Coachlines - November 2023

27.11.23 Freeman Patryk Nelkowski

An engineer through and through, or the story of someone who is good at fixing (most) things

I spent my formative years in Poland, surrounded by a family that upheld the long-standing values of mending, re-using, and re-purposing. I fondly recall a day when my Grandad (also an engineer), in need of a new window frame, took me into the local forest to cut down a tree – a memory that ignited my passion for working with my hands and repairing things.

This was totally normal to me. “Doesn’t everyone source their DIY materials directly from mother nature?” Little did I know it wasn’t commonplace, but this out of the ordinary undertaking taught me valuable a lesson about the origin of everyday items and established the important link between raw material and finished product. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that upon relocating to the UK at the age of nine, I naturally gravitated towards technical and engineering subjects in school.

Throughout my secondary years, my incredibly tolerant mother endured the unconventional sight of a MIG welder residing under my bedroom desk, and my somewhat larger air compressor stealthily tucked away in the kitchen. With my living space bearing an uncanny resemblance to Geppetto’s workshop, I enthusiastically pursued my engineering endeavours with a mix of passion and creativity, quickly discovering how not to do things and the age-old process of trial and error.

When the time came to choose my educational path after secondary school, I seized the opportunity to enrol in a four-year aerospace engineering programme offered by Exeter College in collaboration with Flybe. This marked my initial exposure to the world of precision engineering and the aviation industry, igniting what was to become a profound passion. Following the completion of my Part 66 B1.1 basic training, I graduated with all required modules and a foundation degree in Aircraft Engineering.

Despite the transition of my qualifications from EASA to CAA, after Brexit somewhat limited my “globetrotting engineer” career prospects, I was fortunate to join Flybe’s base maintenance facility in Exeter, and embark on a professional journey contributing to major and line checks on its fleet of Q400s and Embraers. Luckily by this time I had mastered the art of putting things back together with no leftover pieces – a valuable skill, even to Flybe’s unbeknownst passengers.

In parallel, I secured the Sir Sydney Camm Scholarship from the Coachmakers. This esteemed livery company supported my transition from a foundation degree to a BEng through part-time studies at Kingston University.

The year 2020 brought unexpected changes as Flybe went into administration. Adapting to the situation, I quickly transitioned to a role as a quality inspector at an aerospace manufacturing firm. I found no shortage of mentors and gained valuable lessons in engineering standards, precision measurement and precision manufacturing, all of which would prove useful in the future.

Following a few weeks of touring almost every aircraft maintenance facility in the county, luck finally smiled upon me when I was offered an engineering position at FlyMoore in Dunkeswell.

Embarking on my journey in general aviation, I was greeted by the hum of piston engines and a stream of new challenges.

Eager to absorb knowledge, I delved into every available book, surprised to find that even though the information was new to me, it was in fact well-aged, like a good French cheese. Immersing myself in wartime literature helped me navigate the intricacies of setting valve clearances and master the newly found art of magneto timing. This grew my love for general aviation and with the support of my colleagues and boss quickly led me to become an Engineering Supervisor, overseeing various engineering tasks in the maintenance hangar. I was again fortunate that in this role I was able to offer help, experience, and mentor some of my friends and colleagues who had not completed their training at Flybe when it ceased trading.

Hungry for continuous learning and new challenges, I was soon left feeling unsatisfied as yesterday’s obstacles turned into today’s routine, the novelty was no longer novel. Then, fortunately for me the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers offered a new scholarship to fund young engineers to go on fabrication skills courses, so I applied for the Victor Gauntlett Scholarship and was fortunate enough to be given some money to go and learn how to make aeroplane things the old-fashioned way. I gratefully accepted this gift and it allowed me to attend courses focusing on aircraft fabric and woodwork, acquire additional tools, and cover expenses related to volunteering with vintage aircraft operators and maintainers, including spending time working with Navy Wings at RNAS Yeovilton.

Empowered by the scholarship, I became self-employed, and began working on vintage aircraft and cars. My enthusiasm for engineering and all things old even led to me helping to maintain and restore a Sherman tank, tying into my other interests in wartime history.

In February 2023, I returned to commercial aviation and expanded my business, operating under my own limited company, working for private individuals and MROs across the UK and Europe. Now holding a B1.2/B3 licence, I began certifying numerous GA aircraft, opening doors to progress within the B1.1 category.

Then in the summer of 2023 came a new challenge – a Cirrus aircraft needing some TLC after an unfortunate “ground hug” with a fence post. I spent a couple weeks planning the wing makeover, acquiring the necessary tools, and carrying out the repair. I even braved the dreaded task of colour-matching paint. It was like being an artist, but instead of canvas, I had composite materials.

Having signed the certificate of release to service (CRS) and handed the aircraft back to the customer, I was able to reflect on the job and appreciate that overcoming the technical challenges also gave me valuable insights into job planning, logistics and time management.

At present I am a certifying engineer diligently working toward the attainment of my Light Aircraft Association (LAA) inspector’s certificate where I can help people with their aviation hobby as well as have fun doing it, keeping them safe at the same time. Alongside this I’m pursuing an FAA A&P (American Engineer’s Licence) certificate and keeping many other engine powered machines on the road.

In my journey, my success isn’t just my own; I have been supported by my employers, guided by individuals I have met throughout my career, and generously backed by the Worshipful Company of Coachmakers and Coach Harness Makers, all of whom have been instrumental.

Now a Freeman of the Livery and a member of the Aerospace Awards Committee, I help allocate scholarship awards to future engineers, giving others the opportunities that I gratefully received.

To find out more about the aerospace awards go to