Flying Start Challenge Regional Final Winners Announced

15 April 2024

While many students living in Somerset may have seen helicopters flying overhead, some had the chance to plunge straight into the centre of aerospace action, when Leonardo organised the Yeovil Flying Start Challenge Regional Final at the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) at Yeovilton.

Located in Somerset, RNAS Yeovilton is one of the Royal Navy’s principal air bases in the UK. It offered a dynamic base for the day’s interactive activities. When arriving at the naval air base students were greeted by the sight of a range of impressive aircraft, including the AW159 helicopter, part of the long heritage of helicopters made at Leonardo, the Home of British Helicopters since 1947.

The Flying Start Challenge is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) competition run by aerospace companies across the South West of England for local students to help develop their science and engineering skills. Since November, Leonardo STEM Ambassadors have been mentoring more than 150 students, who have designed, built and tested their own gliders, using wood and recycled materials.

The Regional Final provided the opportunity for students to test how far their creations could fly, whilst also participating in fun activities to deepen their understanding of aerospace engineering. Students were asked to bring a poster to the competition, capturing the design and construction of their glider so they could explain its special aeronautical features visually.

The overall winning team at the Yeovil Regional Final was ‘The Magic School Bus’ from Buckler’s Mead Academy achieving the furthest glider flight, with an impressive 19 metres. The ‘Aero’ team from Huish Episcopi Academy won second place. Third place was awarded to ‘The Flying Triangle’ from Buckler’s Mead Academy. Fourth and Fifth-placed teams from Beaminster School and Wells Cathedral School will join them at the Grand Final.

Commenting on the clear progress the students had made, Isobel Owens, STEM Ambassador at Leonardo, said: “It’s fantastic to see all the students’ hard work culminating in a thrilling day with plenty of fun challenges. We’re grateful to the Royal Navy for all of their support for this event. Hopefully we’ve inspired some future engineers who may even join Leonardo in the near future.”

Leonardo STEM Ambassadors supported the students through the day’s activities to help them get to grips with not only the principles of aerodynamics, but the advanced technology which powers the aircraft they viewed at the base. Students were drawn from schools stretching from Taunton to Dorchester, including Beaminster School, Buckler’s Mead Academy, Fairmead School, Huish Episcopi Academy, Preston Academy, Stanchester Academy, Westfield Academy, Gillingham School, Bishop Fox's School, Wells Cathedral School, Pyrland School, Thomas Hardye School and Sunninghill Preparatory School.

Hands-on activities included bridge building using craft sticks, a quiz on the knowledge they have gained through their sessions at school, and fun STEM challenges set by Leonardo and the Royal Navy. The event culminated in a fly-off in one of the hangars at RNAS Yeovilton, accompanied by a AW101 Merlin helicopter from the Commando Helicopter Force and a AW159 Wildcat helicopter from the Wildcat Maritime Force.

All of the students showed great excitement in being able to look around the Royal Navy helicopters built locally in Yeovil.

We wish the best of luck to all team's competing in the Grand Final, which takes place on Friday 17 May at Aerospace Bristol.