A long career full of testing times
Published: 16 Aug 2016
Turning a Boeing 707 into a VIP airliner was Juergen Lindgens’ first job at Jet Aviation in Basle. But the increased focus on safety regulations led him down a new path, as an expert in non-destructive testing.
How did you start out?
Upon completion of my apprenticeship as an electrician in an industrial company, I spent two years working on Lockheed Starfighters in the German air force before deciding to study aeronautical engineering at RWTH Aachen University.
I graduated with my master’s degree in 1978 at a time when Jet Aviation’s facility in Basle, Switzerland was looking for engineers to modify a Boeing 707 into a VIP configuration. I was fascinated by pictures I’d seen of the first Convair 880 that Jet Aviation Basle completed and displayed at the Paris air show in 1977, and I signed my employment contract without having seen their hangar facilities in Basle.
In the following years, I basically worked day and night trying to solve engineering problems so we could meet the design requirements of our VIP customers on various aircraft types, from the midsize Dassault Falcon 20 and 50 business jets to the Boeing 727 and McDonnell Douglas DC-8 airliners.
In a very real sense, we were true industry pioneers and it was a thrilling time. But it was also a lot of hard work, a lot of trial and error. Industry standards were not what they are today, and there were also accidents.
“I agreed to establish our own NDT department. I studied every night after work for six months”
But you ended up leaving the job for about six months?
In 1984, my boss invited me to join him on an aerobatic flying programme, during which the wing broke and the plane crashed. My boss lost his life inthat crash and I suffered a bit of a personal crisis, knowing that I was only alive because I couldn’t go.
I left Jet Aviation shortly thereafter to work as a sales engineer for an engine manufacturer. It wasn’t long before I realised I wasn’t born to be a salesman. Jet Aviation Basle director Elie Zelouf heard I was looking again and convinced me to come back. But I was reluctant to return to the engineering department and accepted instead a position as project leader, after which I was appointed hangar chief.
When did you start the non-destructive testing?
In about 1990, we realised that non-destructive testing [NDT] and inspections were increasingly required for business jets. As such, I agreed to establish our own NDT department. I studied every night at home after work for six months and eventually went to the German Society for Non-Destructive Testing where I wrote and passed my theoretical basic level 3 exam.
During the oral part of the exam, I met the people who wrote the first version of the regulation called EN 4179. This later became the standard for examination, certification and qualification of NDT personnel which is now regulated by the European Aviation Safety Agency.
When EASA requested that national NDT boards be formed in each country to standardise and control NDT certification and qualifications, I was one of the founders of the Swiss board, where I still serve as chairman. Twice a year, I also represent Switzerland on the European national aerospace NDT board, which works to harmonise special NDT rules across Europe.
What are your strengths?
I believe my strength lies in being able to work with people of all levels as a team while managing these completion projects. I actually enjoy situations in which you have to listen to many different people to find the key to solving a problem; finding that consensus and being able to deliver what the customer ultimately wants.
I also enjoy improving NDT processes, evaluating equipment and implementing changes or upgrading equipment as necessary. In my current role as NDT department manager, I feel responsible for passing my knowledge on to the younger people in my department, as I plan to retire in two years.
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