Michigan Aerospace alum Sandro Salgueiro (BSAE ’15) is helping to drive some of aviation’s most innovative projects as a member of Airbus’s Team X. Harboring a deep passion for aviation since early childhood, Sandro has been developing conceptual designs for cutting-edge electric aircraft and rotorcraft in Toulouse, France.
Sandro reflects on the genesis of his passion:
“I used to spend a lot of time flying on flight simulators; by the time I was 16, I had spent 3000 hours reading aircraft manuals and logging simulated hours. When I was in high school in Brazil, I wanted to go abroad and study to become both an aerospace engineer and a pilot – I didn’t have a specific path in mind, I was just driven by sheer passion for aviation and flying. Michigan had the perfect environment: a top-ranking aerospace engineering program located in proximity to the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport, where top-notch flight instruction was available through the Michigan Flyers flight school.”
After receiving his Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering and commercial pilot’s license, Sandro pursued graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he delved into Multidisciplinary Design Optimization (MDO) of aircraft and air traffic management. His work on optimizing the range and endurance of a 2-seat electric trainer aircraft translated readily to one of Airbus’s current ambitions. Sandro notes:
“One of Airbus’s main thrusts is electric vehicles. Our latest proposed demonstrator is the E-Fan X, a modified BAe 146 [100-seat] plane that will show that we can power a megawatt class jet aircraft using electric propulsion.
I’ve also been working on the rotorcraft side, analyzing Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft architectures that rely solely on battery technology for propulsion. One of the main challenges [of designing electric aircraft] is that the specific energy (W-h/kg) of batteries is low compared to oil, meaning these aircraft tend to be heavy. However, they are completely clean in terms of emissions and can have lower operating costs.”
As one of roughly 10 members of Airbus’s highly-multidisciplinary Team X, Sandro is on the frontline of guiding the future research directions of Airbus. He explains:
“Our main responsibility is to guide investments made in the overall Research and Technology (R&T) portfolio of the company. We conduct technical studies on problems and concepts that range across the whole Airbus portfolio, spanning helicopters to spacecraft to airplanes. Team X is in charge of challenging the existing [Airbus] research portfolio, suggesting an optimized portfolio and making funding allocation recommendations.”
“Airbus is a very international place. In my group, we have people from Spain, Ecuador, France, Switzerland, Germany… This [diversity] is really exciting to me, the sense that people are willing to put cultural differences aside to work together and deliver products that help all of society. I also enjoy exploring and making the entire world my home, and the ability to be comfortable anywhere is a big thing for me. This experience has been helping me accomplish more of that; the more time I spend exploring unfamiliar places, the more the world feels like a smaller place.”
For those looking to integrate international collaboration and employment into their career, Sandro encourages active pursuit of that goal:
“First and foremost, be ambitious. If you have a clear career goal of working abroad, pursue it actively. It helps being in an international environment such as Michigan, which has a confluence of people. Cultivating contacts outside of your country and culture can help bridge the gap, but [ultimately] your talent and dedication go a long way. If you can prove that you can deliver results and are willing to innovate and go outside the box, people will come looking for your ideas wherever you are.”
Looking towards the future, Sandro plans to return to MIT in the coming two years to complete his doctoral studies. His time in industry is serving to add clarity to his Ph.D. topic selection and to reaffirm the importance of market forces in shaping technology development.