While COVID-19 has had a very serious negative impact on the global aviation industry leading to large numbers of jobs being lost, the need to look beyond the current pandemic and plan for the future remains as important as ever. The aviation industry will recover and while it may well be two or three years before we are close too or back to where we had been before COVID-19 struck, the need to look beyond the current crisis and for industry and specialist organisations to play a part in positively influencing future career outcomes of potentially thousands of young people here in the UK – young people that the industry will require in the future if we are to remain ahead of the curve.
The Air League’s ‘Project Slingshot’ is designed to do exactly that – not only enthusing young people about the pleasures of flying, rewards from potential careers in aviation and aerospace manufacturing and demonstrating the vital role that aerospace and aviation plays in all of our lives but in this case, but in providing real practical, hands-on experience in aviation manufacturing and flight and of course, experience that they will not only benefit from but that they will enjoy and never forget.
The Air League, founded in 1909 and in 1938 had itself founded the Air Defence Cadet Corps (now the Air Training Corps) is a sector leading aviation and aerospace charity focused on changing lives through aviation. The core purpose of the organisation is to inspire young people from all backgrounds into the aviation and aerospace industries and through this important work, champion the future of the British Aviation and Aerospace sectors.
Each year many hundreds of people from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from Air League support to help them start a career, builds self-esteem and well-being, make them feel valued and realise what they can achieve. The Air League works hard to break down perceived barriers to the aviation industry and through the various scholarship and outreach programmes it has developed over the years, create a life-long impact on beneficiaries. Importantly, as the UK remains a very significant player in the global aviation and aerospace industries occupying as it does world-leading positions in design, development and manufacture of a wide range of technologies, Air League work brings strategic benefit to the UK economy.
An organisation that never stands still and one that in an increasingly more competitive world recognises the vital importance of inspiring and enabling the next generation of aviation and aerospace leaders, pioneers and professionals across the full spectrum of disciplines, the work and support that the Air League provides has never been more important than it is today.
Project Slingshot, supported by the Department for Transport, is the Air League’s new National Youth Plane Building Programme – one that aims to actually build aircraft for cadet and youth flying training and for delivery of Air League flying scholarships. Project Slingshot will deliver significant long-term benefits as classified as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning project, will through the participation of hundreds of young people who will be engaged in the building of these aircraft, will also provide thousands more with the opportunity to learn to actually fly an aeroplane.
Project Slingshot has been designed to uniquely focus on a professional aircraft build standard that will be delivered by actively mentored young people. Drawing upon expertise within the RAF Sport Aircraft charitable organisation, large and small companies engaged in aviation and aerospace industries, the Light Aircraft Association and core programme partners, the ultimate flying experience will offer Night Flying in Instrument Meteorological Conditions in highly capable light aircraft which are intended to be utilised for military cadet, and other youth organisations’ ab initio flying. This is a truly brilliant project and one that thousands of young people are likely will benefit over a typical 25-year service lifetime.
The Air League’s ambition is to launch a series of plane-building projects across the United Kingdom and to that end Project Slingshot is a national programme with a regional focus and one that each individual aircraft build project will have scope to involve a number of different groups of young people. Aircraft will be built either in a single location or alternatively, on a distributed basis and that will allow young people involved to experience real-life manufacturing philosophies employed by the world’s leading aerospace companies.
Within a company or region, aircraft can be built in three locations, for the fuselage, wings and empennage (tail) – this in order to maximise the scale of the project’s impact together with reducing the actual build time required. One overall project manager will supervise all aspects of each aircraft build in order to ensure overarching standards are maintained. Construction of each section of the aircraft will require the same skills from each team, this being designed in the programme in order to promote teamwork, intra-company or regional collaboration and requirements to practically implement engineering and design skills to a professional standard. Aircraft build will, as previously mentioned, be led by experienced aerospace professionals and supported by the project manager together with other professional mentors from the Air League and external aviation industry organisations and potentially members of the armed forces.
As well as seeing the result of their work in tangible form when the aircraft they have built takes to the skies for the first time, each completed aircraft will go on to provide an ongoing legacy for the Air League and its charitable activities. Completed aircraft will be operated by an accredited training organisation such as RAF Sport Aircraft (RAFSA) who will also manage the aircraft’s flying time and ongoing airworthiness requirements.
In respect of that legacy, the Air League would then utilise the aircraft for its programme delivery, one that I should mention has been greatly extended over the last year. Indeed, it is worth mentioning here that ‘Soaring to Success’ which is the Air League’s flagship youth outreach programme, aims to introduce career options to those aged between 14 -18. Importantly, the Air League provides a series of workshop modules and flying experiences for young people that are unique within the sector, such programmes typically being delivered through gliding experiences that lead on to flight in a powered aircraft.
Soaring to Success and the many other programmes delivered by the Air League such as ‘Your Flying Futures’ (sponsored by British Airways) not only act as an inspirational tool for young people but they also provide a tangible benefit to all of the companies involved. Important to this aspect is that they act as a direct feeder into specific early career pipelines. Undoubtedly programmes such as these can also be used to inspire young people to seek educational and training opportunities associated with the aviation sector and also to join the military.
The intention is for young participants in the Project Slingshot programme will come from a range of organisations and that as a consequence this will benefit apprentices from industry and the military, youth groups, cadet organisations, and UTCs/academies and also University students. While the focus is not entirely on schools, both secondary and primary school children, will also be invited at particular stages to be involved in the ‘Project Slingshot’ aircraft builds.
The ultimate aim is that the programme provides a balance of meaningful hands on time on the aircraft and importantly, time spent learning about engineering, manufacturing and aircraft technologies. The intention is that around 100 young people per aircraft team are involved, these being split across the various disciplines and build locations, although not necessarily evenly.
The technological growth path for the programme had been planned in and focuses initially on electrification with hydrogen and fluid flow being some highly innovative approaches. Input from academics has also spanned the potential for environmental test bed and human factors research and undoubtably there are many other opportunities for linkage to universities across the UK.
Royal International Air Tattoo
Talking of important STEM related events and because sadly the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford has this year had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, a reminder that the Virtual Air Tattoo will be held next weekend on July 18th/19th.
Free to view, the live-streamed event will contain a minimum of four hours of live, unique, video content aired on each of the two days. Those watching will enjoy a weekend of virtual flying displays, interviews and never seen before footage, showcase military aviation in a way that viewers will not be able to access elsewhere.
The Virtual Air Tattoo is aimed at giving viewers a flavour of the real event we had planned for 2020. The broadcast will focus on flying display action, using footage from previous Air Tattoo displays and a unique twist with the inclusion of true ‘virtual’ displays flown on flight simulation programmes by skilled gamers from across Europe, including RAF eSports who will follow the broadcast with a special tournament. It will also give a ‘behind the scenes’ view of military aviation with content from the Royal Air Force, International Air Arms and our Aerospace Industry Partners. Working with Planes TV, the programme will be hosted from a live studio by aviation expert and Air Tattoo commentator, Ben Dunnell, as well as special guests. Viewers will be encouraged to ask questions via social media, making the Virtual Air Tattoo a truly interactive experience.
CHW (London – 10th July 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785