Exercise Downbird

Royal Navy Engineering Challenge – Exercise Downbird

Students from across the UK gathered at HMS Sultan, Gosport this week, in order to compete in the Royal Navy Engineering Challenge 2019, Exercise Downbird.

Held in partnership with the Royal Navy, employers, Babcock International and BAE Systems, this year's challenge involved building a remote-controlled vessel capable of delivering a second remote-controlled vehicle to collect the 'downbird' (a stranded helicopter) from an island.

Seventy teams competed with several of the teams enjoying the opportunity to experience 24 hours of naval life including a night on board HMS Bristol a Type 82 destroyer.

Our teams worked hard from concept to competition and should be commended for their efforts at HMS Sultan this week. In order to succeed in a challenge such as this all teams must show many traits found in the engineers and sailors of the RN today. Dedication over many months, teamwork by demonstration of taking on unfamiliar roles, communication in ensuring each team member plays to their strengths, all of these and others combine to deliver two remotely controlled vehicles that work in harmony with one another.

The pupils took this challenge on outside of their normal commitments and displayed a high level of knowledge in STEM subjects in order to design and then construct their craft. At all stages of building, they encountered many difficulties, some were easily overcome and some were a realisation that their idea just would not work. Not deterred, they engineered solutions that did work and enabled them to arrive in HMS Sultan on competition day with fully functional craft and cars.

After a night on board HMS Bristol, the teams arrived at HMS Sultan ready to compete. Some knew what to expect whilst others were hesitant but excited to be taking part. They did not expect the contest to take place in such a large space as a training helicopter hangar however with the vast space filled with all manner of activities for the pupils to try as well as six large competition tanks for the contest to take place.

Final tweaks made, our first teams took to the water and acquitted themselves well in the first round. There was also a stark realisation that "no plan survives first contact", as all teams had to make adjustments, repairs or amendments to their craft and vehicles between rounds. Quick thinking and decisive action were required and all the teams stepped up and improved or repaired their designs. As well as all of this, each team had to present to a panel of judges on the whole of the design and comment on, amongst others, the sustainability and cost of their vehicles. One of our younger teams showed remarkable resilience when their vessel caught fire, a faulty motor and battery replaced they were back in the contest in minutes.

To ensure that no team was left to dwell on their performances there were many and varied activities and challenges for them to take part in. The variation ranged from welding in virtual reality to touring a Sea King helicopter or sitting in the cockpit of a Harrier Jump Jet. STEM was at the forefront of all that was associated with the day our pupils could make the links and see the benefits of taking part in the competition and how it may assist them in their future careers.