With Andy’s words of encouragement, the contingent waved goodbye to Williamtown and headed to Melbourne for two days of money-can’t-buy LMA experiences. First stop was Lockheed Martin’s Science Technology Engineering Leadership and Research Lab; STELaRLab.

Under the direction of Dr Lindsay, it partners with Australia’s finest minds and academic institutions to solve some of the world’s most enduring and emerging challenges. The Lab is connected across all LM businesses and provides thought-leadership to Defence and defence industry.

Students were lucky enough to meet STELaRLab’s staff of 16. Dr Lindsay overviewed its role in supporting all Lockheed Martin businesses and innovations globally and coached them on pathways to careers in the company. His team then guided students through demonstrations of the innovative work they undertake to keep LMA’s systems at the cutting edge: autonomous systems that ‘learn’ to beat humans at tasks, using AI to solve air combat battle management problems, and experimentation to help hone algorithms and predict scenarios.

A highlight was meeting JSF Chief Systems Engineer for LMA, Rotary & Mission System, David Harrison, who provided an incredible insight into the design and development of the F-35 and why it’s the world’s most advanced. He recounted his work on the original design of the aircraft – the engineering challenges it presented and how the team innovated to overcome them. He overviewed his diverse and interesting career and encouraged students to pursue engineering, “I love my job and have had an amazing career (so far!). Engineering can take you anywhere,”. And, as a welcome, but slightly intimidating, surprise he also critiqued students’ MVP projects – providing guidance and tips on applying engineering theory to improve performance.

Next stop was LMA industry partner Marand, a leading global supplier of precision engineered solutions to a range of industries including Aerospace, Defence, Rail, Automotive and Mining. Marand is the largest supplier on the F-35 program in Australia and one of the biggest worldwide, producing the F-35 Vertical Tails and the F-35 Engine Installation and Removal Trailer. Students were permitted to tour the secure Marand engineering facilities and see the Vertical Tail line, and Engine Trailer assembly zone.

Marand Project Manager, Jason Cornwell said, “It’s great for us to be involved in initiatives like this so we can showcase not only what we do here at Marand but also the different defence industry opportunities that students can look forward to following their graduation.”

Student Christopher Neal said the Marand visit had made him even more passionate about a career in the aerospace industry.

“Being exposed to aerospace engineering and the industry has just been incredible. We (Australia) have a fairly big hand in the F-35 program and to go in and see how the vertical stabilisers are assembled from start to finish … and picking everyone’s brains about the general operations of this facility has been great,” he said.

The Australian Aviation Museum in Moorabbin was next for an animated guided tour of the collection of Australia’s aviation history. Students saw the evolution of Australia’s fighter jets and the stark contrast between old technology and that of the F-35. I was mightily impressed that the students had as full an understanding and interest in the old aircraft as they do in the new and that, as fabulous as our guides were, our students’ knowledge was as vast.

The group then transferred to Canberra in time to attend the ADM Women in Defence Gala Awards Dinner where Australia’s women in Defence and defence industry were honoured for their contributions to the sector. Staged by ADM Managing Editor Katherine Ziesing and hosted by Australian journalist, newsreader and advocate Tracey Spicer, the event featured contributions from the who’s who of Australia’s Armed Forces and the workforce that supports Defence. A highlight for students was the recognition of graduate systems engineer Taylah Griffin as Rising Star. Taylah was honoured for her work on RAAF’s early warning aircraft, as well as her efforts to inspire more Indigenous people to consider careers in science and engineering.

“I’m just so happy for her. She’s an inspiration to me. She’s indigenous like I am, and she’s made it in an industry that I’d love to be a part of. I hope that I can achieve the success that she has. Being at a night like this is an incredible opportunity to network with amazing women and be part of something I never thought I would be,” said student Stephanie McManus.

The tour wrapped up on Friday morning with the much-anticipated visit to Lockheed Martin Australia’s Endeavour Centre. Students flew simulated F-35s, C130 Hercules and UAVs and re-thought flight dynamics in an aero-dynamics exercise that awarded them with a commemorative ‘shaving’ from the first Australian-built F-35.

Host of Friday’s session and a driving force behind the Altitude Accord, Gary Sutcliffe, LMA’s acting Chief Operations Officer said, “I hope the last few days have given you students an understanding of the range of opportunities that Lockheed Martin can offer. You worked hard to get here and our hope is that we’ve inspired you to remain committed to reaching your goal of a career in the defence and aerospace sector. LM has so many projects going on across Australia: you’ve had an inside look and I hope you’re heartened by what you’ve seen and encouraged to pursue a career with us.”

RDA Hunter has worked for more than 10 years on a range of STEM workforce initiatives to build a skilled, job-ready, homegrown Hunter workforce tailored to industry’s needs. It’s connected industry and students to encourage the study of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects and to promote defence industry opportunities in the Hunter to help persuade young people to stay in the region to pursue their careers.

The Altitude Accord is the newest addition to RDA Hunter’s suite of initiatives and, together with sister LMA partner project STEMstart that encourages a VET pathway to defence industry jobs, it is directly impacting students and presenting ways to find a start in real careers.

“Our work helps the Hunter’s young people to get ready for the future and understand there are opportunities waiting for them here in the region. The Altitude Accord is a genuine partnership between three organisations that have a true interest in building an industry-ready, skilled Hunter workforce and we relish our coordinating manager role in it,” said RDA Hunter’s Director of Regional Development, Mr Trevor John.

STEM Workforce Manager for RDA Hunter, Rick Evans, said, “The Scholarship Tour was a great way to cut through and directly impact students. Working with LMA and the University of Newcastle to influence the careers pathways of our future workforce is very satisfying.”

Last word to Toby Barry, student and aerospace ‘nut’, “This experience has been amazing. I’m serious about a career in the defence industry and having access to the F-35 and Lockheed Martin Australia like we did is just invaluable. The Altitude Accord Scholarship is awesome. It focused our efforts in ENGG1500 and we worked hard, but the reward was worth it! Looking ahead to the future, what we are able to do in this industry as a career really excites me and I can’t wait for what’s next.”

by Kate O’Mara
Projects, Communications and Strategic Specialist
RDA Hunter’s Director, Special Projects