Launch the lightning STEM activity

The RAF Marham STEM team have a well-established STEM Glider Build activity which has been successfully delivered in many schools and local STEM Fairs and Festivals. 

Based around a ‘Principles of Flight’ theory lesson, students learn about Thrust, Drag, Lift and Gravity then build their own balsa wood glider under guidance.  Armed with their new knowledge, the young people test and adapt their gliders before finishing the activity with a flight competition to see if their gliders can land on a runway strip approximately 8 meters from a throw line.

During the early part of 2020, as COVID-19 was just starting to take hold, RAF Marham was asked by a local Air Cadet unit to come up with a project that could be delivered to Air Cadets in a virtual environment.  As COVID-19 Lockdown took hold fully, the Station team realised it needed to create an activity that could be delivered online with students but only utilising equipment that could be found from around the home.  The Station focus at that time was getting the F-35B Lightning message out to our local community, so the team decided it needed to incorporate some aspect of F-35B into the ‘Principle of Flight’ scenario.

Hey presto!  Our lead STEM guru at the time came up with the idea of a double challenge!


Not only did the young people have a to build a plane from items found around the home, but they then needed to build a delivery system that would launch their aircraft from a simulated Carrier Deck (the whole F-35B story!).  This brought additional learning as factors such as structural integrity and trigger launch mechanisms had to be considered.  With briefs set for the conditions for the aircraft, launch and trigger builds, students had to submit a short video presenting their designs followed by a demonstration and functional test of the trigger mechanism using the aircraft they had built.

From an Ambassador perspective this activity was easy to deliver and the Air Cadets who participated were outstanding.  The variation in both designs and launch systems, including both successes and failures was a joy to watch.  The hard part was judging the results as the entries were so different; we had to make sure there were clear marking criteria against each element of the task to ensure fairness.

It was deemed a great success and the activity has since been rolled out beyond the Air Cadets organisation.  It was included in the RAF ELEVATE element of the 110th Air Scout Anniversary event on 27th Mar 21 and has also been delivered to schools and colleges (the University Technical College in Norwich being the latest.)

The RAF Marham STEM Team is excited about continuing this STEM challenge, and in true engineering form, are sure it will continue to be improved and redesigned in many different guises over the course of the F-35B Lightning’s long and illustrious future.