RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Guest Post Day 5 – Something For The Future…

It’s already Day Five of my Guest Post series, and after some fantastic, deep and thoughtful posts, I’ve gone for something a little lighter, but no less important, today.

Here’s a blog post by Luke Pepperell who, as a Civilian Instructor, has written a great introduction piece all about the Air Cadets.

Luke writes…

So, responding to an advert by RAFairman for “guest-bloggers”, I thought I’d try a blog about something that in some respects is similar to what he does, but in others is very, very different.

I’m an adult staff member in the Air Cadets; the RAF’s answer to the Army Cadet Force. There are around 1000 squadrons in the UK (including some overseas squadrons in places like Cyprus and Germany). They’re all run by volunteers, either ex-cadets themselves, people who have an interest in aviation or sometimes parents get involved too. Technically, we are a part of the RAF, and all the officers are real members of the RAF (but they can’t be called up to fight!).

We provided training and fun activities for 13-20 year olds that join our squadrons, think Scouts but more military and for older kids! Most of our “recruits” join us because they want a career in the RAF, but officially we aren’t a recruiting tool for them, it’s just a happy coincidence that a large percent of the current RAF are ex-cadets!

Generally, we meet twice a week on weekday evenings for a “parade night”, in which it’s down to the squadrons to choose what they do. We’re nearly always out and about at the weekend though, doing fun activities like the canoeing we have planned for this Sunday or it could be something like fundraising for our squadron, like we did last weekend at the Nation Rifle Association’s home at Bisley.

I shouldn’t forget out sister organisation here too, the Combined Cadet Force RAF (CCF(RAF)). These operate from schools, but fall under the same organisation as the Air Training Corps (ATC) and become the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO). As you can see, we must be quasi military, simply because of the amount of acronyms involved!

Personally, I’m what’s called a CI, a civilian instructor. This means I don’t wear uniform and I can turn up when I want, teach or get involved and then go home until the next time. We make up the majority of adult staff in the organisation, and we can’t claim pay, unlike our NCO and Officer friends, who, because they fall under reserve forces, can claim up to 28 days per year, just like the TA.

So, that’s enough background, what do our cadets get out of it? Well, firstly, they can get qualifications, which are pretty varied. There’s the BTEC in Aviation studies, where you learn all about aircraft and flying, from how to navigate to how a jet engine works. This is currently worth 2 GCSEs at A*-C. There’s the BTEC in Public Services, learning all about the forces, that’s worth 4 GCSEs at A*-C, and finally the BTEC in Music, again worth 4 GCSEs at A*-C. These are all great qualifications and really can help our cadets get into work or further education, but it’s not what we’re all about.

Our aims are to promote an interest in aviation and the RAF, provide training useful in service and civilian life and to foster the spirit of adventure, and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship. How we do these really depends on what we have available. It takes a lot of hard work to create these opportunities for our cadets, there’s a lot of administration needed to actually run a squadron, and when you’ve just come home from work and have an hour to eat dinner, iron uniform and get changed into it and get to the squadron, it can be a big ask.

Nearly every weekend, we’re doing something, as I said earlier. We, as a squadron, are very lucky in the staff that we have. We have people that like shooting, people that like flying, people that like adventure training and sports, and we’re all very committed. Other squadrons aren’t like that at all, and can have as few as 3 members of staff to look after 30+ kids twice a week.

As I’ve already said, this weekend we’re going canoeing. In years gone by, we could have just turned up with a boat and got on with it. Now, and rightly so, things are much more stringent. We need risk assessments, have to make sure all the cadets have passed a basic swimming proficiency test, consent forms and the like, which all take time, but they’re to protect us as much as the cadet!

As for what we get out of it, well it’s as simple as seeing the kids faces when they achieve something they didn’t think they could. When they go flying for the first time, or manage to climb something they didn’t think they could. It sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth. An ex-cadet myself, I got so much out of the Corps I thought it was only fair I put something back in, and so once I hit 20 became a member of 211 (Newbury) Squadron.

If anyone is reading this and wants to know more about us, www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets is a good starting point, or ask any questions to me on Twitter at @lukepepperell. Hopefully it’s been interesting for those of you that have never heard of us, and if you’ve got kids between 13 and 20 I urge you to send them along to your nearest unit and see what stories they come home telling!

I was never an Air Cadet myself, but I have had a lot of contact with them as an organisation AND with the members of the individual Squadrons through working as an instructor at RAF Cosford, and I know how much the youngsters can get out of it.

If you spent time in the Air Cadets, and have a story to share, please post it below.

Come back tomorrow for another guest post…


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5 thoughts on “Guest Post Day 5 – Something For The Future…

  1. I too am a CI in the ATC……and was a cadet not so long ago.

    It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, made friends for life (or so they say :P) and done some things I never thought I’d do until I join the RAF.

    Great blog…..and everything is there.

  2. Verbomania on said:


    Well done. As a C.I myself, I think you nailed it when you said its about the kids faces when they finally crack the given task. There are a few in the organisation who need to be reminded that its about the cadets and not their careers but most adult staff like myself put in the long hours on top of our jobs, families and other commitments because we can see the end result.

    In a time when young people get slagged off for their attitude to everything, its refreshing to have a room brought to attention as you enter, or to be addressed as sir or ma’am. On top of the skills, these values that we teach cadets will hopefully help them to be better and more productive members of society.

    And we have fun doing it. :o)

  3. I’m an Air Cadet in the CCF (RAF) at the moment and, to follow up Luke, its been just outstanding. Taking to the controls of a Grob Heron alone aged just 18, and all paid for by the RAF, has undoubtedly my biggest achievment to date. The ACO (There’s those acronyms again!) has also given me a direction in life as I’m currently finishing off the application process. To the organisation I owe a lot and there’s no doubt in my mind I’ll end up affiliated with the RAF in years to come, whether it be as a Pilot, an instructor in the ATC or something different altogether.

    It’s always nice for the ACO to get a bit more publicity, so thanks to Luke and RAFAirman both for this post.

  4. ATC Padré Nick Rutter on said:

    As Padré to an ATC Squadron in Staffordshire Wing, I too get a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of my work with the cadets and staff of my squadron. I don’t go as often as some CIs or the Staff, but I try to get down at least once a fortnight, sometimes more.
    I’ve been Padré for nearly 20 years now and it always gives me great pride when I look back on the youngsters I’ve seen grow, mature and move on – some into the RAF, others into civilian life. A great joy has been seeing former cadets come back to see us, wearing their uniform with pride. You can see the awe in the faces of the youngsters as they talk about their life.
    However, sadly, I’ve also had to deal with tremendous shock when a former member was killed early on in the Iraq war. He too had been to see the Squadron just a few weeks before, telling of his exploits and inspiring the cadets by his example.
    When his death was announced it was greeted with a stunned silence and a few quiet tears were shed. His memorial service was attended by every single member of the Squadron -we did our best for our friend. May he rest in peace and rise in glory at the last.

  5. JessRhian on said:

    This post has brought back happy memories. Joining the ATC at 13 brought stability and routine to my life at a time when it was lacking. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges, the discipline, the opportunities it provided, which went beyond all my expectations. I remember being amazed that friends at school thought to sneer at it, and then even their faces would light up when the thrill of night exercises on the common were described; shooting, flying, weekends away, the challenges, the drill, the friendships formed all played their part. (Eventually most of my friends went too.)
    I now work with young people, who often moan ‘there’s nothing to do.’ A few weeks ago (funnily enough) I told them some of the tales from my time in the cadets. I wanted to explain that there are opportunities out there, and with just a small amount of courage, a little bit of risk, by trying something they perhaps would never have considered, they may find a completely new batch of experiences and rewards which they may never otherwise have. Air cadets certainly did that for me.
    Last month at a local supermarket the cadets were bag packing to raise funds. Looking over at the person in charge of them I saw she was someone I recognised, someone who’d been a fellow cadet. (I can actually remember suggesting to her she should join). On chatting to her she explained how she’d made her way through the ranks, and now, along with another adult is ‘running the place.’ It was clear it has remained a huge and fulfilling part of her life.
    I think I lasted just over 2 years, which is a relatively short time, but then power negotiations, relationships, part time jobs started getting in they way. But I do remember it fondly, and am very thankful for the people who work so hard to enable it to happen. Thank-you also for this blog post, in making me remember.

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