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RAF Cranwell – Never Standing Still By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

RAFInvited by the Cranwellian Association to address students engaged in junior officer training courses, members of both London and East Midlands University Air Squadrons and other attendees on the subject of ‘the RAF and the Nation Post SDSR 2015’ it was with great pleasure that I once again returned to RAF Cranwell yesterday afternoon. The RAF College mission “to attract, select and recruit the Air Force of tomorrow, whilst training and developing the Air Force of today and fully supporting wider defence outputs’ is far more than being merely a simple narrative – it defines to me just what makes the culture of RAF work so well and why RAF Cranwell is such a very special place.

With the ever increasing demands placed on the air power related component of UK defence the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 (SDSR 2015) has required that the Royal Air Force would need to increase the throughput of Initial Officer Training. To that end RAF Cranwell has responded deciding that the number of courses will increase from four to five per year with around 120 attending each course, up from the present level of ninety students. The increase is being fed by an increase in Recruiting and Selection activity and will result in an increase in graduating Officers entering No. 3 Flying Training School.

The junior officer training work done at RAF Cranwell is as important today as it has ever been in the past. I was very impressed by the audience that I addressed yesterday afternoon, by the attention and level of knowledge that students hold and that came out in the subsequent Q&A. I would like to thank the Commandant of RAF College Cranwell, Air Commodore Chris Luck for inviting me back to College Hall and to Wing Commander Richard Willis, AO1 Protocol, Engagement, Ceremonial & Heritage and Director of the Cranwellian Association for hosting me.

In brief, the Initial Officer Training (IOT) course is divided into 3 modules with a review and progress point check at the end of each phase:

Term 1 consists of training in Military Skills, Essential Service Knowledge, Physical Education, Drill, Navigation, Operational Studies and the fundamentals of Leadership. Also included here is a five day visit to Force Development Centre to study self-awareness, teamwork, planning and learning of RAF Core Values and Ethos. Cadets will be tested on their Operational Studies Knowledge, Military Skills and Leadership at the end of the Term. Upon successful completion of the tests and having demonstrated a positive attitude to training throughout, cadets will then proceed to Term 2.

Term 2 consists of further training in Military Skills, Essential Service Knowledge, Physical Education, Drill, Operational Studies and Leadership. Also training in Written Communications. The Leadership syllabus is intended to build on the fundamentals of Leadership, progress to transactional leadership and develop an awareness of transformational leadership. Cadets will be tested on all aspects of the academic, physical, military skills and leadership syllabi. Leadership will be tested during a deployment to a local RAF Station where the cadet will be expected to carry out force protection-type tasks. On successful completion of all these tests and having demonstrated a continued positive attitude to training, the successful cadets will be recommended for graduation before proceeding on to Term 3.

Term 3 is of a developmental and transformational nature, during which cadets will be empowered to take more responsibility for their own training and development as junior officers. The period includes visits to other RAF Stations, the Force Development Centre at Grantown-on-Spey in Scotland, and further education in Air Warfare. Leadership training continues and will require the student to set up and operate a Combined Operations Centre. Only those whose attitude and behaviour is considered to be consistent with the high standards expected of an RAF Junior Officer will be allowed to graduate.

I have no idea what the pass/fail rates at the various stages but judging by the dedication mixed with commitment and determination that I observed yesterday I would have thought that having got this far most students get through. Certainly the system of training adopted at RAF Cranwell works well. It is tried and trusted and respected by all.

The other aspect of RAF Cranwell is the importance of this place being the embodiment of the Royal Air Force but also its importance in terms of RAF heritage. The Army has Sandhurst, the Royal Navy has the superb Britannia Naval College at Dartmouth and the Royal Air Force has Cranwell. Each of these fine military establishments and places of learning and officer training is steeped in its own history. Each has provided generations of training to would be officers and each carries the responsibility for training the leaders of the future that they will need.

RAF Cranwell was originally founded as a Royal Navy Air Service Central Training Establishment almost exactly one hundred years ago on the 1st of April 1916. The subsequent amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corp to form the Royal Air Force in 1918 led to the 2,500 acre site at Cranwell being handed over to the RAF. If they care to forget anything else that they might do or have done in their careers the RAF College is a place that all those who succeeded to become Royal Air Force officers will always be drawn to and never forget.

The official opening of what would in 1929 be known as the Royal Air Force College took place in February 1920. From 1925 until he left the RAF in 1935, T E Lawrence served at Cranwell. The superb College Hall, a brilliant construction that is best described as being based on the best of Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural ideas was completed in 1933 with the official opening a year later in October 1934. The Royal Air Force College would in fact become the very first Military Air Academy to be established in the World and through its doors officer training doors have travelled many Princes. With a formidable library covering all aspects of air power related history right through to the present day the College is an important place of learning and research for students. To know the past is way to understand the present and the way to open doors to the future. The superb collection of Royal Air Force air power heritage and the people that made it happen is unsurpassed and the College displays the truly magnificent collection of history and heritage in a very dignified manner. Inside College Hall will be found paintings, photographs, uniforms, regalia, medals, collections donated by families of those such as Viscount Trenchard and others who founded, developed and led the fledgling Royal Air Force through its formative years and into the more challenging years of WW2 and beyond. Winston Churchill as one of the most important supporters of the whole concept of air power is ever present within the College walls and within the history of RAF Cranwell as are, in painting form, to be found members of the Royal Family past and present and those of various Air Force Chiefs, some of whom I have had the great pleasure and honour of knowing over the years.

Apart from the way that it has been laid out, the greens themselves and the sheer beauty of College Hall and its surrounds and importantly, heritage the RAF College also supports the flying task for No 3 Flying Training School, an important units providing elementary flying training for pilots of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army using Grob Tutors as well as providing flying training for multi engine pilots on the Beech King Air B200 aircraft, generic training for all RAF Weapons Systems Operators and I believe also, advanced training for those selected for the fixed wing ISTAR and Air to Air tanker refuelling role. The base is the headquarters of the Central Flying School and acts as home to several other ‘lodger’ units such as Defence Legal Services, Headquarters of the Air Training Corps, the RAF College Band and some others.

CHW (London 19th February 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710-779785


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