Avoiding the ‘unsung hero’ trap

There is little doubt that high-profile engineering projects inspire engineers. Indeed, only a few issues ago, we carried an interview with James Godman of AgustaWestland, who cited Concorde as a major factor behind his choice of career.

With this in mind, during the week I write this, I will be attending the test firing of the Bloodhound 1,000mph car's rockets in Cornwall. This is a project that is to some extent predicated on the mission to inspire young people to appreciate the engineering that, it is hoped, will safely transport this vehicle and its occupant 12 miles in just 120 seconds, shattering the land speed record along the way. This concentration on inspiring young people is highly laudable, of course and Eureka wishes the Bloodhound project every success. However, the fact that it is even necessary for the Bloodhound project to have to emphasise the importance of top-class engineering to its success is a big part of the problem. Surely this should be taken as read? To take another example, this summer's Olympics were, by any standards, a triumph. However, if asked, I imagine few people would list engineering as one of the key reasons for its success. Yet it clearly was. The Olympic Games were among the biggest engineering feats undertaken in the UK since the Second World War and their success was largely due to engineers. But how many would make that association? It is tempting to think that it is always the fate of engineers to be unsung heroes. Does the argument that a sign of good engineering is that you don't notice it mean engineers are condemned to obscurity? The only way to avoid this fate is for engineers, whenever there is something to shout about, to make the most of every opportunity to do so. For this reason alone, the Bloodhound project should be applauded.