Boeing Engineer of the Year to give lecture at UL

16 Mar 2012

Irishman Dr Pio Fitzgerald, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Engineer of the Year 2011. Photo by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Irishman Dr Pio Fitzgerald, who last year was named Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Engineer of the Year at the age of just 34, will give a free lecture at his alma mater, University of Limerick (UL), next week on engineering innovation.

It was back on 12 November when Fitzgerald earned the highest engineering accolade from Boeing at the Dubai Air Show. He was also one of four nominees for the Innovator of the Year award from Flightglobal. Previous winners of this award include Richard Branson in 2009 and the aircraft manufacturer Embraer in 2010.

Fitzgerald won the top Boeing engineering award, surpassing thousands of entries from Boeing engineers globally, for his work leading an engineering team through the development of a solution to a subtle vibration discovered while flight testing the 747-8 Freighter.

Future Human

Currently based in Seattle in the US, Fitzgerald is a native of Killarney in Co Kerry. He graduated from UL in 1999 with a bachelor of engineering degree in aeronautical engineering. As part of his degree, Fitzgerald undertook an eight-month co-operative education placement in 1997 with Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which formed the basis of his interest in his current speciality, flight-control laws.

He has worked on Boeing’s 747 programme for the past six years as the lead engineer responsible for the design and development of control laws.

How did he do it?

Here’s a little bit more about the engineering innovation that earned Fitzgerald Boeing Engineer of the Year:

In early 2010, Boeing encountered a design crisis with the new 747-8F jumbo jet freighter aircraft. At the time, “flutter tests” revealed a vibration in the jumbo freighter’s wing.

Fitzgerald and his team made aerospace history when they developed the Outboard Aileron Modal Suppression (OAMS) system that dampened out the flutter on the Boeing 747-8F without necessitating any physical redesign of the aircraft.

His breakthrough system required an agreement on a “regulatory special condition” between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing. Fitzgerald’s ingenuity secured FAA certification and contributed to the delivery of Boeing’s innovative jet in October.

Sutter Twist solution comparison

When Fitzgerald gleaned the award in November, engineers in aerospace circles started comparing his accomplishment to the Sutter Twist solution four decades ago, when a similar design crisis faced the original 747 passenger aircraft.

Now coming up, on Wednesday, 21 March, Fitzgerald will deliver the first of the 2012 UL Alumni Association (ULAA) alumni public lectures. The free lecture will take place at 3.30pm in the Jean Monnet Lecture Theatre at UL. People must prebook, however, in order to secure a spot.

His lecture is titled ‘On The Shoulders of Giants – Being Part of the Team Which Designed the Next Generation 747’ and is sure to appeal to students and graduates alike who are aspiring to delve into engineering careers.

Speaking today, Bobby O’Connor, chairperson of the ULAA, said the university was delighted to welcome Fitzgerald back to his alma mater.

“Boeing Engineer of the Year is an astonishing achievement for a young person and we are delighted to welcome Pio back to his alma mater to deliver what promises to be a fascinating lecture appealing to a wide audience, from students to academics to aviation enthusiasts,” said O’Connor.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic