Reaching New Heights

Raytheon UK's quadcopter challenge inspires next-gen engineers

Every second counts in defence -- and at the Raytheon UK Quadcopter Challenge.

There, in a converted TV studio complex in Manchester, students from six schools will fly quadcopters they built themselves through loops, between poles and onto pads to test their precision landing skills. It's the final round of competition that Raytheon UK sponsors to show young people one of the many exciting applications of science, technology, engineering and math.

But the competition doesn't stop at demonstrating aerobatic skills; each finalist will also give a 10-minute presentation to explain their design process and how they managed their project. The goal: to give them practice in

every aspect of engineering, from the first sketches to the big sales pitch.

"A career in engineering can be as hands-on as you want," said Dr. Alex Rose Parfitt, engineering director and executive head of science, technology, engineering and math programs at Raytheon UK. "But if you're more comfortable presenting and selling products to customers, or managing programs or budgets, those are options, too."

The finalists at this year's competition, set for Dec. 14 at Old Granada Studios in Manchester, include:

  • Ysgol Brynhyfryd, Ruthin.
  • The Boswell’s School - Team A, Harlow.
  • Inverkeithing High School - Team Fire Flies, Glenrothes.
  • Denmark Road High School for Girls - Team Chinook, Gloucester.
  • 3rd Walkden Guides, Manchester.
  • Branston Community Academy - Team Qwad Sqwad, Waddington.

They came from a field of more than 250 students, ages 14 and 15, who competed in a preliminary round. That's more than three times the number of students who participated in 2016 and orders of magnitude more than the 20 who took part in 2015. Stanborough School in Hertfordshire held additional engineering classes to accommodate an increase in students who wanted to compete. Another highlight: 40 more girls entered the competition than in the previous year.

The competition fills a gap in education, showing students that engineering can be an outlet for what they want to do.

"Most young people have a desire to improve the world in which they live, but seldom appreciate that that's what modern engineering is all about," said Dr. Georgina Harris, head of the School of Engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University and one of the judges at this year’s final competition. "Also, since mandatory careers guidance was pulled from the national school curriculum, it has fallen to the teachers to convey what kinds of opportunities exist in engineering, and how diverse and rewarding they can be."

Sixty STEM ambassadors from Raytheon are involved in this year's Quadcopter Challenge, either visiting schools or coordinating the competition itself. The company, a leading aerospace and defence company with 1,600 employees in the U.K., started the competition in 2015 from its Harlow office, with support from the Essex County Council.

Raytheon UK and the Royal Air Force will announce the winning team and award prizes to the first, second and third place teams based on their quadcopter design, flying ability and presentations.