Giving wings to your childhood fascination is no easy feat, especially when you have set your sights on a career that is sky high, literally !
Aditya Battin, our next pathbreaker, Technical Specialist at the Innovation Center at Bell Helicopter India, develops state-of-the-art aircraft propulsion technologies that are all set to change the way aircrafts fly, with a focus on hybrid and electric technologies.
Aditya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about graduating with a Masters degree during recession, but never backing down from his quest to understand the inner workings of the most complex aircraft – the helicopter.
For students, it doesn’t matter where you start your journey. But wherever you end up depends on how high you want to fly with your determination and persistence !
Aditya, tell us about your background?
I was born and bred in Dadar, Mumbai. My father, a B.Com graduate, has a khadi retail shop in Dadar and my mother is a housewife. As a kid, I was very much interested in the workings of the Universe. The fact that there are billions of stars in our galaxy and that there are billions of galaxies in the universe absolutely boggled my mind. My father had bought me a book on space, written by the famous Indian astrophysicist – Mr. Jayant Narlikar. Here, for the first time I got introduced to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I tried to make sense of it but failed miserably. It was such a big mystery to me. This failure to understand it piqued my interest even more in topics related to space & the universe. Even today, I keep myself updated on new advancements in this field. I was also interested in how things worked, like how did cars and trains move? How did aeroplanes fly, really? What were the underlying fundamental laws that made these amazing feats possible? I had to know!! On the extracurricular front, I was very good at cricket and I played season ball cricket for my school and later for my college. I was a decent student and I graduated my 10th standard with distinction and decided to pursue the science stream as my interests aligned with science more than any other streams.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After my 12th, I decided to pursue Mechanical Engineering. I believed a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering would not only help me learn about how machines worked but also help me establish a financially stable career. However, as I entered my third year, my father suffered a massive cardiac arrest. Throughout his hospitalization and his slow recovery period, I managed the family business. This meant that I had to miss college and my engineering grades suffered. I wanted to quit, but I soldiered on to graduate as the first engineer in my family. After graduating, I continued helping my father in his business before deciding to pursue my Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of Texas, Arlington, USA.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
As I mentioned earlier, as a child, I was very inquisitive about how things worked. I used to try and figure how everyday objects such as clocks, telephones, fans worked. I was fascinated by technology. I wanted to understand how cars moved when the driver pressed the accelerator, how aeroplanes flew, etc. This interest led me to choose a career in mechanical engineering.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.
After my Master’s degree, I got placed in my dream company – Bell Helicopter in Texas, USA. Bell makes helicopters. This was a great opportunity for me to understand the inner workings of the most complex aircraft – the helicopter. On my first day at Bell, my boss asked me, “So, what do you want to learn about helicopters?” to which I said, “Everything”. I wanted to understand not only how every small component in the helicopter worked individually but also how all the components worked together so as to equip the helicopter to fly in the air. I started as an engineer working on small design change projects. After a year or so, I moved to Bell Helicopter India at Bangalore. Here, I was promoted to a senior engineer role. I led a team of 5 to work on computer modeling of aircraft components. I also worked on a complex project related to the tail rotor component design of the helicopter. The tail rotor is the small fan on the tail of the helicopter which helps the pilot steer the helicopter left and right. Over the next two years, I successfully executed multiple projects and my hard work and dedication was spotted by my manager. I was chosen for the Textron Leadership training in India and later I was handpicked to work on a new helicopter development program in the USA. In the USA, I worked as a system lead responsible for the design and lifecycle management of the complete aircraft cooling system. I worked with other teams at Bell and managed global vendors. This experience helped me learn a lot about how the aircraft cooling system helps keep the engine and the transmission of the helicopter cool and functioning. Upon successfully completing the program, I moved back to India to lead the Bell Innovation team at Bangalore. My main focus here was to develop alternative aircraft propulsion concepts. Helicopter engines like car engines emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are harmful to the environment. So, big aerospace companies like the big car companies are focused towards developing environmentally friendly aircraft concepts. I led a very smart team to build prototypes of green propulsion concepts such as fuel cells, batteries, etc., and also filed two electric aircraft patents. Throughout my career, I had a desire to learn more and this desire helped me propel forward in my profession. Although there is always so much more to learn, after 10 years in the industry, now I feel I have developed a strong hold on the technical aspects of my work.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break through campus placements. However, when I completed my Master’s, there was a global recession and my hiring was put on hold. I managed to pay my bills by doing part time jobs and by working as a research assistant with my professor. Eventually as the economy improved, I got the call.
The strategy here was just to survive. As I mentioned earlier, my Master’s graduation coincided with the global recession and it was hard to find a job in the desired industry. For a foreign national like me in the US, it was even more difficult. So to make ends meet, I took up a part time job at Alcatel Lucent, as I waited untill i got a call from Bell Helicopter.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
In the US, on the new helicopter development program, I was one of the youngest members in a team of experienced stalwarts. For me, the learning curve was very steep. Every engineer was in charge of one aircraft system, and I was tasked with the complete design of the cooling system. I was expected to deliver with speed and accountability and to certify the system in a mere 1.5 years.
Initially, I was overwhelmed by the number of tasks that I had to manage and missed multiple deadlines. It was also difficult for me to understand the technical communication in daily meetings. I overcame these challenges by prioritizing my work and working overtime so as to not lag behind in schedule. As I started performing, my confidence rose and once I had picked up the momentum, I never let it go.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?
I work as a technical specialist/project lead of the Innovation team at Bell Helicopter India. We are responsible for developing state-of-the-art aircraft propulsion concepts. One needs to have a technical know-how of how different propulsion systems work and also a sound knowledge about the technical advancements in this field. As a project lead, I supervise the projects that are being executed in the team. I am involved in technical discussions & vendor discussions.
How does your work benefit society?
Our work at Bell can help change the way we fly. With a focus on hybrid and electric technologies, our new concepts can help facilitate a safe flying experience in an environmentally friendly way.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
The design of the aircraft cooling system on the 505 Helicopter model is very close to me. If you ever spot a 505 helicopter flying in the sky, you can see the face of the heat exchanger unit, that I designed, near the tail boom of the helicopter. I am very proud of this achievement.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses. Identify your strengths and use them to your advantage. Work hard. Really hard. Remember that nobody was born successful. They’ve worked hard day in and day out to be where they are. So work hard and you will be successful in whatever you do.
With the technical experience under my belt, I believe this is a great time for me to transition into leadership roles. So I plan to advance my career in leadership.