RAF Coningsby celebrates RAF family’s inspiring women

International Women's Day 2017
International Women's Day 2017

This International Women’s Day RAF Coninsby took the opportunity to celebrate the inspirational success of women in the RAF family, both now and in the past.

Yesterday (Wednesday March 8) saw International Women’s Day, and the day was marked by RAF Coningsby with a celebration of three inspirational women in the RAF family: Rachel Patchett, Gemma Lonsdale and Lou Short.

Rachel Patchett is the wife of an RAF serviceman who has identified an opportunity to launch a successful business at RAF Coningsby. The business offers a cleaning service for personnel living quarters.

She said: “People can be posted at short notice, they can be busy caught up in the many things that they have to do, and we can offer a service that gives them more time and takes that bit of the hassle away from them.”

For Rachel the business fits into her domestic circumstances.

She added: “If you are the partner of a service person being your own boss gives you the flexibility you need, particularly

if you have young children.

“There are challenges around starting up a business such as this one on a station; but what I will say is that there are opportunities and people who will help you out there, you just need the confidence to ask.”

Squadron Leader Gemma Lonsdale is an Engineer Officer at RAF Coningsby. In 2016 Gemma was awarded the Baroness Platt of Writtle Award which recognises the achievements of outstanding, newly registered Incorporated Engineers.

She is currently the Senior Engineer on a Typhoon squadron where she is responsible for the availability, capability and airworthiness of this world leading and multi role aircraft.

Keen to encourage young people to consider technologically-based careers, Gemma is also a STEM ambassador at the Station, where she regularly hosts visits.

Using her enthusiasm and commitment she hopes to motivate others to consider careers that they may have felt out of their reach as well as promoting engineering within the RAF.

Her next visit will see her team of STEM ambassadors hosting an all-female group of teenagers who they hope to inspire to follow in their


Also at Coningsby is the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and buried underneath the cowlings of some of their aircraft is a link to another inspirational female RAF engineer.

March 8 also marks the birthday of Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling, who worked for the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and in 1940 she invented a device that enabled fighter pilots to effectively fight their German counterparts.

Officially known as the ‘RAE Restrictor’ and more irreverently as ‘Miss Shilling’s Orifice’ the device prevented Merlin engines from cutting out when diving inverted, and thus denying an advantage to the Luftwaffe pilots.

Squadron Leader Lonsdale said, “Tilly Shilling was a pioneer and an inspiration; I hope that I can also help to motivate future female engineers to embark on this fascinating and rewarding career.”

Lou Short is the Community Development Officer at RAF Coningsby, working with RAF personnel and their families to enable them to access services and facilities.

In order to deliver this service Lou engages with a variety of local representatives, for example Parish and Town councils, Police panels, and GPs surgeries.

She said: “It’s about trying to make sure that our people and their families have what they need whilst they are here in order to make their lives that little bit easier.”

Lou’s successes have included the refurbishment of the Community Centre, a long term project that required her tenacity and determination, and the “Airplay” youth support project that has come to fruition during her time at Coningsby.

In her spare time Lou has been an enthusiastic triathlete for about five years and is in training to compete in her first “Iron Man” which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bicycle ride, and a 26.2 mile run.

Lou isn’t prepared to say how long it will take but knows it will inevitably be an incredibly emotional experience, “I have never been a particularly sporty person, so whenever I complete a Triathlon I’m amazed at what I have achieved”.

As a mother of a young daughter Lou says that she has no idea where she finds the time to fit everything into her busy life, but her advice to other people is clear: “You can fit stuff in, just go out and do it!”