Grass Roots Aviation

Sci-Fly STEM Outreach - Taking STEM Education to the Skies.pngThe last weekend in September was the date for the 2018 biannual WAI Australia conference, held this year in the spectacular Hunter Valley. A day spent at RAAF Williamtown opened the weekend, with private tours of a Hawk 127, a Boeing 737 Wedge-tail, and an F-18 Hornet! The following two days were then back-to-back with inspirational speakers from across the industry, including key note speaker Maureen Dougherty; president of Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific.

Sci-Fly’s founder Dr Zara Dennis was also scheduled to present, and wrapped up the conference proceedings on Sunday afternoon with an interactive presentation on grass-roots Aviation – highlighting the importance of teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), not only for aspiring pilots, but for breaking down stereotypes and ensuring future opportunities.

Although not essential to a career in aviation, STEM subjects have been repeatedly identified as extremely useful. Kids are easily excited by the “magic” of flight, but yet we often fail to teach young aspiring minds that what creates that magic is STEM.

The full presentation be found HERE, along with references for the source documents.

Dr Dennis also brought along a number of demonstrations and activities, that the educators and mentors in the room could easily replicate. The importance of STEM has become a major point of discussion in many fields, but what this presentation also aspired to offer was simple, engaging tools that could be utilised in almost any classroom.


The presentation also considered the long-term benefits for General Aviation and Industry. Improved grass-roots exposure and engagement has the potential to not only address the gender equity issue, but also the global pilot shortage. Statistics report that only 5.18% of airline pilot positions worldwide are currently filled by women, and demand for new pilots is expected to rise dramatically over the next two decades, with Boeing estimating the world will need to produce 640,000 pilots over the next 20 years. Ask a child the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and Pilot is the second most popular choice for boys in a survey conducted by British Airways in 2015, yet for girls it doesn’t even register. The pursuit of achieving gender equality is thus a substantial undertaking, with implications far greater than simply improving the statistics. Subsequently, if the lowest tier of the aviation ecosystem is not reaching out to 50% of the population, an easy to access target area is herein identified with immediate benefits to industry.

Zara Dennis - Sci-Fly - VR Helicopter Sim.jpgCritically however, grass-roots development needs to be all inclusive; all students (male or female, metropolitan or remote) should have the same opportunity to be inspired. Subsequently if we aim to normalise the idea that mixed crew environments are the flight decks, engineering workshops, air traffic control rooms, and science labs of the future, we can go a long way to ensuring the best and most able make the grade, no matter what their background is. A message echoed by RAAF Fighter Combat Instructor Scott Woodland, whose conference presentation was a highlight for the Sci-Fly team!