20 QUESTIONS: Giotto Castelli, e-Go

The Italian aero engineer is the first man to design and manufacture a plane in the UK in decades. Here he talks risking other people's lives and why suits don't make sense.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 27 Feb 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE, WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

When I started designing the e-Go I was also working part time with an NGO in West Africa, mapping part of a country and doing other very satisfying jobs. I had a few serious thoughts of staying there but in the end my building frenzy took over.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We’ve gone from e-plane to e-Go because of a trademark conflict. We tried to change it as little as possible as we already had quite a few followers.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Well I am quite biased towards mountains and some warm weather never hurt anybody. Southampton maybe?

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

It was out of our own pockets initially. Tony had a very good feeling about my design from the start and did a good job of attracting interest, to the point of starting off the small business. We didn’t spend very much, everything was done very simply but in terms of time and work we had help from many volunteers and friends.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

The day we decided to take e-Go on its first test flight. It’s a huge decision to make – you are basically telling someone to put their life in your hands, so you have to be completely confident in your work.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

Underestimating the time it would take to finish the prototype aircraft.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Having invented the aeroplane in the first place would have been a good one.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

Oh, my mouse is the one that suffers most from that. It is sometimes seen flying across the office. Being Italian also means that I can get away with some ‘colourful language’ as I am the only Italian speaker in the office.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Working at my university’s bar. I worked there with other two friends and we would make up all sorts of experiments with sandwich fillings, our customers loved them.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

Doing sub-contract work for Airbus eventually turned me off completely. I spent more than a year tinkering with the same structural component (one of the wing spar joints) and the same spreadsheets… it made my mind numb.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

I worked for Pilatus. We were designing a new aircraft, the PC-21. I saw it go from a concept to a flying aeroplane and learnt so much first as a designer and then in a ‘liaison’ role I had between design and manufacturing.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM NAME BE?

Hard to answer this one but I guess it might be ‘the e-goists’.

13. WHICH COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

Something to do with renewable energy. I like the concept and the challenge, but I would have to do a lot of homework to know which.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

A quarter share in the aircraft I own, a small composite two-seater. It’s real joy to fly.

15. SUITS OR JEANS?

I know, being Italian it would be obvious to go for a suit but I never understood why an item of clothing meant to keep you warm should leave you open at the chest…

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

It has to be flexible, very flexible in fact. I find that the best ideas hardly ever come up during ‘office hours’ anyway. Plus I am not a morning person so that alone does not agree much with standard office hours.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT YOUR OFFICE?

It’s out on a farm near a small village. I often take a short break from the indoors and venture out on the small grass runway from the farm for some fresh air. It’s a great way to rest my eyes if I have been on the computer a long time too.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

I don’t really use apps but one thing that I have found incredibly valuable is Google as a base for storing all my contacts and addresses.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

A good friend of mine, Armen Papazian, has some quite radical ideas on how the economy should all change and where the value should be. I understand about half of it but founding wealth on creativity is something I really appreciate and I think that’s a big part of why I admire him.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

Probably the economic model we use in some way. I do think that values are often in the wrong place and I don’t think this makes people happy in the whole.

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