Qioptiq logo Raytheon Global MilSatCom

RAF Cosford Air Show – 2018 Will Be A Truly Spectacular Event By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.




In what is a very special year for the Royal Air Force as it continues to mark the centenary of its establishment as an independent air force in April 1918, visitors to next Sunday’s RAF Cosford Air Show are guaranteed that this will be a quite spectacular event.

Held annually, organised by the RAF itself and with over 60,000 people expected to attend on June 10th, the RAF Cosford Air Show this year will be one of pinnacle events in the RAF 100 centenary calendar. As I have done on many past occasions, I will also be attending this brilliantly organised, rewarding and very enjoyable event.

Some broad details of some of what visitors can expect at the 2018 RAF Cosford Air Show can be found below, but in addition here I have included an update of a commentary piece written two years ago in respect of the operational role of RAF Cosford today in relation to air power being the centre of excellence for engineering and technical training for the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and Army.

With responsibility for the RAF Cosford Air Show in the very capable hands of Wing Commander Mike Cook together with RAF Cosford Station Commander, Group Captain ‘Tone’ Baker this will be the largest that personnel at RAF Cosford have organised. Always a not to be missed event on the annual calendar and important too as an event where the Royal Air Force can demonstrate what it does and also attempt to inspire young people to look at the RAF as being a potential future career, the RAF Cosford Air Show is now the only remaining airshow held on any Royal Air Force base.

Located in the Midlands close to Shifnal in Shropshire, visitors to the RAF Cosford Air Show this year will be able to walk around four separate ‘villages’ that have been specifically designed to demonstrate the Royal Air Force, its people, its aircraft and of what they achieved over the past one hundred years. I understand that the themes chosen for the individual zones have been based on ‘Policing the Empire’, ‘The War Years’, ‘An Age of Uncertainty’ and the ‘New Millennium’.  Each of the zones will including demonstrations, re-enactments and activities together with showing aircraft from the respective era.

With the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford also located on the base, I understand that eight of the Museum’s historic aircraft will be on display at the airfield. These will include a WW1 Bristol M1C monoplane, a Sopwith Strutter, Boulton Paul Defiant and Gloucester Gladiator and from its storage site, a Gloucester Meteor F9/40 jet. Other post WW2 aircraft that the RAF Museum will display as statics on the airfield include the de Havilland Devon C2, Percival Pembroke C1 and the Scottish Aviation Jetstream T1 Pilot Trainer. Highlights of other Royal Air Force aircraft at the RAF Cosford Air Show this year include display from the RAF Red Arrows in their BAE Systems Hawk T1 aircraft, a Typhoon FGR4 display given by the 29(R) Squadron based Typhoon display team, ahead of the capability being stood down next March after 38 years’ service, an RAF Marham based Panavia Tornado GR4 together with two Short Tucano aircraft from RAF Linton-on-Ouse based 72 (R) Squadron and four BAE Systems Hawk T2 aircraft from 1V (R) Squadron based at RAF Valley. Airbus Helicopter H135 and H145 rotary aircraft from the nearby RAF Shawbury based Defence Helicopter Flying School will also display along with, weather permitting, aircraft from Battle of Britain Memorial Flight including a Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, Avro Lancaster and Douglas Dakota will display. The Royal Navy will be displaying RNAS Culdrose based Leonardo Merlin (EH101) HM2 rotary capability and there will also be a display by the RAF Falcon Parachute display team. Military vehicles and much else will also be on display.

QinetiQ will display an Airbus Helicopter H125. Foreign air force participating at the RAF Cosford Air Show this year is once again large. The Belgian Air Force will be providing a display by its Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons Demo Team together with a separate demo from its AgustaWestland A109BA Helicopter display team, there will be displays from a French Air Force Dassault Rafale C and a range of static aircraft on display form the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Polish Air Force and Navy and Irish Air Force. In addition to those already mentioned, a vast range of preserved or non-flying aircraft will be on display from private owners, museums and heritage centres.

The RAF Cosford based Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering will be wheeling out many examples of Sepecat Jaguar aircraft used as ground aircraft in the engineering and technical training for static display and if you want more I can tell you that there will be various examples of the BAE Harrier, McDonnell Douglas F-4K Phantom, de Havilland Chipmunk T10, BAC Jet Provost, English Electric Lightning, Blackburn Buccaneer, Hawker Hunter and in terms of rotary helicopter, Westland Whirlwind, Wessex and Gazelle helicopters together with a Westland Helicopter built Sikorsky Sea King HAR3 from HMS Sultan/Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering.

In addition, a large number of civilian owned aircraft and rotary capability will be on display many of which are vintage aircraft. The list really is too long to mention but I will highlight examples of Hawker Nimrod and Fury aircraft, various Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighters, several de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth aircraft, a Bristol Blenheim plus examples of de Havilland DH89  Dragon Rapide and DH87b Hornet Moth aircraft. There will also be examples of historic US aircraft including a Douglas C-47A Skytrain, P-51D Mustang and T6 Harvard.  I apologies that I have not been able to list all the aircraft that will be on display at the RAF Cosford Airshow this year but you get the picture I am sure.

The RAF Cosford Air Show plays pivotal role in shedding light to visitors who come from all over the country and particularly from the West Midlands on what RAF Cosford does. As the RAF’s key engineering and technical training RAF Cosford plays a very important role in current and future strategic air power thinking.

Being part of the pre-World War 2 airfield expansions plans, RAF Cosford was opened almost eighty years ago in July 1938. Originally designed to provide additional Aircraft Storage Units (ASU) and aircraft repair facilities it wasn’t long before RAF Cosford became the centre of excellence of RAF engineering and technical training. Change to the original sole ASU intention occurred due the huge upsurge of manpower requirement and the need for the RAF to provide additional training units to those that already existed at RAF Halton, RAF Cranwell and RAF Uxbridge. Additionally, it was deemed that technical training units would fit very well alongside ASU units,

Building the base started in August 1937 and the Royal Air Force No 2 School of Technical Training was officially formed on the 15th July 1938. Suffice to say that RAF Cosford has continued in the technical and engineering training role ever since and today it can be regarded as the centre of excellence for RAF technical training. Continuing the training and excellence theme RAF Cosford is also the long-time lodger home of the Defence School of Photography which is described separately, The RAF School of Physical Training, Robson Academy of Resilience, No 1 Radio School, 605 Squadron RAuxAF and University of Birmingham Air Squadron.

What follows is primarily an update of a commentary piece on RAF Cosford that I wrote two years ago following a formal visit to the base. At that time the Station Commander was Air Commodore Mark Hunt. At that time, apart from visiting the Royal Air Force Museum which is on the same base location on various occasions, the visit to RAF Cosford as an operational base had been my first for fifty years. What I would observe on the visit was aerospace engineering and technical training at its absolute best.

While it is true to say that some of the infrastructure was still recognisable from my previous visits, then as a member of 492 Squadron Air Training Corps based at Hall Green, Birmingham suffice to say that through a process of continually adapting in order to meet the constantly changing engineering and technical demands that air power presents, RAF Cosford is still at the very top of its game. Through a consistent lean based, can do, will do approach and one that combines strong leadership that is demanding of innovation, it comes as little surprise that RAF Cosford should continue to be regarded around the world as the centre of excellence for military based aerospace engineering and technical training that it provides for students.

In placing aerospace engineering and technical training as a key priority across the military and in recognising also that because of what large UK based aerospace and defence engineering manufacturing and services companies such as BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Thales, Meggitt, Cobham, QinetiQ, Marshalls, Raytheon, Leonardo and Babcock International, AgustaWestland and others have achieved in their respective engineering apprentice and graduate training schemes, it still remains true that as a nation the UK is failing to attract and train sufficient numbers of engineers and technicians.

Skill shortages are a major problem that the UK and within the context of the whole STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) the need for more investment in education and training effort has never been greater.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering (in 2016) the UK needs 87,000 level 4 engineers each year if we are to meet current and anticipated demands and 69,000 Level 3 Engineers. The pool of available talent is undoubtedly shrinking and it is also sadly true that too few graduate engineers (approximately half) choose to go into or indeed, remain in engineering related posts throughout their careers. Demand way outstrips supply and today we produce just 51,000 of the latter and 23,500 of the former. It is not nearly enough and as a nation we will suffer the consequences increasingly in the years ahead unless we redress the balance.

In a competitive environment, RAF Cosford plays a key role not only in respect of engineering and technical training. Innovation is key to this and in providing what is needed to sustain the military aerospace sector requirements over the following decades. Retention of engineering and technical personnel remains a key issue across the military and, weakened by pressure on resources and affordability, the military is an all too easy touch for the private sector.

Along with helping to address the STEM issues and to encourage more people to consider engineering and technical careers, events such as the RAF Cosford Air Show and indeed, RAF 100 celebrations taking place this year, all help to spread the attractions of engineering as a career in the Royal Air Force.

As military air capability gets ever more sophisticated and the work being done at RAF Cosford in training tomorrow’s military aerospace engineers and technicians gets ever more important. Thus is good to see that the RAF Cosford based Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering is not only well invested and in good health but also that it continues to rise to the challenge of training more engineers and technicians that the Royal Air Force and other members of the military need.

So what does RAF Cosford do?

In short the operation provides military aerospace related engineering and technical training to the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army. For the Royal Air Force this includes Engineer Officers, Aircraft Mechanics, Technicians, including mechanical, electronics and weapons, ICT technicians, plus also survival equipment fitters and specialist photography and physical training. For the Royal Navy this will include air engineering technicians, survival equipment fitters and air engineering officers and for the Army, air engineering officers and technicians.

There is no denying that the UK military is short of engineers and specialist technicians and in providing the primary air power related elements of engineering training across all three services, RAF Cosford plays a vital role training engineers and technicians and in helping to fill gaps that have emerged.

RAF Cosford is a very busy base and one which makes good use of its many different assets. As previously mentioned, the base is home to a variety of training based activities and what are colloquially called lodger units. Under the overall command of Air Officer Commanding 22 Group, Air-Vice Marshal Warren James and under the direct command of Group Captain Tone Baker who is both Commandant and Station Commander, my two day visit in May (2016) confirmed that RAF Cosford was not only a well-run lean operation but also one in which military and civilian training staff employed clearly enjoy what they do and achieve and are well-motivated to achieve success.

RAF Cosford sets out to provide world-class military technical training environment for the delivery of agile, adaptable and operationally-focused air based engineering and technician training for military personnel for the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army and in respect of the government prosperity agenda, international defence training as well.

By the time students have qualified and departed RAF Cosford and its satellite operations, they will be able to demonstrate wherever they are sent that they are competent, skillful and highly trained in order to provide specialist engineering and technical support requirement.

The various engineering and technical based training schools on base are responsible for the provision of all Phase 2 and some Phase 3 training for RAF based trade specialisations of Aeronautical Engineering, Information and Communication Technology (IT), Physical Training and Photography training for all three sections of our armed forces and also, as mentioned above, for elements of international defence training as well.

Having done their Initial Officer Training at the RAF College Cranwell or at Army and Royal Navy locations, those coming to RAF Cosford go on to receive Phase 2 specialist training. This comprises specialist training and is designed to prepare those involved for their first actual employment. Phase 3 training moves them on further to increase the level of skill base and to provide them with what they require in order to meet their chosen specialist engineering or technical trade. This will have encompassed training to meet career aspirations and professional development.

Training at RAF Cosford has over many years been designed to prepare military personnel for careers in their specialist branch (officers) or trade (airmen) and for the performance of their branch/trade tasks on deployed operations. The facilities are extensive and the number of operationally retired aircraft available for trainees to work on including many Sepecat Jaguar and Panavia Tornado GR4 combat jets together with Sikorsky Sea King and other military rotary aircraft is extensive.

In order to provide the extensive requirement of engineering based training RAF Cosford has also been required to be the primary home of a large number of important engineering, technical and other related functions. Primary amongst these are the Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering (DSAE), established in 2004 as a direct result of the Defence Training Review and which is now described as being the primary partnered solution for air power related engineering defence training for all three armed for elements.

With RAF Cosford now being the primary base DSAE means that it also has responsibility for the satellite operations at Lyneham (School of Army Aeronautical Engineering and Gosport, Hampshire (Royal Navy Air Engineering and Survival Equipment School).

With approximately 1,500 aeronautical engineering personnel from the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army going through the Cosford Apprenticeship system annually approximately 600 plus ‘learners’ going through the RAF Cosford Apprenticeship schemes at the Defence School of Aeronautical Engineers annually, another 130 going through the Defence School of Communications and around 14 going through the Defence School of Photograph. The pass rate is high at 91% and the number that drop out very low.

All aspects of aerospace related technical, management, survival, radio, photography, physical ae covered and as mentioned, international defence training (IDT) as well and at any one time around 240 students will be from foreign air forces. Since 2005 RAF Cosford has been responsible for training close to 1,700 students from countries that include Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Brunei plus another ten countries with whom the UK enjoys strong ties.

Since it was established DSAE has worked and grown in tandem with the Defence Technical Training Change Programme (DTTCP), an organisation mandated to develop affordable and value-for-money solutions for future defence training. While there is still a long way to go and much change yet to be implemented RAF Cosford has been quick to embrace the latest developments in training design and methods and also in the transformation of technical training to encompass modern day learning methods.

The principal task of the DSAE is to produce highly trained and motivated aeronautical engineering mechanics, technicians and officers ready to contribute to UK Defence. The DSAE is a federated school and comprises training establishments across three sites including the Royal Navy Air Engineering and Survival School (RNAESS) based at HMS SULTAN in Gosport, the REME School of Army Aeronautical Engineering (SAAE) based in Arborfield, the RAF No 1 School of Technical Training and the RAF Aerosystems Engineer and Management Training School. RAF Cosford is home to Headquarters DSAE.

The wider DSAE, along with No 1 Radio School which is part of the Defence School of Communications and Information Systems (DSCIS) continues to drive through modernisation and efficiency across the broad spectrum of responsibility that it has for training members of all three elements of the military and both colleges provide Foundation Degree courses that are designed to prepare selected non-commissioned personnel for Engineer Branch commissioning.

DSAE Headquarters

The Commandant DSAE is also RAF Cosford Station Commander. DSAE HQ at RAF Cosford provides high-level planning and business development functions and ensures that services provided to DSAE satellite sites meet the various standards set out in parenting agreements. DSAE is recognised as a contributor to wider Defence Engagement, International Security Co-operation and the prosperity agenda through its important work delivering International Defence Training to military personnel from countries such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Brunei, USA and several other countries.

DSAE Training Development and Standards Organisation (TDSO) brings together training development personnel and assets of the DSAE under single direction providing SO1 accredited tri-service training development. The Accreditation Group also manages the Royal Air Force Aeronautical Apprenticeship scheme that is delivered both at Cosford and across main RAF operating bases.

The RAF Aeronautical Apprenticeships are claimed to be the largest and most successful Aeronautical Engineering Apprenticeships in the UK. The COS (Chief of Staff) DSAE area delivers assurance, engineering management and safety management functions to all DSAE schools. Subordinated organisations include the Quality and Continuous Improvement Team (QCIT) and Training Equipment Support and Safety (TES&S). COS also acts as the Principal Engineer, advising the Commandant on aviation engineering matters and Military Aviation Authority (MAA) engineering compliance.

The RAF Aerosystems Engineer and Management Training School (AE&MTS) which is also based at RAF Cosford delivers aero-systems and management training to Royal Air Force engineer officers, officer cadets, SNCOs and JNCOs, along with academic principles to airman as part of their trade training.

Courses vary from a 14 month long Foundation Degree down to some of which are just a few weeks in length. The AE&MTS School trains over 1000 students per year including engineer officers from a number of overseas countries such as Sultanate of Oman, Nation of Brunei and, Kingdoms of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The training consists of a blended mixture of theory and practical exercises during which the students are able to use the School’s excellent training facilities, including aero-thermal laboratories and wind tunnels, as well as ‘live’ Jaguar aircraft; these give the students the opportunity to operate in a safe, supervised and simulated squadron environment RAF No 1 School of Technical Training (Part of the DSAE).

No 1 Radio School (Part of the Defence College of Communication and Information Systems (DCCIS) is part of the Defence School of Communications and Information Systems (DSCIS) which has its headquarters at Blandford. No 1 Radio School is responsible for Phase 2 and 3 training of RAF Trade Group 4 (Information and Communication Technology – ICT) training technicians to meet the RAF’s requirement for a huge range of complex LAN IT based communication and information networks, sensors and detection systems that are required to maintain airfield and air defence systems.

No 1 School of Technical Training is dedicated to providing world class aeronautical engineering training to around 2,000 national and international Phase 2 trainees and Phase 3 students annually. Courses provide training in mechanical, avionics, weapons and survival equipment disciplines along with human factors and expedient repair based training. The apprentices on these schemes have access to high-quality specialist training facilities allowing them to develop and extend aircraft engineering skills to the full. Resources to support teaching, learning and student welfare were acknowledged by Ofsted to be ‘outstanding’ in the most recent inspection report of January 2015. Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence are the hallmarks of training here and the School is proud to be associated with and to provide technical expertise and support to external agencies including: World Skills competition; Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE); Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM); and Royal Aeronautical Society lectures.

Part of the Joint Intelligence Training Group which has its headquarters at Chicksands, the Defence School of Photography is responsible for delivering Phase 2 and 3 photographic training for Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and for providing courses to other supporting government functions. Operationally focused, the highly regarded career professional photographic course (28 weeks long) covers all aspects of photography and graduates work towards an Advanced Apprenticeship (AA) in Photo Imaging. They also have the opportunity to join the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP). Shorter courses can be delivered bespoke to customer requirements and some of these attract NVQ and VRQ qualifications.

The RAF School of Physical Training is responsible for the delivery of specialist trade training to Personnel Branch Officers and Physical Training Instructors. This will include professional through-career training for all ranks across the physical training cadre including trade management training. The School also has responsibility for course and syllabus design; accreditation and validation of learning and for providing ongoing through-life training support.

RAF Cosford is also directly responsible for DSAE (Gosport) whose main elements consists of the Royal Navy Air Engineering and Survival School HMS Sultan. This School operates four strands of training, these being Air Engineering Mechanics, Air Engineering Artificers, Survival Training and Air Engineering Officers. In addition Cosford is responsible for DSAE (Arborfield) in conjunction with the Technology Branch and which forms part of the Defence College of Electro-Mechanical Engineering. Responsibility here is for providing training to all Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) aviation technicians, artificers and engineering officers. The Technology Branch is responsible for teaching academic subjects such as electronic theory and the theory of flight while DCAE (Arborfield) covers, engineering techniques, aircraft systems and equipment training on the lynx and gazelle helicopters).

OTHER COSFORD ‘Lodger’ Units

University of Birmingham Air Squadron (UBAS).

The UBAS has a total of 6 military and civilian staff overseeing 78 undergraduate Officer Cadets and Acting Pilot Officers who undertake a range of activities designed to develop the students in preparation for a career in the RAF or outside within civilian professions. These activities include personal development and leadership training, adventure training, force development and flying opportunities designed to test and enhance the students’ courage, confidence and leadership skills. Embedded within UBAS is No 8 AEF who share the 5 Grob Tutor Aircraft and flew in excess of 2,900 Air Training Corps Cadets over the last 12 months.

RAF Cosford is also home to No 8 Air Experience Flight (AEF), the HQ for Wales and Western Region Air Training Corps, HQ West Mercia Wing Air Training Corps, HQ Principal Dental Officer West Midlands and Wales Region, RAF Cosford Medical Treatment Facility (Part of Defence Primary Health Care (Wales and West Midlands), HQ Combined Cadet Force Training and Evaluation Support Team West and No 633 Volunteer Gliding School (VGS).

The Royal Air Force Museum.

The Museum’s aim is to preserve an important part of Britain’s national aviation heritage and to display it for future generations and it is the only national museum dedicated wholly to aviation. At two separate RAF Museum locations (the former RAF Hendon site in London, an important legacy of the RAF’s fiftieth anniversary in 1968 and which after significant on-site refurbishment and investment will open a large extension in a couple of weeks’ time together with the large purpose built RAF Cosford Museum facility that occupies a large site on the other side of RAF Cosford base) allow the RAF Museum to show off its unique collection of important military aircraft, missiles and artefacts that represent transport, training, research & development and so on.

RAF Museum staff and volunteers are actively engaged in conservation work. The RAF Cosford Museum site is acknowledged to be one of the leading public attractions in the Midlands and has a display of over 70 military aircraft. The Museum is also home to the National Cold War Exhibition which focuses on the Cold War story from a national, international and social/political angle, as well as cultural perspectives.

CHW (London – 4th June 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon





Back to article list