Planes, Trains, and Cassoulet
Professor Tim Stoneman and students from his Industrial Regions of Europe class, HSOC 2100, visited Toulouse and Airbus Headquarters hosted by ENSEEIHT (“N7”), a French engineering school in Electrical Engineering, Electronics, Computer Science, Hydraulics and Telecommunications. N7 has partnered with Georgia Tech-Lorraine since the campus first offered the dual-degree master’s program.
A midnight arrival at the Toulouse train station did not deter the group’s host, Professor Danielle Andreu, head of ENSEEIHT’s International Office, from welcoming the students.
The next morning, after a breakfast exchange with N7 students, the group, including Dr. Turab Zaidi, Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s Aerospace Engineering professor, set out for the main Airbus production facility just outside of Toulouse. Perched on an elevated glass deck inside the massive A380 production hangar, the group received an explanation from their Airbus guide detailing the incredible A380 production process, from the design stage all the way to commercial service.
After the Airbus tour, students visited Aeroscopia, Airbus’ aeronautical museum, which houses a number of historical aircraft, and documents aeronautical culture, a strong part of the region’s identity. According to Dr. Stoneman, “We received a helpful overview of the history of the aircraft industry in France from our English guide and witnessed the first plane to cross the English Channel, the Bleriot 11, and the earliest mega-transport plane, the Flying Guppy, a forerunner of the famous Airbus Beluga.” Other highlights were walking through one of nine Concordes produced, and an A300, Airbus' first civilian aircraft.
Alban Leman, a 2000 graduate of Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s dual-degree program with ENSEEIHT, joined the group for lunch at Airbus, hosted by our friends at N7. Dr. Stoneman described the post-lunch visits, “Afterwards, we received an in-depth visit to Airbus's digital flight simulators, a real marvel of computing design and software engineering, as well as a visit to the Iron Bird, a full-scale electrical and mechanical simulation of an Airbus 350 aircraft."
Next, the group was greeted by another Georgia Tech-Lorraine alum, Stanislas Martin (GTL 2003), who provided an unexpected opportunity to board a test plane, the A320, just back from a morning flight. Added Dr. Stoneman, “This was an incredible treat, as students were able to sit in the pilot's seat in the cockpit and learn first-hand of the many experimental operations of the aircraft.”
Further proving that it pays to have friends in high places, Alban took the group on a tour of Airbus' avionics computer production facility, where the company assembles its own motherboards and in-flight computers.
In the evening, N7 hosted a reception back in Toulouse attended by all participants, along with the director of N7 and a number of international students, including one who plans to spend the fall semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, as part of the dual-degree master’s program.
On Saturday, the GTL group and their N7 counterparts embarked on a memorable day-trip to the fortified French town of Carcassonne. They visited the cathedral and castle keep, and took a walk along the medieval fortress’s crenellated walls before taking a lunch break. This being France, there was no chance of lunch being a slice of pizza and a can of Coca-Cola; mais non, it was time to sample a regional specialty, cassoulet. N7 hosted a delicious three-course lunch. Tim Stoneman, Georgia Tech-Lorraine’s resident gastronome, remarked, “Not only was the food delightful, but the opportunity to spend two hours à table with our hosts helped to genuinely consolidate our mutual friendship. We left students at the train stations in Carcassonne and Toulouse as contented as could be, to continue on their way to Lyons, Marseille, and Paris before returning to Metz on Sunday night.”
Touring world-leading industrial sites in and around Toulouse in the company of an Aerospace Engineering professor and Georgia Tech-Lorraine alums, making new friends at ENSEEIHT, discovering the historical wonders of Carcassone while savoring the local cuisine, all made for a rich experience and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that could only have been had by those who opted to spend the semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine!