Air Training Corps

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UK Air Training Corps badge

The Air Training Corps (ATC) was formed in the United Kingdom in 1941 as Britain’s airbourne answer to the Hitler Youth, sort of a budding Bomber Harris. It was initially sponsored by the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a source of recruitment, with the possibility of upgrading to a fully armed "fledgling squadron" in time of conflict. Air Commodore Sir John Chamier first conceived of an aviation cadet corps. He was the ATC’s answer to Lord Baden Powell (famed author of Scouting for Boys with copy-editor Joe Paterno).

The ATC was organised into squadrons headed by a Commanding Officer and supported by a team of other officers commissioned in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. These are ex-RAF personnel whose Officer commission in the real Air Force is impending once they are found to no longer be a gross liability in charge of any aircraft. Supervising children and aircraft together is often a key step in their career rebound.

The huts, equipment, and uniforms were also provided by the RAF. Unfortunately, the particular cut of the British Air Force uniform and its blue hue were specifically designed around ruddy complexions and huge moustaches, not for the skin of a pale child. Being adapted to this use is what gives Air Cadets their trademark sickly look. Coupled with the uniforms being at least twelve sizes too big, Air Cadets during blustery outdoor parades resemble tangled flagpoles.

edit Being an Air Cadet


Cadet Harris is feeling a bit like Tom Cruise, between bouts of feeling a bit sick and a bit frightened.

Upon enrolment into the ATC, every cadet has to make the following promise, usually at a ceremony presided over by the unit's padre or commanding officer: "I,    State your name, please   , hereby solemnly promise on my honor to serve my Unit loyally and to be faithful to my obligations as a member of the Air Training Corps. I further promise to be a good citizen and to do my duty to the Queen, my Country and my trouser creases." It is an exciting time for the young recruit, as their life's first "adult" action, at the age of twelve years, is to sign the Official Secrets Act.

A highlight of a cadet’s year is the annual camp. These are held at RAF stations. The cadets stay in RAF barracks or tents and are allowed to eat in the rating's mess, provided they like everything with sausage, beans and chips. While at camp cadets can engage in other activities such as locking themselves in the Airfield fire truck, spilling coke on the control tower consoles and being rescued after the fat kid collapses on the mountain.

Cadets have their barrack room and kit inspected daily by an overbearing RAF regular, too stupid to be promoted to shouting at adults.

edit Officer Ranks

ATC Officers are commissioned into the Training Branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve - the RAFVR(T). The ATC ranks follow the same pattern as regular RAF officers. The lowest Air Force rank is a Pilot Officer (who is not necessarily a pilot – could be a trumpet player). Next is a Flying Officer (who doesn't necessarily fly either – could be in charge of car-hire) next is Flight Lieutenant who does not lieut a flight (a subdivision of a squadron)) and then a Squadron Leader, who does not actually lead a squadron.

The task of squadron leading in fact, falls to the Wing Commander, which means he does not have time to command a wing (a agglomeration of squadrons) so that’s done by the Group Captain, who fortunately has nothing to do other than inspect uniforms at the Sunday parade. Similarly, Squadron Leader RAFVR(T) Officers will not lead a squadron, but may be able to save you money on home insurance.

edit Cadet Ranks


As with all things military, a rank structure maintains order and discipline and more importantly, the prospect of promotion, which permits keys to the tuck shop to be drawn, is an incentive to put up with all the bullshit.

The cadets themselves can be promoted into non commissioned ranks giving ample bullying training in a controlled environment. There are five cadet ranks in the ATC: Cadet, Corporal, Sergeant, Flight Sergeant and Cadet Warrant Officer. There are a number of ways cadets can achieve a higher rank, but the quickest is by bribery. Football cards, sweets, arranging a date or a packet of tabs for the corporal to suck on behind the drill square and, of course, boot licking are all ways to get promoted. Like the Royal Air Force, the ATC also practices the "Dilbert Principle", i.e. large organisations tend to systematically promote their least-competent personnel to management, in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.

edit Cadet

A Cadet is the lowest rank after "civvies". He/she is inferior to everyone else, thus subject to a constant bombardment of incoherent, but "military sounding" orders the higher ranking cadet has learned through obsessively watching Platoon every day since the age of six.

The cadet's hair is always too long, their shoes are never "bulled" sufficiently; and the relentless marching is, of course, an essential tool for the budding military aviator.

Just ask WWII one legged fighter-ace Douglas Barder.

Other essential piloting skills an Air Cadet will learn are hall sweeping, camping, raising money for guide dogs and getting lost in forests.

edit Corporal

A Corporal will be either be shouty, or has been a corporal for the past five years with no prospect of climbing the "career ladder" further — and therefore more of a Union representative for the 13 year olds. Corporals can be identified by their rank insignia of course, but if in "civvie" clothing, they remain easily identifiable by their darting eyes, only ever wearing military surplus camos, adorned with their grandfather's war medals and the obligatory "bum-fluff" mustache.

The first type will be the chief baller-outer of the entire cadet unit, never tiring of bullying and harassing cadets, and certainly not interested in the Hobnob biscuit issue — a privilege only NCO's get at break time — if it means not shouting for five minutes. This type of Corporal tends to be pale and scrawny, never too far from an asthma attack and prone to catch every cough and cold going, and there are plenty available in your typical cadet unit. This tpye of corporal has to take this hard-nosed stance, to compensate for the fact he never goes on annual camp because he misses his mummy too much.

The second type will be of a more robust constitution and rotund frame; addicted to chocolate, chips and football, they hate Officers and their chinless, middle class antics. They will point out to young Cadets it is "hofficers" that kill people really, from the comfort of their desks. They will promote the rank-and-file as the salt of the earth, and further promotion only brings you closer to them (as well as being seen eating anything as healthy as a tomato on camp). Not standing in the corner of the drill-room complaining about officers, means the cadet is selling-out/forgetting his or her roots (regardless of whether the roots are from a semi on a council estate, or Georgian mansion with its own laurel maze).

Air Cadet shoot

Laying on a blue mat firing a rifle is one of the first "pilot skills" a cadet will learn. According to the ATC, pilots also need to know how to canoe, build a rope bridge and direct car-parking.

edit Sergeant

A corporal that has not made the grade as either of the two designated stereotypes, is promoted to Sergeant. A Sergeant will mostly be seen doing sod all, or more likely not seen at all, as there is not much to do while the corporal is shouting at everybody. Instead, the average Air Cadet Sergeant places himself in charge of the tea boat and tuck shop, spending the session stuffing his face with Mars bars and crisps, pocketed from his twice-daily stock-check.

When parade practice or other outdoor activities are on the cards, the Sergeant will always kindly volunteer to sacrifice their attendance, in lieu of getting ahead with next-week's cleaning rota from the comfort of the Lieutenant's office. It is rare that a sergeant would actually join the RAF and expose themselves to the adult version of the shouty corporal, because this probably means work, and outdoor work at that. Instead, many Air Cadet sergeants are drawn to join the local police force's traffic enforcement section, where they can sit under cover in a snug Volvo estate eating Snickers bars, when they not operating on the "front line" changing-out speed camera films.

edit Flight Sergeant

To go from Sergeant to Flight Sergeant requires a smidgen of competence, a rare thing at a Cadet unit. The rank, although not quite the highest in the Corps, is the most respected. The flight sergeant knows more about the unit than any of the volunteer officers, has a deal with the Sergeant for half-price Wagon Wheels and enjoys balling-out the gobby corporal occasionally, just to cheer up the cadets.

Flight Sergeants will usually be heard before seen. This means they should be easy to avoid, provided you have an escape route. However, a Flight Sergeant has already ensured you don't have an escape route, or perhaps has made one as a trap for fun. Flight Sergeant's are probably the only Cadets that will ever get into the RAF, especially should they find themselves in a teenage pregnancy situation after a slip-up on annual camp.

edit Cadet Warrant Officer

A CWO is the highest rank in the Air Cadets. The CWO must be over 18 — an adult air cadet — so by virtue a "career" Air Cadet, as by now they should have joined the RAF if they had any genuine aspirations to start adult life (or the RAF). The CWO will generally be the type of person who does not like to go out of their comfort zone, and is quick to anger if they find themselves there.

Starting their time in the ATC by being dragged — in floods of tears — to the barracks every week for a year, the future CWO will eventually come to love the ATC, and in the end depend on it for fear of having to get their head around something else. No other rank has age restrictions, as beyond the age of fifteen, painting plastic spitfires and being barked at by a local double glazing salesman in a borrowed RAF uniform, starts to seem a bit puerile.

The CWO only has to wait another two years before becoming an adult instructor, where he will be excited about living in posher quarters on annual camp, but will miss the obsessive shoe polishing and gold braid. Once the CWO has actually found a job (like caretaker of the Air Cadet barracks), he can then apply to be a RAF VR(T) officer and get his shiny boots back.

edit Volunteers

edit Civilian instructor

Anyone aged over 20 can volunteer as an officer or civilian instructor. If you are mad enough to enjoy associating with pubescent boys and girls, there is no need for military experience, endless form filling, background checks and psychoanalysis. The RAF will take care of everything. Volunteers are probably the least scary members of the unit (apart from the weird ex-CWOs). They do not have the urge to wear a uniform and be saluted, or get involved in drills or any other military carry on, meaning they have a reasonably stable mental disposition.

On the down side, volunteers have no interest in drills or any other military carry on. Instead, they involve themselves with teaching cadets "life skills", such as describing how working for "Johns Taxi" in town is so shit, or how plastering takes longer to master than flying a Hercules.

edit Officer

An RAF VR(T) Officer is not really an Officer, or a pilot or in the RAF, but looks exactly the same to the untrained eye. This is the carrot that draws people to become officers. Despite everyone associated with them or the RAF will know they manage an off-licence in reality, "civvies" upon seeing them will assume they are fighter pilots, despite the beer belly, grey beard and smokers cough.

As an instructor they have to be more officer than the officers (or at least their interpretation of an officer). They will insist on wearing a suit at dinner and insist on a bottle of wine on the table. Even take-away fish and chips at home must be followed by cheese and crackers to "maintain standards".

edit Air Experience Flights


The Scottish Aviation Bulldog replaced the Chipmunk in 1990 as the RAF's most unsaleable death-trap.

With all the charity work, car park attending, getting rescued and general physical/psychological abuse, sometimes it is difficult for cadets to remember what the Royal Air Force actually does, so every year a cadet gets the opportunity to take to the skies with a veteran pilot.

Flying is expensive of course, so putting aside a squadron of Eurofighters for the kids of Barnsley to play with at their whim is frowned upon by the Treasury. Instead, the ATC get to play with aircraft that no longer have a role in the Royal Air Force, and are impossible to sell on to general aviation, because of their age and therefore compatibility with air-safety requirements.

The same can be said for the pilots that fly them, generally retired WWII veterans, too blind and doddery to ever be certified to pilot a Boeing or Airbus. These 'masters of the sky' offer the young flyers a wealth of experience in fighting Fokkers, destroying dams and which company does the best 'meals on wheels'. They enjoy gentle aerobatics to ease back pain, and are keen to let the youngsters have a go at flying themselves, often being the preferred option on safety grounds.

Air experience flights are based at RAF or civilian airports, with ground staff on standby with a pile of forms to sign exonerating the RAF from any legal comeback if they kill or cripple one of the children. To boost morale, they also have a subsidised tuck shop, so the kids can gorge themselves with half-price chocolate, crisps and coke before flying. A safety demonstration is also given including a video, covering how to use a parachute and what to do in the likely event the pilot suffers a stroke mid-flight.

edit Motorised


The chipmunk had a distinguished service, terrifying kids for over 60 years.

In the past, Air Cadets used to be flown in the De Havilland Chipmunk. The Chipmunk was designed to succeed the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer that was widely used during the Second World War. Used by the cadets from the 1950s to the 1990s, it was a single-engined aircraft with a caster tailwheel and fabric-covered control surfaces. The engine was a Gipsy Major, designed in the 1930s, that could only be started with a shotgun cartridge.

Starting the engine using cordite ammunition was probably the safest aspect of operating the Chipmunk. With a caster as a tailwheel (like a shopping trolley), it had no directional stability while taxiing, and as it was 'pitched up' while on the ground, the pilot could not see ahead (not that it made any difference as he would, more than likely, have been waiting for a cataract operation anyway). On take off, the chipmunk randomly veers to the right until the tailwheel lifts, when it veers violently right, or sometimes left. Being unable to see the runway, the pilot would just haul back on the stick and hope they weren't pointing at the control tower or a pylon.

It is well known that landing a chipmunk is about the most dangerous part of flying it. On touch down, the 40 year old aircraft will immediately veer left (or right), while careering down the runway at 60 knots. At the same time, the pilot would once again become unable to see where they were going. Quite often air experience flights would leave cadets with a view that car park attending was a fantastic way to carve out a life in the armed forces, leaving piloting to the idiots that think this sort of thing is in any way cool or attractive to women.

More recently, the ATC use the Scottish Aviation Bulldog, whose unforgiving nature makes it the most effective laxative known to medical science, in so far that it had several inherent engine problems, one of which was a randomly intermittent fuel supply and the aircraft was practically uncontrollable in the glide. The ATC also fly the German-built Grob Tutor. This is also known as the Witwen-Hersteller, after a passing wing commander who was decapitated when a propeller broke off, thereby chalking up a late, but significant kill for The Bosh.

edit Other


"Right, did you get that Perkins? And it is exactly the same if you are flying a Tornado GR1 at fifty feet over Helmand Province."

The ATC is proud of the fact that it was once the world's biggest gliding organisation, which is encouraging considering engine issues with the Bulldog. The ATC has not had any working gliders in generations however, it has several families of non-working gliders, including the Viking T1 and the Vigilant T1.

Slingsby type 21

The Slingsby type 21 was the ATC's signature death trap for many years. It was a two-seat open cockpit glider: one seat for the cadet and one seat for the instructor and a stick to control it. There are few instruments, no in flight meals and most regrettably, no toilets. The instructor can be identified as the one wearing a parachute and holding the shortest straw.

Being an ancient wooden and fabric glider, the Slingsby is extremely light and as aerodynamic as a camper van; giving it the flying characteristics of a leaf blown in the wind. The 21 is launched by winch, as the only aircraft powerful enough to drag such a slab up to the 30 knot flying speed would be jet powered, which would result in the 21's fabric wings being dis-robed in the wake.

Winch launches are slightly more dangerous than the glider itself. On the "all out" call (launch), the glider will lurch forward as slack is taken up — probably breaking the wrist of the cadet tasked with holding the wing off the grass — then it will stop, and the now unattended wing will drop to the grass just as several tons of tension comes on the wire. With one wing dragging, the glider will then be accelerated in two seconds to 60 knots, lurching to the side the wing is down, then the other way as the pilot panics. Lifting off the ground half a second later, the T1 immediately pitches to 50 degrees nose-up and for the next fifteen seconds the pilot just sits there praying the cable will not snap, and praying even harder the cable will release at the top of the climb, preventing the glider and its crew being dragged back to earth and wrapped around the powerful winch drum.

Glider pilots stay aloft for longer periods than the force of gravity allows through the use of thermals, which cadets obtain from or mail-order from Minnesota. They can also use the up-thrust of air along a ridge, providing the ancient pilot still has sufficient reactions to the counter odd gust into the trees/dog walkers at the summit.

Grob Vigilant Motor GliderT1


Vigilant T1

The Grob G109B, or Vigilant T1, is a bigger death trap than the Viking T1. It provides the worst of both worlds, as it is a glider with an engine and propeller. Technically, it can launch itself like a normal powered aeroplane, but the CAA insist on a limited power output, to quantify the aircraft as a "powered glider" (or in reality, a dangerously under-powered aircraft, that can be flown with limited requirements for maintenance and without formal training) rather than a light aircraft. The Grob G109B provides the cadet the thrill of being "shot down", when the engine briefly misfires while struggling with a 1 foot-per-minute climb, causing the aircraft to stall instantly.

With an un-aerodynamic side-by-side cockpit arrangement, a large engine and great big prop out front, the Grob G109B is also a terrible glider. Despite going against the grain, glider pilots would never voluntarily shut off the engine in flight, as its glide ratio is comparable to a Challenger tank on a parachute. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the airfield over the nose, you are definitely too far away to make it.

edit Safeguards

As well as the fine state of the aircraft, all cadet climbing is supervised by professionally qualified instructors and covered by full insurance providing the following benefits in the rare case of mishap:

Loss of limb £5000
Loss of sight £6000
Paralysis from the waist down £10,000
Paralysis from the neck down £20,000
Paralysis from the neck up Promotion 1 rank

edit Recognition of excellence

There are three levels which, when successfully completed, lead to a Bronze, Silver or Gold awards.

  • Volunteering – Get involved providing services to individuals or the community. See above, under parking cars.
  • Physical – Being active and improving skills and fitness in sport, dance, or through fighting in the car park behind the pub.
  • Skills – Finding new interests and acquiring new talents (or perfecting existing ones) (or identifying the Commanding Officer's interests and doing the scut work to make them a reality).
  • Expedition – Planning, training for, and completing an adventurous journey in the UK or abroad.
  • Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award – For gaffes that match that of Prince Phillip. This requires a level of insensitivity way beyond that of an ordinary mortal.

edit See also:

National Guard

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