Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation

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RAF Cranwell

Military aviation at Cranwell began on 1 April 1916, when the Admiralty commissioned the site as the ‘Royal Naval Air Service, Training Establishment, Cranwell’.  The establishment trained officers and men to fly and operate a range of aircraft, including balloons and airships, and in common with other Naval Air Stations the personnel were nominally held on the books of HMS Daedalus, which later gave way to a popular misconception that Cranwell had been commissioned as HMS Daedalus; but ‘Daedalus’ was a hulk that was moored in the Medway.

When the Royal Naval Air Service was amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps, on 1 April 1918, the Station became Royal Air Force Cranwell, and was later chosen as the site of the Royal Air Force Cadet College, which would provide initial officer training and basic flying training for the future leaders of the new Service.  The first course began on 5 February 1920; but the only accommodation was in the huts that had been erected for temporary use in 1916.

In 1922, it was decided that the temporary accommodation should be replaced by permanent buildings, but it was not until 1929 that the foundation stone of College Hall was laid, and in the same year the College was renamed the Royal Air Force College and was granted its Coat of Arms.  Meanwhile, from 1929 to 1938, Cranwell’s airfield enabled the long take-off runs, which were required by the Long Range Development Flight in its attempt to establish the World Long Distance Record.  After three attempts this was claimed in February 1933 when a Fairy Long Range Monoplane landed at Walvis Bay in South West Africa.

In August 1939, cadet training ceased and Cranwell became the Royal Air Force College Service Flying Training School.  Then, in 1941, No 3 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit formed at Cranwell, and was replaced by a Ferry Training Unit in 1942.  Cranwell was also chosen for the test flying of a new generation of aircraft.  In 1941 Britain’s first jet aircraft was brought onto the airfield by road, and made its first flight on the evening of 16 May.  Two years later, the Gloster F9/40 made its maiden flight from Cranwell, and its derivative became the first jet aircraft to come into the Service, when it became known as the Meteor.

The Royal Air Force College re-opened in 1946, and in 1948 it became the first Royal Air Force Unit to receive a King’s Colour.  In the years that followed the College broadened its officer training to include candidates who were destined for a range of air and ground specialisations.  In 1965, the Royal Air Force Technical College was moved from Henlow to Cranwell, where it became the Department of Engineering.  Then, in 1970, the Graduate entry scheme was introduced, and replaced the flight cadet system.  Under the new scheme, university graduates completed a short initial officer training course, followed by initial specialist training.

In the next decade, the College’s responsibilities continued to increase: in November 1971, Cranwell assumed control of all University Air Squadrons, and in January 1974, the College of Air Warfare was moved from Manby to Cranwell to become the Department of Air Warfare.  During 1973 and 1974, the Supply and Secretarial Officer Training Squadrons were transferred from Upwood, and the Department of Engineering became the Department of Specialist Ground Training; but the Secretarial Officers’ Training Squadron was subsequently moved to Hereford.

In April 1976, the Central Flying School was transferred to Cranwell from Little Rissington, before moving to Scampton in November 1977.  In April 1980 the Officer Cadet Training Unit from Henlow was merged with the Royal Air Force College, and since then, all officers of Royal Air Force and Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Sisters have completed their initial officer training at Cranwell.

Having disbanded at Leeming in 1984, No 3 Flying Training School was reformed at Cranwell on 1 February 1989, when the Royal Air Force College Basic Flying School was redesignated.  In 1995, following the Defence Cost Studies, a number of major changes to the College’s organization and structure commenced: the Joint Elementary Flying Training School moved from Topcliffe to Cranwell’s satellite airfield at Barkston Heath, and the Basic Flying Training School moved from Cranwell to Linton-on-Ouse.  Its place was taken by No 45 (Reserve) Squadron, which had reformed at Finningley to provide multi-engine training for pilots, flying the Jetstream.  They were subsequently joined by No 55 (Reserve) Squadron, which now trains other aircrew specialists, using the Dominie.

The 1995 Defence Cost Studies also brought about the move of Headquarters Air Cadets to Cranwell from Newton, and elements of the Central Flying School arrived, from Scampton, together with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, ‘The Red Arrows’.  The Central Flying School Headquarters remains at Cranwell, but The Red Arrows returned to Scampton when the airfield was reactivated at the end of 2000.  At the same time, the Central Flying School Bulldog Squadron began its conversion to the Tutor.

In September 1992, the Directorate of Recruiting and Selection was formed at Cranwell, by combining the Directorate of Recruiting, the Inspectorate of Recruiting, and the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre.  On 1 April 2002, the organization was redesignated the Directorate of Recruitment, with an Inspectorate of Recruiting, an Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre, and a re-brigaded Department of Initial Officer Training.

A further change took place on 6 December 2002, when the post of Commandant Royal Air Force College was re-graded to a one-star rank, relinquishing the role of Air Officer Commanding, with re-subordination to the Air Officer Commanding Training Group.  At the same time, Royal Air Force Cranwell was re-established, and re-brigaded under Air Commodore Flying Training, together with No 3 Flying Training School (consisting of No 45(R) and No 55(R) Sqns), the Central Flying School, and the Department of Elementary Flying Training.

Ground training responsibilities were also changed, when the Directorate of Specialist Ground Training was re-brigaded under Air Commodore Ground Training.  At the beginning of 2003 the Department of Initial Officer Training began to train Non-Commissioned Aircrew Cadets, and was re-designated the Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit, and adopted a near copy of the badge which had been first been used by the Officer Cadet Training Unit at Cosford, and was later used at Henlow.

At the same time, the Department of Elementary Flying Training was redesignated No 1 Elementary Flying Training School, and adopted the badge of its Second World War forebear, whilst its naval element at Barkston Heath became 703 Royal Naval Air Squadron, and the army element became 674 Squadron, Army Air Corps.  The most recent change came about on 1 April 2003, when the Department of Specialist Ground Training ceased to function and its training elements came under the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering and the Defence College of Logistics.

The Royal Air Force College.

The Commandant of the Royal Air Force College is the Director of Recruitment for the Royal Air Force, and his command is comprised of 3 major elements of the Royal Air Force College:

Inspectorate of Recruiting (IofR).  The Inspectorate of Recruiting is responsible for recruiting and selecting all non-commissioned personnel for initial recruit training at Halton and Honington.  In addition it is responsible for the selection of potential officers for consideration by the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre.  Recruitment is facilitated through the Royal Air Force Careers Information Service, which consists of a network of Armed Forces Careers Offices, Careers Liaison Officers and Motivational Outreach Teams.

Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC).  The Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre is responsible for the selection of all commissioned officers and non-commissioned aircrew.  The Centre also selects University Bursars, Sixth Form Scholarships and Welbeck College candidates.  Testing is conducted through a series of interviews, aptitude tests, group leadership tasks and a full medical assessment.

Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit (OACTU).  The unit runs 6 x 24-week Initial Officer Training (IOT) courses and 4x10-week Non-Commissioned Aircrew (NCA) Initial Training courses per year.  Each IOT course trains up to 120 cadets and each NCA course trains up to 40 aircrew cadets.  Two to three 8-week Specialist Entrant and Re-entrant (SERE) courses are run each year for doctors, dentists, chaplains, lawyers and nurses and up to 30 cadets attend each course.  There are also a small number of one-week Induction courses for Commissioned Warrant Officers, University Cadets, Bursars and Volunteer Reserve officers.  All IOT cadets are expected to attend a 2-day IOT Familiarization Visit before starting the course


No 1 Elementary Flying Training School (1 EFTS).

1 EFTS provides the first stage of flying training for pilots of all UK Armed Services.  It comprises 17 squadrons and 2 smaller flights based at 14 locations around the UK, with its HQ at Cranwell.  RAF pilots are trained at 14 University Air Squadrons (UAS), either as undergraduates before officer training, or as junior officers after initial officer training at Cranwell.  At the end of this 62-hour syllabus, pilots are streamed for further training in the fast jet, rotary wing or multi-engine stream.  The aircraft used for this training is the Tutor, a single-engined light aircraft supplied for the purpose under a PFI contract.  The flying syllabus contains all the elements needed for a Private Pilot’s Licence (for which students are qualified at the end) plus aerobatics, formation and low-level navigation.  RN and Army student pilots are trained on 703 and 674 Sqn, respectively, at Barkston Heath.  RN students fly the same syllabus as their RAF counterparts, with a small number being selected for fast jet training for the RN Harrier Force, while the Army fly a shorter (40-hour) syllabus before proceeding, along with most of the RN, to rotary wing training.  The aircraft used for RN and Army training is the Firefly, a similar aircraft to the Tutor, which is also used for RAF multi-engine lead-in (MELIN) training, and for Army Grading, an airborne selection procedure for potential pilots.  Again, a contractor supplies the aircraft.  CFS Tutor Sqn at Cranwell trains all the flying instructors for 1 EFTS.  EFT Standards instructors provide continuing checks on the quality of EFT instructors and their output.  Embedded within the UASs are Air Experience Flights (AEF), providing flying opportunities for Air Cadets of the Air Training Corps and Combined Cadet Force.  AEF pilots are volunteer military aviators, either serving or, more often, retired.  In all their tasks, EFT aircraft fly some 60,000 hours each year.  The UASs also provide more general Service training for potential officers of all RAF branches.  As well as formal classroom teaching, this includes a large element of adventurous training, helped by the Physical Training Instructor on the staff of each unit.  Some 1000 undergraduates are members of the UASs at any one time, 650 of these being potential pilots.  Direct entry students from the RAF, RN and Army bring the total 1 EFTS student loading to 1100.  Students from other nations also train on 1 EFTS, but in smaller numbers.

Headquarters Air Cadets (HQ AC).

The Air Cadet Organization (ACO) is a national youth organization sponsored by the RAF.  It comprises the Air Training Corps (930 squadrons) and the RAF sections of the Combined Cadet Force (189 units); 2 Adventure Training Centres; 28 Volunteer Gliding Schools; 36 Wing HQs, 6 Regional HQs.  It is established to promote and encourage among young people a practical interest in aviation and the RAF; to provide training which will be useful in the Services and civilian life; and to foster a spirit of adventure and to develop qualities of good leadership and citizenship.  The ACO offers air experience flying on Tutors, gliding on the Vigilant (motorized) and Viking (winch-launched), shooting, sports and adventurous activities, camps, international exchanges, Nijmegen marches, participation in The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, and an aviation-orientated academic programme that also offers BTechs in Aviation Studies and in Public Services.  Some 98% of the members are volunteers.  Averaged over recent years, 58% of those in the pilot and navigator branches are ex-cadets, and 38% of the other officer branches are ex-cadets.  Currently some 18% of all airmen undergoing training are ex-cadets.  The current strength of some 48,500 cadets across the entire spectrum of society contributes directly to the RAF’s initiatives on diversity whilst also mirroring its Ethos, Core Values and Standards.

No 3 Flying Training School (3 FTS)

The aim on 3 FTS is to supply RAF front line operational conversion units with trained multi-engine pilots, navigators and non-commissioned aircrew.  Pilots are trained on King Air aircraft of No 45(R) Squadron.  Weapons Systems Officers, in the navigation specialization, are trained initially on aircraft of the Central Flying School Tutor Squadron and later on the Dominie aircraft of No 55(R) Squadron.  Following initial training, non-commissioned aircrew are also trained as Weapons Systems Operators, specializing as air Loadmasters, Air Electronics Operators, Air Engineers or Air Signallers.

Central Flying School (CFS).

CFS maintains standards of flying and flying instruction on fixed and rotary wing aircraft and gliders throughout all 3 Services.  Instructor training itself has been collocated with aircraft type:  Tutor and King Air at RAF Cranwell, Squirrel at RAF Shawbury, Tucano at RAF Linton-on-Ouse and Hawk at RAF Valley. 

Standardization is carried out by CFS by means of audits of all flying units, monitoring the output standard of students, staff and instructor aircrew in all flying disciplines and at all stages of training, and ensures coherence of flying training boundaries.  Comdt CFS also has delegated control of the RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.  The Team relocated to RAF Cranwell from RAF Scampton on 20 Feb 96 and returned again to RAF Scampton at the end of 2001. The Red Arrows undertake 7 months of training at RAF Scampton annually before undertaking up to 100 public displays.

RAF Station Cranwell

RAF Station Cranwell provides administrative and engineering support to other departments based at Cranwell.  The Station supports the College in many ways; personnel management, policing and security, medical and dental services, budget management, property management, physical education, chaplaincy services, education and library services and health and safety.

Specialist Ground Training

At Cranwell, specialist ground training is delivered by the Defence College of Aeronautical engineering (DCAE) and the Defence College of Logistics (DCL) on a wide variety of courses, to British and overseas students, covering not only core logistics topics but also related disciplines such as computing and management.  In addition to initial specialist training, the colleges provide continued professional development for engineer and supply officers.

The Bands of the Royal Air Force College Royal Air Force Regiment

Two of only 3 remaining full time bands in the Royal Air Force, the bands of the RAF College and RAF Regiment, are both independent lodger units at RAF Cranwell who draw upon the Station element for administrative support.  Each has a busy annual programme of engagements, which continue to promote the finest traditions of musicians in the Forces as a whole and the RAF in particular.

Air Warfare Centre (AWC)

Another lodger unit, the AWC conducts foundation and more advanced courses in the theory and practice of air warfare, including air operations, electronic warfare, weapons, the military use of space and targeting and battle damage assessment for all RAF personnel and selected members of the Royal Navy and Army. The Department also conducts advanced technology and aerosystems training for personnel destined for duty in Operational Requirement, procurement and flight trials.


This page was last updated on 09/06/17 using FrontPage 2003©

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