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James McKelvie (MEng 2009)

7 July 2014

When the Queen gave her name to the UK’s largest warship last week, Bristol graduate James McKelvie (MEng 2009) was among those for whom the ceremony marked the culmination of years of hard work.

When the Queen gave her name to the UK’s largest warship last week, Bristol graduate James McKelvie (MEng 2009) was among those for whom the ceremony marked the culmination of years of hard work.

James joined Thales UK in 2010, and was immediately assigned to the Queen Elizabeth Class as part of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, of which Thales is a founding member.

'Nothing prepares you for the sight of Queen Elizabeth in the shipyard,' says James. 'Standing on the flight deck, and looking around, you think "is this a ship?" – it’s almost surreal. And that’s just its physical size. The power below is staggering. Each carrier has two propellers which will generate 80MW of power. That’s enough to run 1,000 family cars or 50 high speed trains.'

The 65,000-tonne ship was unveiled to the public last Friday (4 July) when the Queen smashed a bottle of whisky on its hull at a ceremony in Fife's Rosyth dockyard.

With the capacity to carry 40 jets and helicopters at a time, and the length of 25 buses, the HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest ever warship to be built in, and for, the UK – and James has played a key role in the country’s most ambitious marine engineering programme to date. 

'I’m currently based in the power and propulsion sub-alliance, a group of companies including Thales, Rolls-Royce, GE Energy and L-3 Communications,' James explains. 'We’re responsible for delivering the ships’ marine power and propulsion technology – gas turbines, propellers, rudders, high voltage systems and an integrated management system.

'My current role involves the development of the ship’s integrated platform management system, which helps control and regulate the myriad of systems – on what is, essentially, a floating town.

'The system controls the ship via signals – signals that can be used to change the temperature in a cabin, increase the speed of the ship or, in extreme cases, assist in fire-fighting on board. When you realise there are simply thousands of these ‘signals’ on board, you get an idea of the scale of the system.'

In the past, James has spoken to Bristol undergraduates about his career and, just last week, as a Thales UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) ambassador, spoke to secondary school pupils about how to become an engineer.

'Going straight from university into such a major programme has been a fantastic experience, and I know I’m incredibly lucky to find myself in this position. I really had to get involved from day one – there was a real focus among my co-workers.

'Just a few years ago, I was completing my finals. Now I’m in one of the biggest engineering projects you could hope to be involved in. This role is everything that inspired me to get into engineering – understanding the complexities of such a large-scale project environment. I’m very proud to have studied at Bristol.'

You can watch a 60-second video of the naming ceremony on the BBC website.