Girls have seen 18 months' of hard work come to fruition as they flew in a light aircraft they built themselves this weekend.
A team of pupils have been constructing the microlight one evening each week since September 2016 and they finally took to the skies in the aircraft yesterday (Sunday 1 July).
This engineering project has been run with the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) as part of the organisation’s New Horizons scheme. The BMAA funds the project and the school is responsible for building the aircraft.
Fresh from passing its official BMAA safety tests, the microlight was launched at Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent. It was flown by a team of different instructors on a number of separate flights – one for each of the girls involved and one extra for the Headmistress, who was keen to experience the girls’ handiwork for herself!
Headmistress Samantha Price said: “At Benenden we are developing the engineers of the future. Engineering skills are invaluable in today’s workplace and are only going to become more important as technology develops further.
“I am so pleased to see how the girls have embraced this project. Also, they have inspired girls in the younger years who I am sure will be looking forward to taking on their own engineering projects in the future.”
In September 2016, a team of 28 girls began work on the microlight, devoting two hours to the project every Thursday evening. Over more than 50 weekly sessions, the entire aircraft was built by the girls themselves, under the stewardship of four staff members. All the girls who began the project have continued until its completion, although eight of the older girls from the original group have finished Benenden to go to university.
The girls have put their own stamp on the microlight in places: for example, it is decorated in Benenden’s colours and the registration mark is G-GRLS.
Zara Hussain, 18, is one of those pupils who has been working on the microlight. She said: “I thoroughly enjoyed working in a team towards a common goal and learning new skills, especially for such a physically large, yet intricate project. This developed my passion in engineering further, which I am going to study at Oxford next year.”
Matt Commander, Benenden’s Deputy Head for Staff and Co-Curricular, has overseen the project. He said: “This is a great example of girls getting involved in engineering. We’re really keen to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) activities and for the girls to do something practical in this area – what better way than to build an aircraft?’
“This isn’t a project where the pupils are watching as the adults do all the work. The girls have done it all themselves – every nut and bolt has been their work. They have developed so many skills and attributes throughout this project: Hard work, commitment, patience, teamwork and listening to expert advice; these will all stay with them for life.”
The BMAA owns the microlight and will now sell it, with proceeds going back into the New Horizons scheme. The BMAA New Horizons project is available to all schools and colleges, independent or state.
Ben Syson, the BMAA’s chief engineer, said: “The girls at Benenden School have done a great job and should feel suitably proud of their achievement. We’re really pleased that they’ve gained so much from the experience – and had the opportunity to fly in their own creation.”
Benenden has already identified its next engineering project – constructing a Caterham 7 racing car.