5 questions to Grazia Vittadini, Chief Technology and Strategy Officer, Rolls-Royce.

Portraits - Pioneers of the aerospace industry and political decision-makers provide personal insights and their assessment of current industry trends.

1    Do you have a special memory at ILA Berlin? 

I will always have a vivid memory of my first ILA in 2002: This is where I saw the Eurofighter development aircraft “DA-1” – the very first aircraft I ever worked on – in flight for the first time.

Since then, I have had the privilege getting to know one of the pilots of this flight – Chris Worning, an extraordinary Danish experimental flight test pilot – in person as a colleague at Airbus. And I have also had the immense pleasure of actually flying in a Eurofighter Typhoon last April. A truly breath-taking experience: What a powerful aircraft! And at Rolls-Royce, we are contributing to building its engine.

So today, 20 years later, I am as fascinated as ever by this aircraft, which has accompanied me along most of my aerospace career.

2    What are the biggest chances or challenges for the aerospace industry today? 

Sustainability is both, a huge challenge and a great opportunity for the aviation industry! 

Preserving our climate and environment is the foundation upon which to build the future of aviation, both ecologically and economically. 

Already today, about 180 states have ratified the Paris Agreement and pledged to limit global warming to significantly less than 2°C. As these states take concrete measures to reach their targets, being part of the problem will entail a huge commercial disadvantage. Being part of the solution will however pay off.

Consequently, we not only have a societal and environmental imperative to act, but also the chance to seize one of the greatest technological and commercial opportunities of our times.

3    How does Rolls-Royce contribute to sustainability and innovation in a concrete way? 

At Rolls-Royce we are applying systems thinking to this challenge, creating interconnected solutions for generating, storing and distributing clean power. For aviation, we have defined clear steps on the journey to net zero by 2050:

First, we are committed to making a step change in efficiency of our gas turbines. For example, our UltraFan technologies will save 25 percent fuel compared to the first generation of Trent engines. 

Second, we champion Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) demonstration and adoption. Today, engines are still only certified to fly with a fuel blend containing a maximum of 50 percent SAF. By next year, all our commercial aero engines will be compatible to fly with 100 percent SAF – and we strive to get official certifications for full SAF-flights.

Lastly, we are developing third generation technologies, such as hydrogen and electric propulsion. And we have the first results in the air already: in November 2021, our `Spirit of Innovation’, the world´s fastest all-electric aircraft, gave us a glimpse at what is possible. This project allowed us to leverage unrivalled aerospace and electrical engineering expertise and to achieve considerable breakthroughs to make all-electric flight a reality! 

4    What was the best decision you made in your professional career? What advice would you give the younger generation about choosing a career in aerospace?

The best decisions I possibly made was to try adopting a specific mindset: constantly daring to take the next step and never giving up. 

It started with the decision to learn how to build airplanes because, back then, the Italian air force declined to train female pilots. It continued with the fact that in almost each of my jobs, I was the first woman. And of course, I always needed to be open to live and work abroad – in Germany, France, now the UK – to follow my big passion for airplanes. I never regretted working up the courage to accept a new challenge.

So, this is also the main advice I would give young people: follow your passion! Because if you love what you do, you will most probably become very good at it. 

And if your passion is aerospace, this is the best time to join our industry! We are facing big challenges in making our industry sustainable. This gives us the opportunity to become creative as engineers and to work with best and diverse teams across different sectors.  

5    If you could meet one famous aerospace personality from the past: Who would it be and why?

I come from Milan, so it would definitely be Leonardo da Vinci! He was a true visionary, designing flight devices centuries before the first airplane actually took flight!

And, he is an outstanding example of how creativity unites art and engineering. With his holistic and diverse approach, he achieved an incredible level of mastery in both domains and brought them together.

I would love to talk to him about the challenges we are facing in aviation today – he would certainly have some valuable advice and unexpected ideas!