A word from the WISE – Women in Science and Engineering
Cdt Charis Hunter from 487 (Kingstanding & Perry Barr) Sqn writes of her experience:
On the week of the 27th July to the 2nd of August, I’d won a rare chance on an RAF Engineering Work experience week at RAF Cosford. The course, part of the WISE initiative, was specifically aimed at girls, as engineering is seen traditionally as a male career, but good employers are encouraging young women to consider it as their chosen profession. There were only 24 places for girls from across the whole country. The scheme was oversubscribed with 3 applications per available spot; I was honoured with the opportunity.
I found out about the event through enquiring at school, as I knew that I wanted to be an Engineering Officer and was eager for the chance to gain some experience. The selection process for the limited places was mainly based on the 150 words we wrote as a part of the application process, which gave an indication of who we were. I think I was selected because I showed myself to be someone who both wanted to join the RAF and had a keen interest in engineering. Both these are true and I saw this work experience placement to be the perfect opportunity for me to gain an insight into the RAF, so I was beyond happy when I received my acceptance letter.
We arrived at RAF Cosford on Monday 27th July, and were greeted by Squadron Leader Glyn Dean and Group Captain Adam Samson, RAF Cosford Station Commander. We were issued with coveralls and boots, and then we were assigned to accommodation across the road from the Radio School, which was considerably nicer than the usual cadet accommodation I was used to! After a day of ice breakers, we were all ready for bed, but little did we know that the 6:45 wake up the next morning was the only “lie in” we’d get all week!
The next day, we went to the Radio School and learnt about radar, and about how stealth aircraft are engineered to be virtually undetectable by radar from most angles. We also learnt about ways the aircraft could be detected by other means, such as using waves and looking for disturbances in the patterns. We also had a lesson on theory of flight, and using this knowledge we designed and made a glider in our teams, out of bamboo and plastic. I was the team leader, elected by democratic vote. I think I was selected for this role as I am both a natural leader and confident, so I wasn’t fazed by not knowing any of the girls in the team of 12. But because nobody in the group knew each other, it proved to be more difficult than I’d initially thought; it took time to identify everyone’s strengths to be appropriately applied to the task.
On Wednesday, we were immersed in the repair section of the hangar, and learnt to take the wing flap from a Jet Provost, and then do a check on the components, and replace it. We also got a chance to sit in the cockpit of a Jaguar which we'd jacked off the ground, and got to take full control of the undercarriage, the wing flaps, and the tail. That evening, we were treated to a meal in the Officers Mess, which was quite a contrast to the Junior Ranks Mess we'd been dining in all week. It was a chance for the staff to show us how we'd be spending our evenings if we pursued the career of an Engineering Officer, which many of us aspired to be.
On our last full day, we did a few field activities, including setting up a radio base with a 12 metre mast which gave the radios a 30km range. However, we didn't get a chance to test this, as we were merely 100m from each other. We also went to the "squipers" who were the safety equipment team, and learnt about the safety equipment required in a Typhoon and Tornado. We even got to spend the afternoon packing single man lift rafts into bags, the bags didn't seem anywhere near big enough to fit them in, but after some expert folding and a lot of man power we managed to fit them in. We also saw the packs fitted under the seats in case of the ejector seat being used. After that, we flew the gliders we'd made earlier in the week, and our team won.
Through the week, we'd been working on presentations so we could get a Silver CREST Award, which is a British Science Association Certificate. On Friday morning, our parents and some teachers came to watch our presentations, and then we were awarded Certificates from Group Captain Samson himself.
The week was a real success. The aim was to inspire the future women of engineering to take up a job where women are few and far between, and I am certain that I shall do so. This hands-on experience has confirmed my ideas that I wanted to have a career in this field, so I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be so fully immersed in the RAF this week.