First launched in 2007, Cool Aeronautics is the Royal Aeronautical Society’s primary school outreach programme which aims to introduce children to the fascinating world and people of flying, aerospace engineering and space. Cool Aeronautics is the only outreach programme of its kind and demonstrates the Society’s commitment to taking a practical approach to encourage STEM interest and careers in the aerospace and aviation industries.

These events are a key part of the Society’s efforts to provide a ‘through-life’ approach to its outreach and careers activities and, in particular, embody the Society’s aim to raise young people’s aspirations through aviation and aerospace. 

Whilst there is a Cool Aeronautics ‘format’ focused around careers talks and interactive workshops, the flexibility of the programme allows each event to be unique; all Cool Aeronautics events are held at places of interest/relevance to the aviation industry from universities and company headquarters, to airports, aerodromes and museums.


Younger audiences matter

There are key benefits to working with primary schools. Aerospace-themed interactive learning is incorporated into the events creating a set of memorable experiences and learning that can be built upon as the children move into secondary education to create a positive response to STEM subjects. Furthermore, they also offer a fantastic opportunity for younger children to meet and talk directly with inspirational people from across the industry. 

Secondary education is a key period when students' interest in STEM subjects often fades and by sparking this interest at an earlier age we hope to prevent this, thus influencing their future decisions about studying STEM subjects and pursuing related careers. There is increasing evidence to support this approach, including the IMechE’s ‘When STEM?’ report which highlighted the need for early interventions.

Another key benefit is that primary schools usually bring whole classes to the events, meaning that boys and girls of all backgrounds, interests and abilities get an insight into the sector and STEM activities, supporting diversity efforts. 

150 Anniversary Celebrations

Therefore, with the particular emphasis on supporting the next 50 years of innovation through the 150th anniversary celebrations in 2016, it seemed a perfect opportunity to increase the reach of the Cool Aeronautics programme to attract new audiences in the UK and beyond. The RAeS Education and Skills Committee set an ambitious Cool Aeronautics target for 2016: to reach 150 primary schools and build the foundations for future events.

Airbus Group very kindly agreed to sponsor the 2016 programme, providing valuable additional resources to support the increased number of events required to reach our target and enabling us to bring the programme to new and exciting venues. 


Earn your Cool Aeronautics Wings!

Another key 2016 ‘first’ has been the introduction of our new ‘Cool Aeronautics Wings’, a special badge that the students receive at the end of each event in their goody bags which are designed to work in the same way as a Blue Peter badge so that, if a pupil chooses to pursue a career in aviation in the future and returns to the Society with their Cool Aeronautics badge, we can offer them special discounts and measure the impact from today’s Cool Aeronautics events in the future.  


A flying start

There has been a fantastic response to the 2016 programme, both from organisers and schools. As the summer term drew to a close we were delighted to have held 14 events so far, attended by 37 schools and 1,100 children in total. We are well on the way to a new record for the Cool Aeronautics programme and it has also been fantastic to see new venues and organisations, particularly the RAeS Branches, organising and taking part in Cool Aeronautics events. To put this achievement into context, this number already equals the 2015 total programme and we are only halfway through the year!

The highlights below give you a flavour of the activities which make up Cool Aeronautics events and also shows the unique nature of each event and how each day can be tailored around a specific theme, venue, speaker or workshop activity reflecting the local aerospace community. 

Educating Essex

Aerozone Stansted, an exciting new education centre opened by airport owner MAG in 2015, hosted multiple events this year, inviting local airport-based pilots and engineers to share their stories with pupils who also get the chance to enjoy an exclusive view of the runway from the special Aerozone viewing area, receiving a few waves from passing aircraft!

We also held our first ever London Southend Airport event with Stobart Air, a great day for local pupils to learn about their local airport, including an opportunity to talk to Group Captain George Hutton of easyJet who spoke about his exciting career as a short haul pilot!


South West reaches new heights!

The RAeS Bristol Branch has held three events in the Bristol area, including University of the West of England, the At-Bristol science centre and the University of Bristol, supported by graduates from local employers including Airbus UK, Stirling Dynamics and Leonardo Helicopters.

The Cheltenham and Gloucester Branch brought the whole community together for their inaugural Cool Aeronautics event at the Jet Age Museum in July. Pupils from six local schools enjoyed a day including personalised light aircraft and helicopters tours, while, in special ‘workshop’ marquees, local businesses GE Aviation, Safran Landing Gear Systems, Triumph Actuation, Dowty Propellers and Moog offered engaging STEM activities. 


Derby has an eye for detail

Derby pupils got a fantastic opportunity to get up close to a Rolls Royce RB211 engine at the Derby Silk Mill, as well as making gliders aided by the IET Woman Engineer of the year. Through sessions led by Rolls-Royce graduates and apprentices the children learnt more about the work Rolls Royce do.


London lifts off!

Our ‘Space’ themed events held at the Society’s HQ have been also been popular, with students reliving key historical moments through drama performances and taking part in great Tim-Peake themed workshops led by Space education expert Jo Fox which has pupils carry out a series of experiments to test their fitness, numeracy and electrical engineering skills. Students have also got to chat to representatives from Virgin Galactic in New Mexico through live video links, answering the children’s many questions about the future of space travel. 

Other new locations include the Redhill Aerodrome, another first organised by the RAeS Gatwick Branch, RAF Cosford and the Trenchard Museum, RAF Halton, which have already hosted two events this year and will be hosting several more this Autumn. We were also delighted to return to Atlantic AirVenture, Shannon, Ireland for the first international events of 2016 with a two-day Cool Aeronautics event supporting Engineers Week Ireland in March. Each event has been a fantastic and the feedback from pupils and teachers who have attended has been astonishing; many teachers have said it’s been one of the best days out the children have ever had! Furthermore, Branch members and volunteers have commented on the rewarding nature of working with younger children, who often seem more openly engaged than older pupils and also ask some surprisingly demanding and technical questions! The Careers team would like to extend its sincere thanks to all the Branches and organisers who have put in so much time and effort to support the events to date.  


The rest of the year – can you help?

With the schools on their Summer break work continues to launch events for the Autumn term! The UAE Branch are planning the first ever Middle Eastern Cool Aeronautics event, taking place in Dubai. Other new locations include Bath University, Brighton City Airport in association with FTA Global, Farnborough FAST museum and the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, plus many more in the pipeline!  We are very excited by the upcoming events but we are on track to miss our target of 150 by a handful of schools. We would love to reach this target, so, if you can help by hosting a Cool Aeronautics event, please contact us. Nonetheless, regardless of the total number of schools we reach by the end of 2016, this remains a record-breaking year for the Cool Aeronautics programme and, we hope, the start of a new legacy in years to come. We are, as ever, indebted to the programme supporters without whose help the events could not happen, in particular Airbus Group, whose 2016 sponsorship has enabled us to increase the programme’s reach significantly, work with new venues and organisations and most importantly is helping thousands of children earn their Cool Aeronautics Wings!


This article appeared in a slightly different format in September 2016’s Aerospace Magazine. 

23 September 2016