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All Airmen receive training that will be of value to them when they return to civil life

CHECKING THE SIGHTS OF A GUN in the observer’s cockpit

CHECKING THE SIGHTS OF A GUN in the observer’s cockpit of an aeroplane before a flight. The rank of the airman in this photograph is that of flight sergeant. Men are now recruited for training as observers. The work of the observer includes navigation, bombing and photography. On completion of a short period of service all observers who are suitable are to be trained as pilots.

ALL men in the Royal Air Force other than those who hold commissions are called airmen. The description is applied to all those in the ranks irrespective of their trade or their rank. The non-commissioned officer ranks are corporal, sergeant flight sergeant and warrant officer. There is also a rank of drum major. Men in the ranks are given different grades, of which there are three, namely, leading aircraftman, aircraftman 1st class and aircraftman 2nd class.

The work that airmen carry out is widely varied and covers a large number of trades. Some trades are skilled trades, some semi-skilled and some unskilled. The pay varies with rank and the degree of skill required, but opportunities exist for airmen to advance in rank and to a more skilled trade.

The entry and work of aircraft apprentices and boy entrants is described in the chapter “Training Boys in the RAF”. The skilled trades in which apprentices and boy entrants are trained are not confined to this class of entrants. Direct entrants, or recruits, may be drafted into similar trades and do similar work. Such recruits, however, must already be skilled in their trade when they join the Service. A large proportion of the openings in the more skilled trades are filled from apprentice and boy entrants.

Skilled fitters may join as aero engine or torpedo fitters; skilled turners may join as machine-tool setters and operators. Blacksmiths, coppersmiths or sheet-metal workers may become metal workers in the R.A.F. Skilled carpenters or electricians may join in similar capacities. Men with some mechanical experience, with some experience of particular trades or with good education, may join as aircraft hands for training in special duties. These duties include those of flight mechanic or flight rigger, armourer, electrician, instrument repairer, photographer and wireless operator. Although a man may be fully skilled in his trade in civil life, he generally requires further training on joining the Royal Air Force to equip him for the specialized work he will have to do in the Service. A fitter, for example, is given a year’s training in aero engine fitting to enable him to undertake the installation and repair of modern types of aero engines. Blacksmiths and coppersmiths receive further training in metal work and welding.

Those without knowledge of a special trade may pass to a skilled trade after a period of service as aircraft hands. Three months’ training is given to those with some mechanical experience who join for training in aircraft maintenance. All airmen receive full pay during their training. This applies also during the advanced training that they may receive after a period of service.

ONE OF THE BARRACK ROOMS at the training centre at Orpington, Kent

ONE OF THE BARRACK ROOMS at the training centre at Orpington, Kent, for new Recruits to the Royal Air Force.

The minimum age at which a man may join the Royal Air Force as a recruit is 17¼ years. The maximum age dependson the trade group in which enlistment is desired. In some groups it is 35 and in others 42. A list of the trades in which a man may join is obtainable at any recruiting centre of the Royal Air Force. There are opportunities for airmen to train, after a period of service, as airmen pilots and observers. Such training is restricted, however, to the younger men; the authorities have fixed an upper age-limit of 25 (28 for observers) at the time training begins. Only men from certain groups are eligible.

The normal period of enlistment is for six, seven or nine years. After this, airmen may be invited to extend their service for a further number of years or to join the reserve. The qualifications for entry are not severe. An elementary education is sufficient, but where technical training is in view, a higher standard is an advantage. Applicants must be of good character and physically fit. A simple educational examination has to be passed.

Life in the Royal Air Force offers many advantages, among which certainty of employment is of special importance. Many men who enter without a trade leave with special training which enables a position in civil life to be obtained without difficulty. Free food, clothing and accommodation are provided. Medical attention is available, not only for the men, but also for their families. Married men under the age of 26 are not, however, eligible for entry.


EXPLAINING THE OPERATION OF A PARACHUTE to airmen under training. The instructor is holding up the pilot parachute which is released a soon as the rip-cord is operated and which pulls the main parachute from its container. The main parachute is seen in the foreground with the supporting cords partly removed from the parachute pack.

All airmen have to be prepared to serve in aircraft, and most have opportunities of spending some time in the air. The airmen who make up the crews of aeroplanes naturally do the most flying. Apart from the pilots and observers in aircraft, airmen may be carried as wireless operators, photographers or gunners. Airmen who have been trained in wireless, photography or armoury are most likely to have to do a considerable amount of flying.

Much of the work, other than piloting, that has to be done in an aircraft in flight will be carried out in the future by observers, whose numbers are being materially increased. To meet this demand for more observers men may now join the Royal Air Force for definite training in this category.

In the first instance observers are enlisted for four years’ regular service, followed by six years in the reserve.

After three years’ regular service, all those who are suitable and who so desire may be trained as airmen pilots. Qualified observers will hold the rank of corporal and qualified pilots the rank of sergeant. Qualified pilots will be required to complete six years’ regular service, followed by six years in the reserve. Observers who are not selected for training as pilots may be retained for a similar period as observers. On transfer to the reserve, qualified observers and pilots will receive a gratuity of £25 for each complete year of service other than the first.

Men between the ages of 18½ and 25 are eligible, but preference will be given to those under the age of 23. Candidates have to pass an exacting medical test and it is advisable for them to have a preliminary examination by their own doctor before applying. Likely candidates will be invited to attend before a selection committee after their application form has been sent in. Application forms are obtainable from the Air Ministry. Candidates must have attained a standard of education equivalent to that of the School Certificate of the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board. Observers must be single and prepared to serve on any type of aircraft in any part of the world either ashore or afloat.

A LECTURE ON AIRFRAMES in progress at No. 1  R.A.F School of Technical Training at Halton, Buckinghamshire

A LECTURE ON AIRFRAMES in progress at No. 1  R.A.F School of Technical Training at Halton, Buckinghamshire. Men who are skilled in a technical trade may enter the R.A.F. for employment in that trade or a closely allied trade. Unskilled men who join the R.A.F. may eventually progress to a skilled trade after a period of service in a semi-skilled trade.

During training observers will rank as leading aircraftmen. On satisfactory completion of their training they will be promoted to corporal (on probation). They will remain on probation for twelve months and until they have completed certain tests. Corporals on probation will not exercise the powers of a corporal except in so far as this is necessary for the performance of their observers’ duties.

Observers will begin with instruction in navigation. This will be received at a civil flying training school, where the course will last for three months. After this they will receive a fortnight’s ground training at the R.A.F. Depot at Uxbridge, Middlesex. Here they will be issued with their uniform and receive instruction in drill and procedure in the Royal Air Force.

This initial training at a civil school and later at Uxbridge is on similar lines to the arrangement of training for short-service commissions in the Royal Air Force. Short-service pilots receive their initial flying training at a civil flying school (see the chapter “Training RAF pilots”) and then proceed to Uxbridge for a period. After they have left Uxbridge observers will go for three months to a Royal Air Force training school for observers. During these three months they will be trained in gunnery and in bombing. The camera gun, as well as live ammunition, will be used. Various forms of bomb sights and calculations for drift will receive attention.

Pay during training is 5s. a day for seven days a week; after promotion to corporal the pay is 9s. a day. A month’s leave on full pay will be granted; this is similar to the minimum granted to all airmen in the Royal Air Force. The training of observers who are selected to become airmen pilots will be similar to that explained in the chapter “Training RAF pilots”. On qualification as a pilot the rank of sergeant is received and pay is increased to 12s. 6d. a day. Subject to the exigencies of the Service, airmen pilots will receive leave on full pay up to a maximum of fifty-six days a year. From time to time a strictly limited number of airmen pilots will be selected for advancement to commissioned rank.

Free Education

If for some reason it is found during training that a man is unlikely to qualify successfully, he may be permitted to train in some other trade or — if he is a pilot under training — to revert to observer. Apart from full pay during their annual training, pilots on the reserve will receive reserve pay of 9d. a day throughout the year, and flying reserve pay of £10 a year.

The lowest pay that any aircraftman receives is 14s. a week. In addition, all essentials are received free. A leading aircraftman with over three years’ service receives as much as 42s. a week. The highest pay of all for the noncommissioned ranks is for a warrant officer with over five years’ service; he may receive as much as £5 15s. 6d. a week. To obtain a true comparison of the value of this pay to that of a salary in civil life, the estimated cost of food, clothing, accommodation, medical and other essential services must be added.

A free educational service is provided to assist airmen to pass their tests for promotion and to qualify for higher trades. Education officers give general advice and help, which includes assistance that may be of value in civil life. Experience has shown that the jobs obtained when airmen return to civil life are generally in the same trades as those in which they have been trained in the Service.

Before discharge an airman can register his name with the local branch of the National Association for Employment of Regular Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. The Ministry of Labour also assists men to obtain civil employment. In approved instances special vocational training courses are provided. All airmen leave the Service fully insured in the National Health, Widows’, Orphans’ and Old Age Contributory Pensions, and in the Unemployment Insurance schemes.

Thus it will be realized that the airman is as well equipped when he leaves the Service as if he had remained in civil life. In many instances he is far better equipped, has better training, and is in a finer physical condition than he could otherwise have hoped to be in normal circumstances.

Considerable attention is paid to the physical well-being of all airmen. All forms of sport are encouraged and sports gear and fields supplied at R.A.F. stations. Organized and competitive games are arranged, and many R.A.F. stations have gymnasia staffed by qualified instructors. Inter-unit tournaments in football and other sports are held. Matches are also arranged between R.A.F. football teams and suitable local teams when they are available. Consideration is also given to social activities. Concerts, dances and billiard tournaments are periodically arranged.

AERO ENGINE TRAINING in progress at the No. 3 School of Technical Training at Manston, Kent

AERO ENGINE TRAINING in progress at the No. 3 School of Technical Training at Manston, Kent. Even men skilled in a civil trade receive training on joining the Royal Air Force to equip them for their new work. For instance, a skilled fitter who is to be an engine fitter receives a year’s training to enable him to undertake the installation and repair of modern types of aero engines.

You can read more on “Modern Aero Engines”, “Training Boys in the RAF” and “Training RAF Pilots” on this website.

The Work of Airmen