High-flying U of T alumnus helps pioneer all-electric personal planes

Kristina menton love airplanes. “I love everything about their aerodynamics, the beauty of the physics that makes them fly,” says the former student in the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Engineering at the University of Toronto.

Lately, Menton has experienced this aerodynamics firsthand.

She is the director of operations, flight tests and propulsion at Opener, a company that develops an all-electric single-passenger aircraft capable of vertical take-offs and landings called BlackFly.

“It’s not a flying car because it doesn’t have wheels and it can’t drive on the road,” she says. “It’s a personal aerial vehicle. It takes someone from point A to point B – across the sky. ”

Menton did not apply for a job at Opener – the company picked her up while she was still an undergraduate student in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. She already had experience with jet engines, having completed an internship at Pratt & Whitney Canada through the U of T Engineering. Multidisciplinary Design and Innovation Institute.

But his new job was something else entirely.

“I loved working in aerospace, but generally it’s a slow-moving industry,” she says. “What made it so exciting was the chance to be at the forefront of something new, which is electric aviation. I’m not someone who usually says no to a challenge. “

At first, Opener worked in stealth mode; Menton couldn’t even tell her friends and family what she was working on. Within a year, she was appointed head of propulsion. Soon after, she got her first chance to do a test flight.

“I had seen the plane fly autonomously for thousands of miles, so I knew it was safe,” she says. “I also spent a lot of time in the simulator, so the controls felt pretty natural to me. I just sat down to enjoy the ride, which was even smoother than I expected. Being able to see 180 degrees across the horizon, just floating out there in the air – it was a very pleasant experience.

In the summer of 2018, the company launched its website, allowing potential customers to see the BlackFly in action. If all goes according to plan, the first batch of vehicles will go on sale by the end of this year.

Menton says there is “no typical day at the office” at Opener, and that each of the company’s 50 employees must wear multiple hats.

For example, in addition to her work on propulsion design, Menton recently took on the role of Flight Test Coordinator. Managing field security protocols, staff and service schedules, equipment availability and changing weather conditions at three test sites has been a challenge, Menton says. But she adds that time management is one of her strengths.

“I remember when I was in first grade I found out for the first time that I couldn’t do everything I wanted,” she says. “I was working on problem sets with my classmates until 2 a.m. and then had to be ready for college basketball practice at 6 a.m.

During her first cycle, Menton also managed to make time to participate in high school awareness programs for young women considering a career in engineering. Partly, she wanted to give back after being mentored by professors such as Dean Emerita Cristina Amon and teacher Jean Zu, who is now dean of the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Menton recently appeared in the Changemakers problem of Globe and Mailof Business Report magazine.

What advice would she give to those who want to follow in her footsteps?

“Learn to deal with failure,” she says. “It’s going to happen, and it will happen unexpectedly, but the ability to cope with that failure is what matters.”

Menton also notes that women are still forced to overcome challenges in the workplace.

“As you move up through the ranks, you’ll notice fewer and fewer women around you. At these times, it’s important to speak your mind, not take ‘no’ for an answer, and find other women who can support you. I had these mentors and continue to find them now. They can help you keep pushing for what you really want. ”


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About Perry Perrie

Perry Perrie

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