The air cadets can give you a flying start.
The air cadets have two strands, the Air Training Corps (ATC) and the RAF section of the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). They are both very similar in terms of activities although they have slightly different organisational structures.
They are supported by the RAF as part of the volunteer reserve branch. That does not mean to say that they are a recruiting organisation as there is no commitment to the service. The RAF do however provide uniform, administration support and access to camps and activities far beyond the scope of other youth groups.
Leadership is provided by part time staff who are dedicated to the youth organisation but who become part of the RAF volunteer reserve (training) structure. There are also a body of adult volunteers who remain as civilian staff with no warrant or comission.
The aim is to promote an interest in aviation, sporting activities, adventure training and good citizenship. There is a real drive towards self reliance and personal responsibility evidenced by cadets themselves taking charge of the running of the squadron under the guidance and leadership of the adult staff.
Membership offers access to world class sporting opportunities with equipment and travel often paid for or heavily subsidised by the organisation.
Annual and weekend camps are regularly held at RAF bases including front line stations giving an insight into the day to day working of the Royal Air Force and the chance to get a flavour of service life.
Many do go on to join one of the armed forces although there is never any pressure to do so. All encounters with service personnel are very realistic, warts and all style so significant numbers are put off signing up too. Having the opportunity to look at the real world can be an antidote to the glamour of the recruiter.
The highlight for most boys and girls alike is the air experience flight. The Grob Tutor is the current aircraft in use all flown by serving or retired RAF pilots who are very keen to pass on their knowledge and experience to the next generation.
Everyone s given the opportunity to fly at least once per year at one of the 12 Air Experience Flights operated by the RAF throughout the UK. There are often further chances to fly at annual camp either in the Tutor or aircraft based at the camp. These are predominantly transport aircraft or helicopters however there are occasions when a very lucky few might sneak a fast jet trip. (The hottest I managed was a Jet Provost mk4 but I also flew in a Jetstream trainer and Gazelle helicopter.)
There are flying scholarships available through an application process which leads to training to solo standard in a light aircraft. This would go a long way to obtaining a PPL. Cadets also have access to gliding experience flights, again with the possibility of training to solo standard.
There are many other avenues open which are not really in the scope of this site however we intend to look more closely at the more relevant aspects in the near future.
While close association with the military in a uniformed group will put many people off, I cannot speak highly enough of the men and women who give up their time to provide these opportunities to youngsters.
I can safely say that the Air Cadets is one of the very best youth organisations in existence. If you are between thirteen and eighteen years old and you are reading this far I urge you to visit your local squadron.
If you have an interesting experience or trip why not share your story?
Pilots and enthusiasts like nothing better than a good yarn. Whether it is about a trip away from the local area, a near death experience or a funny comment over the radio. Let's hear your story and there will be a prize for the best one every month.