It’s time for takeoff with this week’s IWM Family Mission challenge. CBBC Presenter Ben Shires is back with your made to measure mission briefing inspired by Cockpit Control at IWM Duxford.

Mission Briefing

Aw, why is my chair so uncomfy and why is my tea so far away? Oh, hello! I’m Ben Shires and you’ve just caught me trying to get some work done for the folk at Imperial War Museums. The problem is: my workspace just isn’t set up right. That reminds me of the last time I visited IWM Duxford. [Onscreen footage of IWM Duxford’s Summer Air Show]. Ah! I was lost in a Duxford daydream there. 

Now, at IWM Duxford you can see lots of different examples of aircraft and how they’ve changed and developed over time. Including some aircraft from 1947. Back when the United States Airforce had 17 crashes in a single day. In order to get to the bottom of these crashes the US Airforce had to conduct several scientific experiments. They discovered that the cockpits were being designed to fit the average sized pilot – and this was a major problem. 

In this week’s Family Mission you’ll see how using the average doesn’t really work when it comes to people. Now, you’re probably thinking: what has all this got to do with the home? Well, a lot of the same principles used in aircraft design are also used around the house – they help you too. Perhaps you’ve got an adjustable chair or if your family has a car think of how many buttons and controls you use to adjust your seats. Just like this. [Onscreen Ben demonstrates adjusting a car seat]. 
Well, these have all been designed by scientists and engineers to ensure that you go about your life more safely and efficiently. Whether that’s sitting at your desk and doing homework or flying a really fast jet. 

The team at IWM have devised a way for you to explore and test this science out at home and you won’t even need an RAF Typhoon to do it! By conducting these experiments at home, you’ll be going through the same processes that they US Airforce did over 70 years ago. You’ll get to see whether one size really does fit all or if we need to be more flexible in order to make our environment work better for everyone. And, even better than that, you can actually try out these experiences in our Cockpit Control activity featuring yours truly at IWM Duxford – which is now reopen!

We look forward to welcoming you back to IWM very soon and in the meantime… happy experimenting! 

The clever crew at IWM have created a practically precise scientific model to help you determine the perfect conditions to work in! But what does it all mean?

When we talk about something being fair, we often talk about using the average. So surely if something is average, sized that means its right for everyone?... well not quite. Sometimes it’s not as simple as that, especially when it comes to designing the cockpit of aircrafts, which the US Air Force found out in 1947.

All the average means is the sum divided by the count. That means you add a group of numbers up and then divide them by the amount of numbers on your list

Let’s use Ben and Olive as an example:

Ben is 183 cm tall. Olive the dog is only 25 cm tall.

Add the numbers: 183 + 25 = 208

Now divide this total by however many numbers there are (there are 2 numbers): 208 / 2 = 104

Ben and Olive’s average height is 104cm

So this means if we were to design an aircraft cockpit using the average for Ben and Olive it would be almost 2 times to SMALL for Ben and over 3 times too BIG for Olive.

Problem solving

Before 1947 the US Airforce used to design all of their aircraft cockpits for the average sized pilot. This meant that some pilots couldn’t fit or move properly in their seat, which when you are soaring through the skies is a BIG problem.

Now it’s your turn to work out the average of your family and see this science in action!


You will need paper, a pencil, a tape measurer, a calculator, a table and a chair you can move (this could be a desk or dining chair or even a big cushion or sturdy box).

Top Tip!

If you don’t have a tape measure, a long ruler will work too.

If you’re feeling up for a challenge you can give your calculator a rest and use your mental maths skills!




1. Gather your family up for the experiment to begin! Think about the control measures that you can put in e.g. everyone take their shoes off so your recordings are as accurate as possible. You need to measure the following things…


Everyone’s height - from top of their head to bottom of their foot.


The length of everyone’s legs - from their hip to their toe.


The length of everyone’s arms - from their shoulder to their fingers.


2. Using your tape measure, conduct these measurements in cm for each family member. Make a record of this with your pencil and paper.


3. Once you have taken down all the measurements you can follow Ben’s example above to work out the average height of your family. Remember the average is the sum divided by the count.


4. Now that you’ve got your average number it’s time to put this science in action!


Experiment 1

  • Set up your table and chair.
  • Position the chair to your families average leg length away from the edge of the table (use your tape measure here).
  • Place your piece of paper and pencil on the table.
  • Now without moving the chair at all and keeping your legs stretched straight, try and write your name and what you had for breakfast on your paper.

Some of you would have found this really easy and some of you would have found it a bit tricky. Why’s that? Because your workstation wasn’t set up correctly for you. The same thing happened in cockpits which could be very dangerous.

So how did the US Air Force solve this problem? Well its quite simple! They made cockpits that they could adjust for the pilot including adjustable seats, pedals and control sticks. This meant more people in a broader range of shapes and sizes could become pilots and still be able to do their job.

So lets try it again!


Experiment 2

  • Set up your table and chair.
  • Position the chair to your families average leg length away from the edge of the table (use your tape measurer here).
  • On the table put your piece of paper and your pencil.
  • Now just before you start to write adjust the chair or the table and make it comfortable for you and do the same exercise.

A lot easier isn’t it?


Girl standing inside the cockpit of a Victor tanker aircraft

And there you have it! We can’t wait for you to take part in Cockpit Control (where you get to try this activity in a simulated aircraft cockpit) at IWM Duxford soon and until then, good luck experimenting!

Check out our What's On page to find out when the next session is and to discover other family activities at IWM Duxford. 

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