A review of gliding and developments within the Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Cadets suggests that a revised Air Cadet Aerospace Offer is overdue. The RAF Air Cadets, in 2017 and beyond, are offering more comprehensive training opportunities to complement cadet gliding and flying that, in light of the broader use of digital technologies, ensure the Air Cadet Offer is looking to the future.
The RAF Air Cadets continue to offer a wide range of excellent activities and opportunities to young people to broaden their experience, improve their confidence and equip them with the skills to succeed, both professionally and personally. Previously, the AIR in Air Cadet has largely been associated with gliding, flying scholarship and air experience activity. In 2017 – and as we look to the future – this places insufficient recognition on broader aviation activities offered alongside flying, with cadets being trained in a number of associated aerospace subjects, which offer the possibility of achieving recognised qualifications or contributing to a CV. In line with wider RAF transformation, we are also considering further cadet learning in emerging areas and technologies such as:
- Space – with potential linkages to the National Space Centre; and
- Through links to the RAF 100 legacy ‘Trenchard Group’, which seeks to transform our training and education offer: airspace control, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.
We are modernising to provide wider aerospace and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) experience and qualifications that benefit both cadets and industry in emerging aerospace technology areas. Furthermore there is industry interest in providing aerospace experience shown through linkages with cadets at the Royal International Air Tattoo and Syerston Aerospace camps.
The current generation of cadets and volunteer staff view this positively. It follows that gliding will, in future, be just one part of a useful array of qualifications and experience available to cadets in the aerospace field.
To broaden cadets’ perspectives, a National Aerospace Camp took place in August 2017, following the success of the two previous camps in 2015 and 2016. This brought together over 200 cadets from every corner of the United Kingdom to provide a tailored training programme, focusing on aerospace, aviation, engineering and flying. Alongside many visits to specialist and unique MOD, RAF and aviation establishments; cadets were involved in training in remote-control helicopter flying, radio, synthetic simulator training and air traffic control.
The RAF Air Cadets are in collaboration with the Aviation Skills Partnership, to provide pathways into the aerospace sector. A national hub will be created for the RAF Air Cadets and their adult volunteers, as part of the RAF100 legacy, to engage with modern learning, upskilling, accreditation and development through aerospace subjects. The Aaron Aerospace Academy will be built at RAF Syerston and is intended to form part of a national network of aerospace academies, in the coming years, with state of the art facilities.
Throughout the financial year 2016/17 a total of 17,600 cadets had powered flying experiences in the Grob Tutor, with additional opportunities expected as part of a new Air Experience Flight based in Northern Ireland. A further 2,000 have flown in front-line aircraft during training sorties. Tutor flying is now better integrated as part of the wider training programme as, since the gliding relaunch, the utilisation of Part Task Trainer (PTT) simulators has been realigned, with simulated gliding training a pre-cursor to both gliding and Tutor powered flying qualifications. Each Volunteer Gliding School (VGS) now incorporates at least one PTT and, in addition, five Aerospace Ground Schools equipped with PTTs have been established in locations where full VGS’ were previously closed.
Glider recovery rates are now steady and predictable, allowing a total of nearly 3,000 glider sorties to be conducted since recovery of the fleet began. 22 Viking gliders have been recovered so far and gliders have been assigned to Syerston, Little Rissington, Upavon and Tern Hill. Current plans are that up to 15 Vigilant gliders will be delivered, of which six have been recovered so far, with two having been assigned to Topcliffe and the remainder operating at Syerston. These VGS units are now starting to offer wings courses, as they did prior to the pause in flying. More VGS will be regenerated in the coming months.
The review identified that a smaller fleet can be effectively used to potentially improve availability and extend the service life of the gliders. Accordingly, the recovery plans, focusing on contractor capacity and value for money, will now deliver up to 60 Viking gliders, rather than the 73 previously anticipated. As such the revised numbers will deliver the required output – that of giving Air Cadets the opportunity of gaining gliding experience as part of the wider aerospace offer – and will not impact the number of VGS squadrons agreed in March 2016, or the size of the Volunteer Instructor cadre required to support it.
A modern Air Cadet Aerospace Offer should focus on achieving an appropriate balance of gliding, flying, simulation, STEM and front line air experience, making best use of the assets that the RAF have to offer, whilst also looking to the future. The RAF remains extremely grateful for the hard work, time and energy of the volunteers that support the Air Cadets in driving forward this transformation of the Air Cadet Aerospace Offer.