Flying High: Students Scoop 1st Place In Air Race Challenge

Eight primary 7 students secured drone licences and participated in regular flying lessons in order to compete in the Aeronautics competition. The class of enthusiastic young pilots, from St Margaret’s School for Girls in Aberdeen competed against nineteen Scottish schools in the Schools Air Race Challenge run by Aerospace Kinross, after qualifying for the competition with their paper aeroplane designs. The primary 7 class had regular flying lessons in the school gym ahead of the task completion date.

The students were tasked with skilfully flying drones around an indoor obstacle course designed and made by themselves which featured landmarks including Ben Nevis, an underworld and a solar system to be navigated. Besides mastering the drones, pupils explored the principles of flight, engineering, forces and data organisation in physics classes and welcomed a number of guest speakers who have shared their experiences including air ambulance and former Chinook pilot, Mr Pete Winn; former RAF Air Traffic Control Officer, Mrs Mel Binfield; retired cabin crew manager, Mrs Elizabeth Brown; and former pupil Miss Emily Owen who is a Ground Safety Controller at Heathrow.

The Schools Air Race Challenge first launched in June 2022 and is designed for P6 to S3 students. Of almost 30,000 pilots in the UK, fewer than 5% are female.

Primary 7 teacher at St Margaret’s School for Girls, Mrs O’Neill said:

“I am absolutely delighted with the result which is testament to the skill and determination shown by the students. Taking part in the competition and exploring the challenges involved allowed the girls to develop great teamwork and collaboration skills with their fellow class members and most importantly, have fun while exploring the challenges. The pupils have worked really hard and I admire the curiosity and determination they have shown in their lessons. The cross-curricular skills required throughout has given them the opportunity to demonstrate their creativity by mastering video software and editing in ICT and designing skins for their drones in art lessons. They also experimented with payloads in physics, by figuring out how to carry objects, demonstrating their ability to solve real problems. The competition is a fantastic opportunity to empower girls with career aspirations in aeronautics; an industry where women are significantly under-represented, with few holding the most senior positions. Each pupil taking part has received their Young STEM Leader Award for successful completion of the programme.”

St Margaret’s encourages its pupils to study STEM subjects noting the stubborn gender gap which continues in the sector.

Headteacher of St Margaret’s School for Girls, Anna Tomlinson, said:

“There is still a clear need to address the gender STEM gap which persists today. Initiatives which encourage students to move into STEM studies and careers like the Schools Air Race Challenge, can help nurture interest and ambition in STEM fields and future careers.”

Primary 7 student at St Margaret’s School for Girls, Zoe Eke, said:

“As challenging as these last few months have been, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting hands-on experience with drones and coming first place feels very rewarding. Learning to pilot a drone was daunting and it took a lot of perseverance but I gradually built my skills and confidence during each lesson with Mrs O’Neill. I like to be creative and solve problems, so I particularly enjoyed putting both of these skills into practice in art and physics lessons with my peers. I have discovered a new hobby and would love to continue flying.”

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