Cadets Scoop Prize in Schools Aerospace Challenge

27 Nov 2017

A team of air cadets were announced the winners of the 2017 Schools Aerospace Challenge at a special awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London. 

The Aerospace Challenge asked the teams to design an ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (UAV) for the Royal Air Force which was capable of carrying a 1000kg payload and be deployable anywhere in the world within 24 hours. The teams also had to consider logistical factors such as runway requirements, air traffic control, fleet size and economics.

The winning team included Sergeant George Wood, Sergeant Thomas Cameron-Jenkins from 1408 (Dorking) Squadron and Corporal Harry Pite from 1254 (Godalming) Squadron. Corporal Pite replaced Flight Sergeant Harry Mellett from 1408, who had to make the difficult decision to drop out halfway through the competition in order to complete his ACPS flying scholarship. 

The team decided to enter the competition when it was suggested by their Squadron Commanding Officer as an interesting project.  Designing the UAV called on much of the knowledge gained from their ACP training, especially ‘Principals of Flight’ and ‘Airframes’. 

They also put some of the mathematics learned in school to practical use. The Squadron Padre, who was once a flight engineer on 747s, overheard some complex discussions about calculus equations - so the squadron staff limited themselves to encouraging the team as it was clear that the ‘talent and expertise’ was most definitely with the cadets not staff.

The aircraft they designed was a hit with the judges, named Pteranodon - a flying dinosaur with a huge wingspan.  The team researched the best construction materials to use (carbon laminates as used in the 787 Dreamliner), designed features such as fuel tanks incorporated into the wing structure to aid stability and prevent changes in the centre of gravity as fuel is burnt off, and chose Rolls Royce RB199 engines to power their aircraft. 

The engine choice was well thought out, as they are currently used in the Tornado GR4.  This means the RAF already have personnel trained to service them, and when the Tornados are retired in 2019 the engines and spare parts will have a further use.  The design also made use of GPS, pre-programmed flight plans, and anti-collision technology.

The team submitted their entry in May 2017 and gaining a place in the top 12 nationally which meant they enjoyed a residential ‘Aerospace Experience Summer School’ at Cranfield University over the summer. 

This included lectures and briefings on aerospace and engineering from military and industry experts, visits to RAF Waddington, Hybrid Air Vehicles, and Marshall Aerospace and they were also stretched with practical challenges, and the opportunity to experience ‘indoor skydiving’.

Sergeant George Wood, the team captain, said: "I was very proud to lead my dedicated and focused team.

This experience has taught us many things and we feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate in the Schools Aerospace Challenge. From our idea and submission of our entry, to the week at Cranfield, the experience has not only developed us as individuals but also as a group.

Winning was the cherry on the cake, I feel honoured to accept the award and I hope it inspires other air cadets to enter next year."

Flight Sergeant Harry Mellett had this to say: When I first heard about the competition I knew it would be an intriguing and interesting challenge.

“My main input into the team was to design the UAV based upon the concepts and ideas of my other team mates.

“In order to help with this I used a piece of software that NASA use, which was really cool! As I was on my flying scholarship in Dundee, I was unable to attend the week at Cranfield University but I kept in touch with my team to hear about their amazing experiences.

“This project has been a fantastic opportunity and I very much enjoyed working with my fellow cadets. I was so proud to have been invited to the prestigious Institute of Mechanical Engineers where we were announced as the winners.”

The Commanding Officer of 1408 Squadron, Flight Lieutenant Andrew Byrne comments: The Aerospace Challenge is a perfect example of the opportunities which can shared with cadets, encouraging them to try something new and different, and bring alive the training the RAFAC delivers.

“I am absolutely thrilled that the team won, but more importantly that they enjoyed the experience.  Watching cadets accept the challenges put in front of them, and then surprising themselves with the success they achieve, is what drives me as a volunteer. My thanks must go to the Wing, Region and HQAC staff who support and enable squadron staff to deliver opportunities such as this one to the cadets.” 

As winners of the overall competition, the team will share prize money of £3,000.  For the team members from 1408 Squadron, this has created more work for them.  Their Commanding Officer has tasked them to come up with a STEM project to engage and benefit other cadets on the squadron, using the prize money to fund it.  The decision as to what that project will be is ultimately in their hands - as they are the proven experts.

The 2018 Schools Aerospace Challenge will open shortly so keep an eye out for it and get your team together.  You can read more about how the Challenge works on their website There are many opportunities like the Aerospace Challenge which cadets of all ages can get involved in.  Ask your Training Officer or CO, check on Bader sharepoint, and talk to other cadets about what they have done.  The only challenge you will fail is the one you don’t attempt.