When Students Soar

Next-gen engineers take flight at quadcopter challenge

Raytheon UK is investing in its future workforce.

Student teams from six schools across the United Kingdom faced off at the Raytheon Quadcopter Challenge on Dec. 12, using the company's drone technologies to explore exciting applications of science, technology, engineering and math.

The Kingdown School in Warminster took home the top honors with their “emergency services” themed quadcopter. Teams were judged on design, flying ability and presentation.

“It is great to see the potential of these future engineers and to see Raytheon championing science and engineering skills across the U.K. with this excellent competition,” said Minister for Transport Baroness Liz Sugg CBE. "It is vital that we develop the skills of our young people now so the U.K. stays at the forefront of transport innovation."

There were six to nine students in each team at this final round of the competition. The task: Build a fully functioning, four-bladed, multi-rotor, remotely piloted air system – commonly known as a quadcopter. The goal: Teach critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, collaboration and leadership.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” said 13-year-old Molly, a student at Denmark Road High School in Gloucester. “It’s a really cool way of approaching science and engineering.”

After navigating their drone through a myriad of obstacles, each team gave a 10-minute presentation to explain its design process and how the students managed the project. The experience gives participants practice in a full range of engineering tasks, from the initial idea to the final pitch.

The finalists at this year’s competition represented these schools:

  • Auchmuty High School, Glenrothes.
  • Hitchin Boys’ School, Hitchin.
  • William Farr School, Lincolnshire.
  • Ysgol Brynhyfryd, Ruthin.
  • Kingdown School, Warminster.
  • Denmark Road High School, Gloucester.

When the competition first began four years ago, only four schools in Harlow participated. Now, it involves more than 80 teams from 30 schools and has reached about 1,000 young people.

Quadcopter national competition

Molly shows Minister for Transport Baroness Liz Sugg CBE her team’s quadcopter during the national competition.

Entrants competed in regional heats to qualify for the national competition. Quadcopters were evaluated based on their innovation, speed, agility and accuracy.

“We saw some truly impressive, creative thinking and flying skills from all the teams,” said Dr. Alex Rose-Parfitt, a Raytheon engineering director and STEM program lead. “Being a major STEM employer, helping young people get into STEM is a priority for us.”

Raytheon’s STEM ambassadors provided teams with more than 2,500 hours of hands-on instruction, mentoring them throughout the design and build process.

“The toughest thing we had to deal with was definitely the modifications and learning how to perfect them,” Molly said. “I didn’t think engineering involved so much trial and error.”

The challenge coincided with the Year of Engineering, an initiative aimed at bridging the skills gap within the industry. The U.K. faces a shortfall of  20,000 engineering graduates a year or more, "well short of demand," according to a 2017 report from EngineeringUK.