Gateshead engineering apprentices inspired by new military helicopter

Engineers who completed apprenticeships at Gateshead College and now work for Ford Aerospace at the Port of Tyne have played a major role in helping to build a new military helicopter.

Five employees, originally from the North East college, have helped build vital parts for the Leonardo AW149, which is one of several medium helicopters that could be the British military's next medium helicopter to replace the RAF's Puma.

Liam Shields, who worked on the components, told ITV News Tyne Tees: "I done a four year apprenticeship and then I’ve been out of the apprenticeship for four years. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to do and work with parts and the technology that we work with now. It’s been really good."

Leonardo AW149 Helicopter Credit: ITV News

If Leonardo wins the MoD contract, the company could be in line to build between 36 and 44 new helicopters.

Test Pilot at Leonardo, Mark Burnand, said: "It’s powerful. It’s agile. Manoeuvrable. It’s manoeuvrability belies it’s size really. It’s an 8.3-8.6 tonne helicopter, but actually it feels like a small helicopter, so when we’re flying low level, tactically, it’s really good for terrain masking, avoiding obstacles, avoiding threats."

Current Gateshead engineering students got a close up look of the new aircraft at Newcastle's helipad and said they were inspired by the latest aviation technology.

Vanessa Nusakanya, an engineering student, said: "It makes me excited to think that I will be doing something so amazing like this. To be making helicopters and stuff like that, it’s great to know, yeh, I’m excited about it."

Leonardo AW149 Helicopter Credit: ITV News

Her college tutor, engineering lead, Charlotte Brass, added: "It’s something that’s been in the North East. It might not be the whole thing, but even just them critical parts that have been getting manufactured. It’s great to give our students the chance to come here and see that this is what they could go on to do, because there’s only so much that we can show them inside the building, but then they can come here and see something in the flesh."

Ford Aerospace told ITV News that there are plans to roll out two more training academies in 2023 with a long-term aim of offering 100 traineeships a year.

Alison Charlton, from the Port of Tyne based company, said: "Apprentices in conjunction with Gateshead College come through the Ford Academy. Fantastic career opportunities in engineering. We’re in a deprived area. There’s not a lot of kids that’ll get this opportunity to do this and it’s an amazing career."