Beginning as an engineer at Airbus Helicopters, Sophie Adenot’s career has been exceptional from the very start. Subsequently becoming a helicopter pilot and then the first woman to be a helicopter test pilot in the French military, the next phase of her career should take her into outer space - having stood out from a pool of 22,350 candidates, she recently embarked upon a training programme to become a European Space Agency astronaut. 

Despite her rigorous schedule, Sophie participated in France’s annual July 14th military parade, piloting a very majestic H160 in formation with other seminal members of the Airbus Helicopters family. In anticipation of the event, she shared with us her passion for flight and her remarkable career path that is paving its way towards the stars.

Did you always want to be a test pilot and astronaut, or did your ambitions evolve as your career advanced?

SA: Yes, I wanted to become a test pilot and astronaut since I was a little girl - it's a dream that has never changed. What evolved throughout my career was developing the self-confidence to be able to actually try to make these dreams come true. It was initially challenging for me to give direction to my career path. Although I knew what I ultimately wanted, I rarely knew if the most recent choice I made for my career was the right one.  As I gained experience, I learned to listen more to my intuition.

The idea of being a helicopter pilot was always fascinating to me, even from when I was very young. We can explore speed ranges from zero to 315 km/h. We can carry out a whole range of missions, including winching, search and rescue, transportation, and going to the mountains or the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, I never imagined I would have such a packed career. I started as an engineer at Airbus Helicopters. Then I tried a new challenge - becoming a helicopter pilot, then another - becoming a helicopter test pilot, and then a new one… Had anyone told me that I actually would end up here today, I would never have believed it.

 

 

You began your career with Airbus Helicopters - what was your role and how did it help you prepare for your future?

SA: Being an engineer at Airbus Helicopters in 2004 was my first job right after my aeronautics & astronautics studies at SUPAERO and MIT. I was fascinated by helicopters. I felt lucky to have an opportunity to work with teams in the design office. I worked on the design of the H225 cockpit, particularly the implementation of the EGPWS (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System) and the TCAS (Traffic Collision Alert System). It was challenging, because at that time, they had never been implemented in helicopters. Now, this system is fully operational and enhances flight safety.

Tell us about your experience piloting the H160.

SA: Safety has been enhanced with the H160. Many new innovations and technologies have been integrated. A camera on the tail films from the rear, showing the exterior of the helicopter so the pilot can always see every obstacle around them. The glass cockpit means the pilot has a constant overview and understanding allowing them to concentrate fully on the particular mission that they might be flying. It’s a game-changer in terms of the missions, the piloting and the comfort of the passengers.

 

H160 in preparation for July 14th parade

 

As a pilot and test engineer, what innovations do you think will be important for helicopters in the future?

SA: First, I value all steps which will contribute to enhancing flight safety. Airbus has many innovative ideas on this topic. It is challenging, and the effort is worthwhile. Second, today, we are all concerned with the climate crisis. I know Airbus is already working hard on this topic, doing research and testing equipment to help reach IATA’s net zero CO2 emission objective by 2050. We need to gather all forms of intelligence because our true challenge is to leave a sustainable planet for future generations. Third, as I have a passion for human-machine interaction and cockpit design, I hope many innovations will change the future of cockpit design, to help crew members with decision-making, situation awareness, flying skills, handling emergencies in uncertain situations. I will be keeping a keen eye on any advances in this area.

 

Remote video URL
 ESA astronaut candidate, Sophie Adenot and TFI reporter, Anne-Claire Coudray soar above central Paris in an H160

 

You are the second French woman to participate in ESA’s astronaut programme. Can you tell us a little bit about what is involved?

SA: We learn a lot of theory to learn how to operate the system, normal and emergency procedures, and maintenance, like plumbing and electricity on the space station. Our primary role is to contribute to science and research. Thus, we also learn the fundamental theory to be able to perform experiments because for the majority of our time, we are researchers in this flying laboratory. We also learn how to treat injured colleagues with first aid and stitches - in space, we need to be completely autonomous even in the medical sector.

What does it mean to you to play a part in the July 14th celebrations?

SA: I am very happy to share my enthusiasm with hundreds of men and women who share the same values for France’s freedom and democracy, as well as their passion for aeronautics and astronautics. 

This year, for the 14th of July, I will be in the H160 from Airbus Helicopters, in a formation flight with my former colleagues from the French Air and Space Force. I’ll be wearing my blue astronaut flight suit. It will be the intersection of the three institutions I have dedicated my career to: Airbus Helicopters, the French Air and Space Force and the European Space Agency.

 

*Some of the quotes have been adapted from Sophie Adenot’s interview with TF1 reporter, Anne-Claire Coudray.