The Royal Air Force are celebrating British Science Week between the 10 – 19 March 2023. This year’s theme is ‘Connections’ will showcase some our talented and inspiring aviators across the week.
The variety of branches, trades, and the newly formed professions, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects are connected to roles that drive the success of the Royal Air Force. This is largely due to the specialist skills and knowledge of our aviators, many of whom also invest their own time by engaging in STEM activities to inspire the next generation.
Furthermore, in their spare time our RAF STEM ambassadors are passionate about encouraging young people to connect with these subjects that can provide opportunities for exciting and rewarding careers.
Read more about inspiring RAF STEM careers
This year theme of ‘connections’ shows how each role works together to ensure the success of the organisation; just as each human cell has its own function to work as an organ and sustain life. It also demonstrates how scientific technology is improving the way the Royal Air Force works, for example using early warning systems and remotely piloted air systems to secure air and space, for our safety.
Our engineers maintain aircraft that transport medics to operational areas to save lives; all connected and fuelled by skills and technology developed through science. A few of the many talented and inspiring aviators, connected to science, are highlighted below in celebration of this week.
Flt Lt Dani Rowe
Flight Lieutenant Dani Rowe is currently a Junior Engineering Officer at RAF Odiham, where she manages a large team of engineers getting Chinooks flying for training, exercises and operations. Before this, Dani studied maths and science at A Level and achieved a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering at university.
On a daily basis this involves understanding what maintenance is required on the aircraft and balancing this with the flying requirements. Often, there are certain challenges that require lateral thinking and for me to apply my engineering knowledge from my degree and RAF engineering training to reach a solution. This could be anything from approaching the problem from a different angle, using alternative means of achieving the same effect or ultimately carrying out a risk assessment based on my appreciation of engineering principles and the knowledge of those around me to potentially allow the aircraft to fly with minor faults, if absolutely required.
I’ve been lucky to travel all over the world with my job, operating both in the Arctic (-20 degrees) and in the desert (+50 degrees), which brings its own challenges!
Flt Lt Matt Johnston
Flight Lieutenant Matt Johnston is training as a pilot on Poseidon at RAF Lossiemouth. Prior to this, Matt taught skiing and climbing. This requires an understanding on the connection between sport and science, such as the biological and biomechanical make up of our bodies and how our bodies respond to stress.
I was not an academic child but was always curious and loved to understand things. Today, I recognise how closely that curiosity intertwines with the STEM subjects.
Flying is an applied skill, but it is understanding the systems on board, the effects that they have on one another and how to combine them that allows us to achieve a specific outcome. Poseidon is capable of finding a life-raft adrift in the ocean, or pinpointing a submarine beneath the surface.
AS1 Mikaella Theodoulou
Air Specialist 1 Mikaella Theodoulou joined the RAF in 2019 as an Air Cartographer. Her role sees Mikaella generating a range of products that directly support global operations, distributing them, and analysing worldwide aeronautical navigation data critical to Flight Safety across Defence.
Mikaella was presented the Newton Award, awarded for commitment and enthusiasm upon completion of Phase Two training, showing the highest standards of performance and willingness to strive. She also hold a BSc Economics degree from University of Surrey.
Prior to joining the RAF, I was stationed within the Heavy Mortar Unit in the Cypriot Army. Having this previous experience equips me with a unique perspective that I take with me everywhere I go having had the opportunity to see how two different armed forces operate.
As a mother myself to two girls, I am more than familiar with the processes involved in the transition back to work from maternity leave. Therefore, as a member of the Parents Returning to Work Association at RAF Northolt, I can draw on my own personal experiences in order to contribute towards helping other parents in similar circumstances.
I am proud to represent my profession as a Trade Ambassador as I really enjoy my role and feel very passionately about it.
Gp Capt Gordan Bettington
Group Captain Gordan Bettington is the Head of Royal Air Force Reward and a Human Resource Practitioner. His role is heavily connected to scientific skills, requiring problem solving, creativity, critical thinking, calculating, and evidence analysis. Gordan is also an active RAF STEM Ambassador, encouraging others to be inspired by STEM subjects and get involved from a young age.
Gordan also has a First Class Honours in Industrial Design and Technology, gaining skills he has called upon when developing new buildings, leading change programmes and understanding how a busy airfield operates safely.
Every role in the RAF involves STEM in fun and practical ways – if I had my time again, I would be hugely excited about learning about engineering, cyber, coding, data science, technology and maths. An ability to use these skills will offer infinite possibilities in the world of work.
Sgt Gemma Yarwood
Sergeant Gemma Yarwood current role within Quality Assurance on 14 Squadron helps to ensures processes and procedures comply with regulations to deliver safe air power. She has also used her engineering skills when servicing and maintaining RAF aircraft including the Harrier GR7/9’s and Typhoon and is an active RAF STEM Ambassador
I loved everything Engineering at school, I was always the first one in the classroom, getting ready for the next challenge. Just like my RAF career, everyday has been a challenge, seeing aircraft fly because you have had some involvement whether it is servicing the aircraft, fixing a fault or ensure personnel are following procedures to ensure their safety it is very rewarding and always a challenge.
Sqn Ld Pip Lloyd-Williams
Squadron Leader Pip Lloyd-Williams is an Engineering Officer within Cyberspace at the Combat Air Force Headquarters. Her role includes the planning and co-ordination of communications systems of F-35 Lightnings overseas and within the UK. Pip understands the technical details of installing these complex systems, helping to ensure the RAF have the right training and infrastructure in place to deliver air and ground safety.
I’ve previously worked within the RADAR and Cyber Monitoring fields requiring Physics and Computer Science understanding to help understand and resolve faults and issues to keep MOD Systems up and working to support operations worldwide. Alongside my day job I also participate in STEM and mentoring activities, I’ve delivered alternate Science/ STEM Lessons throughout COVID to local Service Families as well as mentoring on the Arkwright Scholarship Scheme assisting with Computer Science Coursework and other Science projects.
Sqn Ldr Linda McLean
Squadron Leader Linda McLean currently leads a team of Flight Test Engineers testing aircraft and equipment on large aircraft such as the C17, Voyager, and A400m Atlas. Her work applies novel scientific concepts that are developing, such as sustainable aviation and electric aircraft.
I have worked on Eurofighter Typhoon, testing new software, weapons systems and other hardware over the past 4 years. This required me to gain an engineering understand the new software / hardware and design a test programme to make sure that it achieves what is required by the RAF. I do that by flying in the aircraft and capturing the data I need, before analysing it on the ground. Some recent tests you might have heard of would be the integration between the Typhoon and new F-35 Lightning aircraft, or Typhoon firing Brimstone after the Tornado went out of service.
Being a Flight Test Engineer is a very varied job; I need to understand many basic, and complex engineering principles and apply them to a variety of different aircraft types and situations. No two days are ever the same.”
Hayley Richardson is a Civil Servant involved in RAF STEM, with over 22 years’ experience working for the MOD in various roles, including Risk Management, Programme management and Procurement of Defence Equipment.
I never really appreciated the importance of STEM learning until I had my daughter. I then realised it was my calling to provide children opportunities and inspiration to believe in themselves that they can do ANYTHING they want to achieve!
I always thought RAF STEM was for military personnel only until I joined the community and haven’t looked back since!
My favourite moment working with children is when you see the ‘light bulb’ moment.
The RAF offer unique experiences and opportunities that can connect a thrill of adventure with the passion for science. Clare Ballantyne joined the RAF Combined Cadet Force during her school years, opening her up to Adventurous Training. She enjoyed White Water Kayaking, Basic Rock Climbing and Caving courses, a Nordic Skiing expedition, performing with the Marching Band and eventually reached the rank of Sergeant before leaving.
The courses I completed at cadets certainly fuelled the love of travel and adventure that helped me land this dream job. I can't recommend enough getting involved with opportunities at cadets and also checking out those with the University Officers' Training Corps.
Now, Clare is monitoring the breeding success of Antarctic penguins and how environmental conditions impact the populations there, as part of a survey with RAF Operation Austral Endurance. Clare even helps to run the world’s most remote post office for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Living amongst penguins has been an amazing experience. They are mesmerising to watch, especially now their fluffy grey chicks have started wandering around and flapping their wings as is trying to take off!
Cpl Malcolm Chandler
Corporal Malcolm Chandler is currently an Aircraft Engineer (Avionics) supervisor on the Poseidon MRA1. Before this he studied math, science and ICT at A-Level but did not achieve the grades he wanted and disliked the classroom environment.
But this did not stop Malcolm going on to join the RAF and achieving his foundation degree in Aeronautical Systems Engineering. He is now responsible for ensuring the maintenance and safety of aircraft and has perfected his skills on various types, such as the C-17 Globemaster III to the Puma Mk2 helicopter. Malcolm is also an active RAF STEM Ambassador, sharing his skills to hundreds of school children and connecting them to science subjects.
Over the last 20 years I have never looked back and though why!! I have had the pleasure to work with, and for, some amazing people, in some of the best, and worst, places in the world. Whilst knowing I have done the best I can to ensure the aircraft and crews, that fly in them, come home safely.