Military Flying Careers
For many, the image of the fast-jet pilot is the first which springs to mind when thinking about flying as a career. All three armed forces offer flying roles - the Royal Navy operate fast jets and helicopters and the Army Air Corps operates helicopters. And of course the Royal Air Force provides the UK's key military air capability, with a range of fast jets (including training aircraft), heavy-lift aeroplanes and helicopters so there are different types of pilot roles available.
Not only do the armed services offer the chance to fly on some of the most exciting aircraft around, but being selected onto their training programmes means you will avoid the vast training costs that commerical pilots now face. Many military pilots go on to commerical aviation roles when they retire (usually aged around 40) where their high level of skills and flying experience gained in such a wide variety of contexts, including humanitarian missions and war operations mean they are highly sought after by airlines.
However, the competition for places for all three services is extremely high and the medical requirements are stricter than for commercial pilots, particularly visual and overall fitness. You also have to provide minimum years' service before you can leave for a civilian career and will obviously be required to take part in military operations when called upon.
- RAF applicants for flying training must be aged between 17-23 years-old when they apply; have at least 5 GCSEs grades A-C (including English and Maths) and 2 A Level passes (or equivalent); most applicants are also university graduates although generally you can apply to the RAF after leaving school or college as well.
- The RAF Aircrew Selection Centre will offer a tough series of selection tests including pilot aptitude skills (such as spatial awareness, decision making); leadership ability and health and fitness tests.
- Royal Navy (Fleet Air Arm) selection criteria are very similar and equally, if not, more demanding as the number of flying places is even smaller.
- The Army Air Corps only offer helicopter flying positions and again fitness, pilot aptitude skills and academic ability are similar.
Other RAF flying positions available include Weapons Systems Officers whose role is to manage air-to-air combat from the back seat of a Tornado aircraft, or operate systems in other aircraft.
Joining the Air Cadets is an excellent way to prepare for a military career. You will get to learn to fly solo for free, visit RAF bases, take part in training exercises, outdoor pursuits, study for BTEC level engineering qualifications and develop some of the key skills that all three services are looking for particularly teamwork, communication and leadership. It also helps show your genuine enthusiasm and commitment to flying in a highly competitive market and is also popular with airlines. And the skills you develop will be useful for any career as well as the friends you will make.