Relentlessly rethinking rotorcraft

Published: 01 Jun 2015

Having entered the industry with Bell Helicopter almost 12 years ago in a structural research role, engineer Dave Dennison has advanced to become assembly line manager for its 525 programme, in Amarillo, Texas.

Where did you start out?

My first job was at a private golf course in high school, working as a cart boy, caddie and golf shop attendant. I worked for seven years at that job all the way through college, and learned a lot about how to deal with customers with high expectations.

My first aviation job was working for Bell Helicopter right after I graduated from Georgia Tech. I was hired on to the research structures organisation as an airframe designer. Some of the early projects I worked on involved advanced composites design, design for survivability and advanced tiltrotor concepts.

What came next?

I have worked in a number of roles and programmes primarily in airframe design. I was a designer and technical lead on the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) programme helping build four prototype aircraft, and helped start a production line for a US Army programme.

After that, I was the airframe technical lead for a single-engined light helicopter development programme, transitioned into the technical lead for the Bell 429 wheeled landing gear variant, and the technical lead for a cost and weight reduction programme for the Bell 429.

This all led to being named the airframe supervisor for the brand new Bell 525 Relentless. I helped lead that team through the conceptual, preliminary and detail design of the airframe structure, which has personally been the most rewarding role in my career. Building on that experience, I transitioned to a manager role, leading the systems integration design team on the 525.

Finally, I transitioned out of engineering for the first time, as the assembly manager for the 525. I started at Bell Helicopter in July of 2003, so I am quickly approaching 12 years now. I have been in my most recent role for six months. 

How large is your team?

My team is currently approaching 60 highly motivated individuals. These include mechanics, electricians, supervisors and managers. This is my first venture outside of engineering, and has been a terrific experience.

Few people get the opportunity to heavily influence the design of a cutting-edge rotorcraft, and then get to build it after the design is complete. The learning opportunity is immense. We are currently building flight-test vehicles to support our certification programme, but later this year will start building production aircraft.

We will be accelerating our line quickly to meet the huge market demand for this product. My primary objectives are to make sure the build of the aircraft is on schedule, on budget, safe, and of high quality. Additionally, I am responsible for ensuring the long-term strategy of the Bell 525 production and make sure it meets our programme objectives.  This allows me to be fairly strategic in my role, which is always fun and exciting. 

What’s the most difficult part of your job?

The most difficult part of my job is keeping focused on the long term goals. The key to success is being able to filter out the day-today noise, and ensure you are making progress towards your overall big picture objectives every day.

What’s most enjoyable?

Being around aircraft is always exciting. The complexity of these machines and seeing how all the systems work together is fantastic. However, seeing the passion in our customers, and how they use these products every day to save lives, is really at the core of why we do what we do. That is by far the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of my job.

What position do you hope for?

Personally, I would love to have the opportunity to lead a new development programme some day. I, like so many others, got into this business to invent new products and technologies. Innovation is incredibly exciting.

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