Felix Baumgartner and Engineering Status

Throughout my education as an Engineer at University and more surprisingly in the RAF section of the Combined Cadet Force I was led to believe that the terminal velocity of the human body when falling in air was 120mph. It did not occur to our lecturers to qualify their statement by saying “within the first 30,000ft. of sea level”. Consequently it came as quite a shock to many of us when Felix Baumgartner recently exceeded speeds in free fall of between 700 and 800 mph, well in excess of the speed of sound at sea level. The answer of course is the lack of atmosphere at 128,000ft. where only 1% of the quantity of air present at sea level exists to decelerate the fall. Well done Felix for reminding us of the generalisations of educators that can easily obscure the truth.

Those of us who make a point of reading the letters section of the Times newspaper will have observed over the last three weeks various authors commenting on the importance of Engineering and the status of those who call themselves by that much misunderstood title. Nothing stirs the Engineer’s angst more than this issue. Without wishing to be “stuffy” The UK is unique in the adoption of that term to denote roles such as the washing machine repair man, the welder, the British Gas pipe fitter/ plumber. Chartered Engineers are given the same title after having spent 4 years at University followed by a minimum of 4 years approved professional training in industry. Not so in France and Germany where the engineer is set apart as a valued, esteemed professional. Perhaps the time has come for a new title to denote the “professional Engineer” which might aid to restore the Engineer's status which is so absent in present day Britain. Along with status goes remuneration of course and in that respect the “Engineer” has a lot of catching up to do to equate to his colleagues in the legal, financial and medical professions. Despite misleading salary surveys by the Engineering Institutions suggesting to the contrary, low salaries and consultancy fees are at the root cause of the absence of Engineers in the jobs market. Perhaps the only solution would be to legislate to ensure that buildings and bridges are designed only by properly qualified and insured professional Engineers. After all the Chartered accountant’s success in achieving respectable salaries is owed largely to government legislation principally designed to protect the Inland Revenue’s interests. What would be wrong with legislating to ensure that our Buildings and structures are designed in an efficient and safe manner by properly qualified professional Engineers?