Get to Know Eric Bradford, PE, LEED AP
From Launch Pads to Theme Park Attractions: Structural Engineering Leader Thrives on Challenges of Technically Complex Projects
What’s one of the most complex projects you’ve worked on?
I was the structural engineer of record for Hagrid’s Magical Motorbike Adventure Attraction at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. This ride replaced the Dueling Dragons coaster that was designed by BRPH 20 years prior. The design and construction of this project consisted of new coaster foundations, multiple ride and support buildings, numerous scenic elements and an extensive renovation of the existing queue building. A team of 15+ structural engineers worked on various elements of this project throughout the project lifecycle (2017-2019), starting with condition assessments and concept design all the way through construction.
What was the most challenging aspect of that project?
When we’re working on a ride or coaster, one of the most critical responsibilities is ensuring that the coaster foundation can support the loads created by the ride itself. On Hagrid’s, we worked closely with a geotechnical consultant and our in-house civil team to design the ride foundations and support structure that could successfully meet the stiffness criteria, or degree of movement, provided by the vendor. Working within such a small margin is challenging and exacting work but it’s incredibly important to ride safety and performance.
What gives you the most professional satisfaction at the end of the day?
I take great pride in building my team of structural engineers and helping them achieve their goals. It’s always satisfying to tackle a problem analytically and to be able to come up with a working solution—or to find the right person on my team to solve that problem.
About 25 percent of my team have earned their SE, their professional engineering license in structural engineering, showing they are truly dedicated to and are among the most knowledgeable in their discipline.
One day you may be working on theme park attractions, the next day rocket launch pads or even a school. What’s your favorite type of project to work on?
There are cool aspects about every market we work in, and I find satisfaction in each of them —whether it’s a launch pad with tank farms, an integration building and a pad structure with a launch mount or a steel-frame manufacturing facility with multiple cranes and long span trusses. My wife is a teacher, so I also enjoy working on schools. There are lessons to be learned from every project. Discovering those differences and similarities is the fun part.
Do you think working across multiple markets enhances your skills? How so?
Definitely. Several years ago, I was working on a launch pad for a commercial space company and a theme park attraction around the same time. Both projects required a very large and very deep underground pit to be built, and the excavation process was very similar on both. Both projects were located in Florida where the water table is very high, making the process of driving and sustaining 100-foot tension piles more complex. We were able to take some of the knowledge learned on the first project and apply it to the second, even though these structures have two very different end-uses.
What’s the most interesting place your career has taken you?
I have had the opportunity to travel and support projects throughout North America. I really enjoy travelling to BRPH regional offices to spend time with the structural team and clients.
One travel experience that was pretty amazing, though, was a trip to the Bahamas to visit a private island owned by a major cruise line. The client booked us on a private plane charter from Fort Lauderdale followed by a skiff ride through the mangroves to the island. We spent the day touring the island and discussing planned improvements then flew home the same day.
What is the biggest misconception about your profession?
In general, engineers are labeled as quiet introverts. That is often true, but when an engineer is passionate about something and comfortable in their environment, they come out of their shell and offer a tremendous amount of value. Finding individuals that are passionate about engineering and setting up an environment where they can thrive is the key to success.
What advice would you give to advancing professionals or to your younger self?
First, hard work pays off. Second, focus on adding tools to your toolbox and adding value rather than promotions. Third, seek out mentorship and develop and maintain trusting relationships with your co-workers and firm leadership.
Was there a particular person or story that inspired you to choose this career?
Actually, not really. I have always enjoyed and excelled in math. When applying for college, I researched all the different types of engineering and originally gravitated towards civil engineering because it seemed so practical and tangible. I knew I made the right career decision, however, when I started my first structural engineering job. I just feel so mentally connected with my fellow structural engineers. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are doing what you were born to do.
Eric Bradford has two decades of industry experience and has been with BRPH for 11 years.