The life of a trainee RAF pilot

9th July 2019

We caught up with a young RAF officer to talk about his desire to join the forces, how he found training and what lies in store for him next.

What led to you joining the RAF? How long was the process, and how did you find it?

My journey into the RAF started in 2017 when I began Initial Officer Training at RAF College Cranwell, a six-month basic training course designed to transition people from civilian to military life. However, I had been harbouring ambitions of becoming a pilot in the Air Force since I was at primary school, so it would be fair to say that it has taken significant time to get to where I am now!

The process for joining the RAF as a pilot is lengthy, and includes several medicals and aptitude testing, along with the standard interviews. Understandably, it is competitive (a very rough estimate is around 7,000 applicants for around 200 aircrew training slots, which includes pilots, weapon system officers, and non-commissioned weapon systems operators).

What was the support network like to help you get into the RAF?

There are RAF Careers Office’s across the country, which are always available for advice on how to apply and improve your chances of success in all branches, so the level of support is relatively high.

Was the RAF your first choice of aviation career, or did you also think about civilian aviation?

I never seriously considered civilian aviation as an alternative to a military career, for several reasons. For starters, I saw the flying opportunities in the military as being more appealing than that offered in the civilian world; the range of aircraft and the various roles they can be deployed in is probably quite difficult to replicate in the commercial sphere.

Another consideration was the costs involved in learning to fly. Flying with the military means that my training is paid for, albeit without being awarded the equivalent civilian qualifications (I believe that there is a process in place for military pilots to ‘fast-track’ these qualifications when they look to move across). I also felt strongly about serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, a sentiment which obviously could not be replicated.

Do you think civilian aviation will ever be an option for you?

Civilian aviation is still not particularly appealing to me in terms of life after the military, although in truth I have not had a chance to think about it too much. Taking a commission with the RAF commits me to 20 years of service, and I have not yet gone through flying training and on to the front line, so my ambition lies with what can be achieved in my current career. That being said, moving into commercial aviation does provide a good opportunity for military pilots to continue utilising the skills they have built up during their flying career.

Do you know of any military colleagues who have made the switch to civilian aviation, and if so how have they found it?

In terms of the experience of those who have left the force from all branches, those I have spoken to who have left the RAF seem to have found it fairly easy, as the level of specialisation in RAF roles mean that people leave with a significant level of training and experience in challenging fields. The transition to civilian life can be more difficult, as there is a fairly significant change in culture to contend with.

by William Finden

William Finden is the Founder and MD of Oaklands Global. He is a seasoned executive search and recruitment specialist with over 16 years of experience, dedicated to the international aviation & aerospace markets. William leads Oaklands Global’s C-Suite practice and has had a successful career delivering at the executive level for a diverse portfolio of clientele including Business Jet Operators, OEM’s, MRO’s, FBO’s Airlines and Rotary businesses. To learn more about how William can assist with your next career move or to discuss your next director level hire please contact him by email:

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