Interview with Professor Sir Iain Gray

As an engineering science graduate, Sir Iain Gray was attracted to the aerospace industry by the prospect of working on Concorde, the Anglo-French supersonic airliner.  Joining the aircraft’s team at British Aerospace’s  Bristol Filton plant “was like a dream come true,” he says.

Another pinnacle of Sir Iain’s three decades at British Aerospace and Airbus was as head of engineering on the Airbus A380 “double decker” wide-bodied airliner when it made its maiden flight in 2005.

“It was a magnificent moment, ,” he says. “The culmination of 10 years’ engineering effort. To be part of the team seeing that aircraft successfully take off and fly was probably the highlight of my engineering career.”

Making the decision no longer to build its own aeroplanes meant the UK lost focus and sacrificed its international influence, Sir Iain says. “The UK gave away overall leadership in commercial aviation, though it still has a very strong position in some sectors”

In 2007, Sir Iain became the first chief executive of the newly formed Technology Strategy Board, interacting with 5,000 companies including smaller organisations and start-ups. His efforts fueled the transfer of multiple skills, for example applying predictive airflow aviation software to blood flow modelling and trends in insurance.

Every job includes drudgery, but Sir Iain looks for positives. “If you are asked to photocopy a document, read it on the way to the machine and ask a question about it when you return,” he says. “Always seize opportunities for learning. And don’t be afraid to ask naïve questions.”

Looking ahead, among technologies Sir Iain eagerly anticipates are liquid hydrogen fuel cells, microsatellites, graphene applications and the use of  drones in surveillance and healthcare delivery.

Sir Iain was interviewed by Jane Bird for Archives of IT.