STEM skills and the RAF by Fran Cole

STEM skills and the RAF by Fran Cole

‘Logistics is at the centre of everything we do.’ 

Over the course of May 2017 Half Term I had the opportunity to validate that statement, by discovering how Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) related skills are utilised in the RAF. 

My personal adventure began several months earlier, when I submitted my application to the Smallpiece Trust; an organisation that inspires young engineers and scientists to explore science related career options. I was thrilled to be one of the few that were chosen, out of over 400 applicants, to experience first hand STEM principles in practice at RAF Wittering in the UK. 

One of the major attributes to this unique work placement was that, by working closely with RAF personnel, we each had an opportunity to attain a Silver British Science Association Creativity in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) award, as well as a Silver Industrial Cadet Award. However, to qualify for this award an obligatory 30 hours needed to be spent on our project… It promised to be a busy week!

Our CREST project was based around a Humanitarian Support Operation, requiring us to use mathematical formulas, practical applications and knowledge on logistics in order to construct a plan to safely extract 800 British and Commonwealth Citizens from a country effected by an earthquake. Certain factors needed to be taken into account, such as the transport options available and the conditions of infrastructure (roads and runways). 

In order to understand the challenges and practicalities of an operation of this magnitude, we were given the opportunity to work along-side real RAF logisticians, drawing upon their knowledge and putting new skills into practise. It was extremely beneficial seeing how the theory I have been taught at Repton during STEM related lessons can then by applied to real life situations. For example, visiting a fuel site on the RAF base allowed me to learn more about the chemistry of fuels, as well as carrying out Quality Assurance checks to ensure that the density and conductivity of the liquid was at optimum level for aircraft. Constructing a fuel pipeline myself enabled me to consider the practicalities of building the same structure on a much larger scale, in an area of conflict. 

Other activities we completed included working along side the Movements section, the Military Transport (MT) unit and the Mobile Catering (MC) Squadron. It was incredibly rewarding to lead my team and see my colleagues bond together so well and work with such cohesion in each and every situation. Whether we were getting to know each other in the kitchen by making a three course meal out of powder rations or finding out each others skill sets by working out the load distribution for a certain aircraft, we planned and then executed with expert precision. 

Throughout this work placement, the key focus for us all was effective teamwork, impactful communication and decisive problem solving skills. As well as completing our project to the best of our abilities, we were able to enhance our ability to gather, process and then execute upon that information. In doing so, we learnt how STEM influences the RAF world of logistics and more widely its applicability to our daily lives. In summary, an incredible and very rewarding week, which really echoed the words of General Barrow, a former Commandant of the US Marines, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but it’s the professionals who study logistics.” 


Written by Fran Cole (4F)