Hosted by: AFC member Sqn Ldr Mike Waring - OC 57(R) Sqn and Fg Off Ben Chergui
Sections visited: RAF Recruitment & Selection, Initial Officer Training (IOT), College Hall Mess, Elementary Flying Training - 3FTS, Flying in Tutor & King Air, 3FTS Dining In Night.
AFC Attendees: Richard Milman, Mike Haigh, John Readman and Ian Bartholomew.
A group of 5 smartly dressed 40-50 year old AFC members met prompt at 8am on a cold autumnal morning in the guardrooms car park of RAF Cranwell on 27th October, all nervous and excited about what might lie ahead. The rumours of office selection, obstacle courses and pilot aptitude tests had been flying about ahead of the visit. Everyone was sporting the current AFC tie and several comments were made on how it was hard to find any wardrobe combo, that would show off the unique qualities and colours of the club tie, to that end Barty had actually bought 3 sports jackets and was wearing a suit! After a quick wardrobe change from Barty we were all set to go.
Fg Off Ben Chergui had been assigned to drive us about and take care of our every need, he swung into the car park like only an RAF student pilot can in his MT crew van. He clearly had a requirement for some caffeine and suggested before we go to the first stop of our jam packed day we should stop off at the RAF Stations own Starbucks. This made the AFC feel very at home, a complex combination of Lattes, Flat Whites and Espressos followed and our host AFC member Mike Waring appeared. Mike was looking slightly preoccupied and was clearly spinning a few plates when he confirmed a previous rumour that the AFC were not actually the main event on the station today, and that the RT Honorable Michael Fallon MP and Secretary of State for Defence would be on base all day and taking part in a similar tour to ourselves and also joining us for the 3FTS dinning in night. We wondered if he had he heard the AFC were visiting and wanted to be in on a good day and night? Mike gave us an over view of the day ahead and we strolled over to Recruitment and Selection OASC with coffees in hand to start our journey through the life of an RAF officer.
Recruitment & Selection - OASC
Sqn Ldr Stephen Peters and Flt Lt John Dyson talked us through the whole process of selection from initial call centre telephone interviews through to the aptitude tests, medicals and the hangar exercises. What was particularly fascinating was the commercial value of the selection process and the fact we sell this as a service to many other countries air forces. We did wonder who was leading the negotiations and are they charging enough for a world-class product! Everybody got some hands on time on one of the pilot aptitude tests, which was a bit like a shoot-em up flying computer game. I personally felt very strange as the last time I was in the building was to actually go through the section process and many different emotions instantly came back as we walked about the building. What I found very interesting was that Flt Lt Dyson was a senior officer the week before and is now retired and working as a full time reservist taking a resevist officer salary and also claiming his pension - this to me seemed a good way to retain senior talent and skills within the RAF. Mike Waring also mentioned he has the same situation on his Squadron and that he has a former Grp Capt who is now a Flt Lt, I’m sure that makes an interesting management challenge! Fortunately for us the hangar exercises weren’t available, so none of us sustained any injuries swinging from ropes with scaffolding planks between our teeth. It was very clear that OASC is constantly evolving with the advances in technology and the current assessment techniques that are available to keep the RAF OASC a world class recruitment and selection centre. We all wondered if members of the AFC could help the RAF increase the average contract value from the recruitment and selection service that they sell globally - Mike if you think we could help, put us in touch with whoever it is in this area and we will see what we can do.
IOT - Initial Officer Training
Sqn Ldr Mhairi Howe, gave us a no nonsense ‘warts and all’ overview of the current state of affairs at IOT. She explained that the staff were being Tasked to deliver more officers with less money (the short summary). We were all impressed by her candor and ability to deal with the cards they have been dealt. All of which has recently been turned upside down again by the 2015 Strategic Defence Review. Her statement about the review for the RAF being a ‘Catastrophic Success’ interested us all. The aim of the IOT Course is to develop teamwork and leadership potential and to provide the foundation of skills, attitudes and knowledge required by Junior Officers. The course consists of 3 terms of 10 weeks' training with a week's leave at the end of Terms 1 and 2. This however, is under review.
In addition, to selling the recruitment and selection services to the other air forces around the globe the RAF IOT training course has exchange programmes with several international air forces training their officers. These students must be able to speak English and be able to pass the International English Language Test System (IELTS) with a minimum score of 5.5 before being accepted for IOT. This seems to add a lot of extra pressure on the training system. Recently this hit the National Newspaper headlines when for the first time 2 students from China been allowed to attend IOT, they did have to have a slightly tailored bespoke version of the course due to security implications! As suspected it did turn out they where trying to gain info the Chinese security services! Google this if you want more information.
There is a fitness test for IOT, which consists of the infamous Bleep test, which is a multi-stage Fitness test (MSFT) consisting of a series of 20m shuttle runs. Failure to meet this standard in the early part of the course will result in a recourse. Officer cadets also have to complete a 2.4 km run in 11 minutes 11 seconds, do 20 Press-Ups and 35 Sit-Ups. How many of the AFC could pass the test?
CHOM (College Hall Officers Mess) Tour
This to me was the highlight of the morning section of the visit. Several of us had attended events and balls at CHOM in the past and AFC members Rich Millman and Mike Waring had lived in CHOM having actually completed IOT. We all commented on what a great tour this was and the insights and stories given to us by Flt Sgt Bob Morton were truly amazing. He delivers the tours as a secondary duty and is most definitely a huge asset to the both the RAF and CHOM. If you ever get the chance to complete this tour I highly recommend it. The AFC members who actually lived in CHOM during IOT commented on what a huge amount they had also learnt from Bob. I particularly enjoyed the stories of when Lawrence of Arabia attended Cranwell in disguise. We also spent time in the amazing library, one of the top 3 air power libraries in the world. You could even sit at Bomber Harris’ Desk whilst flicking through years of military history. Maybe, we should use this resource to help plan the AFC Dam busters cycle tour for 2018! See the images below of the AFC members next to some of the amazing portraits housed in CHOM.
We were treated to lunch in the directing staff mess, which is situated alongside the main student mess. After lunch the official visit photo was taken infront of CHOM (see below). During the day several photos of the tour were sent to Mr Fay to feed his appetite for images of AFC members on tour. Certain members insisted on sending him pictures of RAF Cranwell street furniture and random pieces of RAF equipment. No complaints were heard so many were sent.
Sqn Ldr Mark Discombe (who has recently been awarded The Air Force Cross AFC - for landing his Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Hurricane with a burst oil pipe! - more info HERE) . When “Disco” isn’t flying Hurricanes with the BBMF he also oversees the RAF Flying Training School - what a great job! Disco (his nickname due to his surname and not because he can throw John Travolta shapes on the dance floor) gave us an informative, honest and relaxed overview of the flying training syllabus of an RAF Pilot. He explained that they had the same challenges as IOT, 3FTS are also getting asked to do more with less. It was interesting to find out the future of the whole of Flying Training within the RAF and the arrangement to outsource the whole program to civilian contractors. This will mean more investment, new planes and will provide the RAF with 230 fully trained new pilots a year. Disco and the team were positive about this,recognising that contractorisation prevented instant, step ups or step downs, to the training numbers pipeline. The contract that has taken years to negotiate and is going to cost the defence budget billions. We were all impressed with Discos ‘Can do’ make it work attitude. It is all-new and it remains to be seen how it plays out. If you are interested in finding out more information about the Ascent Flight Training outsourcing contract for flying training you can see an official government announcement here. The programme is already rolling out across the RAF and the new aircraft will be arriving in the next few years.
As Rich and I have had many hours of RAF flying experience in the past, we thought it only fair to let the other AFC member have the chance to fly in the 2 seat Tutor. We put the other 3 AFC names into a hat and Barty was the lucky name drawn.
King Air Sortie
Rich, Mike H and me - had an amazing experience sitting in the back of a King Air during a live training sorting which was delivered by Flt Lt Olly Thornton (QFI) for Flt Lt Tchad Collins-Francois (student). We carried out some stalling, step turns and then we headed over to RAF Scampton to do several circuits. It was a great insight into the RAF training and an honour to be allowed onboard during a live training sortie.
Dining In Night
For those AFC members who have never attended a formal RAF dinning in night, I can highly recommend it. If not only for the food, wine, banter and general high spirits - it will do wonders for you bladder control! It was extremely generous for Mike Waring to arrange for us to be included in the dinner. All the AFC members agreed this was a good way to top off an amazing station visit, we should try and factor this in for future trips if we can. What was different and a change to the norm was that the AFC members where all split up amongst the student pilots, so we all got a real in-depth experience! The AFC donated a barrel of beer to add to the evening entertainment, which the student pilots expressed gratitude for by drinking it in quick time. The Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP was present during the dinner and gave a thoughtful and genuine thought provoking speech. He also stayed in the bar past midnight and looked to be having a good night out! You will be pleased to read the AFC showed a strong presence in the bar post dinner, including members taking on and winning against students ‘baring Hollow legs Ben’ at several drinking competitions! We did the club proud!
It was a great trip and has set the bar very high for future station visits. A big thank you to all the members of the RAF who made use feel so welcome, especially Mike Waring and Ben Chergui for hosting us so well.