RAF Marham squadron leader 2013

RAF 100: Do You Have What It Takes To Join The Royal Air Force?

With the RAF's 100th anniversary upon us, Forces Network looks at what you need to know before joining the Royal Air Force (RAF)...

RAF Marham squadron leader 2013

Every year well over 10,000 new recruits join the British Armed Forces.

But with a vast number of different branches and roles to choose from, it can be difficult to know what would best suit each new applicant.

With the RAF's 100th anniversary fast approaching, Forces Network has taken a look at what you need to know before joining the Royal Air Force (RAF).

We spoke to Wing Commander Carrie Rossi, the RAF's Regional Recruiting Commander for the South of the UK, who gave us the low-down...

What type of person would suit the RAF?


RAF personnel marching

The short answer is: there are lots. Wg Cdr Rossi says:

"There are over 50 different careers specialisations in the RAF and anyone can apply for roles which range from having no qualifications to start (RAF Regiment, catering logistics supplier to name a few) right through to professional entry, whereby the individual is fully qualified at the point of entry to RAF service (chaplain, lawyer).

"With such a large range of opportunities, we can cater for a huge range of people from all walks of life.

"All we ask for is someone that is flexible in approach, wants to commit to being a professional and seeks to do something a bit different with their lives."

Applicants must be British, a British National or dual nationality, a Commonwealth citizen or Irish Republic national and have resided in the UK for the last five years, however.

There are also some medical limitations to joining the RAF, although it's difficult to say whether a prevailing health condition could affect an application until a person applies and is assessed by one of the Air Force's health professionals. You can find out more about eligibility to join up here.

What branch within the RAF would suit me best?


RAF engineer & Red Arrow jet

With over 39 trades and 25 branches to choose from, ranging from weapons systems operator to cyberspace technician, to intelligence analyst/linguist, to logistics chef, there's certainly no lack of choice. Wg Cdr Rossi says:

"Everyone has different talents to suit different roles.

"Qualifications are an initial indicator of suitability for entry-level (officer is 5 GCSEs Grade C and above, including Maths and English, plus 2 A levels as a minimum.

"[For] airmen/women it varies from no qualifications to 5 GCSEs with specific subject requirements for some but it is our aptitude tests and selection interviews that confirm suitability for each role.

"With a pass rate of 99% through trade training, our scientifically based AST/aptitude tests are an outstanding indicator of what skills applicants have and where they would be best placed." 

You can have a go at a practice airman selection test here.

What could be difficult about signing up?


Red Arrows family homecoming

While there are many positive aspects to joining the forces, the RAF is keen to point out that recruits should be prepared for a lifestyle change. Wg Cdr Rossi says:

"New [full-time] joiners would be expected to move away from their hometown and away from close family and friends."

"Also, many roles attract a need to move around every two, three or five years representing challenges for families of serving personnel.

"However, there are strong support networks on RAF units to assist families when moving around with housing and school admissions etc.

"For some this lifestyle would not suit. However, they can still commit to RAF Service on a spare time basis with the RAF Reserves who can be found more locally and only expect commitment for around 27-35 days per year."

But what are the great things about joining the forces? What opportunities could it bring?


RAF Griffin HT1 helicopter crew dry winching

From education and training to travel opportunities and medical care, it's important prospective recruits know what benefits joining the Air Force could bring. Wg Cdr Rossi says:

"Joining the forces is an exciting opportunity that offers unquestionable educational and lifestyle opportunities." 

"For new joiners, many of our training schools are rated OFSTED 'outstanding' for apprenticeships, which attract a starting salary of £14,931, compared to circa £9.5K for other apprenticeships.

"Once in the services, all personnel can expect through-life training and education, not just on their role but also [through] world-class leadership and management training and the opportunity to obtain qualifications of their choice through the learning credit schemes.

"Education aside, the forces also offer travel, free medical and dental care, as well as opportunities to experience a variety of adventurous training activities and sports, subsidised accommodation/housing and a generous pension package." 

"Finally, holiday package is attractive as service personnel attract six weeks paid leave and public holidays on top of this six-week entitlement."

Is there an optimum age or 'best time' to join?


RAF recruits' fitness test

While applications to join the RAF can be taken from as young as 16 right through to the age of 55 (with the upper limit varying dependant on which role is being applied for), it's important for recruits to think about when would best suit them to join up.

Possible considerations include personal circumstances and what level a person wants to join at. Wg Cdr Rossi says:

"One consideration when joining as an airman or woman is that the qualifications gained through our apprenticeships programme are akin to those obtained though colleges or sixth forms.

"In many cases, if an individual is ready to leave home at 16, then this could be a good option for them.

"For those seeking officer entry, many roles allow them to join at age 18 [or] post-A levels. However, they can opt to attend university (some roles will attract opportunities for sponsorship which is via a bursary and a guaranteed job at the end of studies) and then join the services as a graduate entrant."

Where can potential recruits talk to people who've been through the highs and lows? 


RAF Typhoon Middle East sunset

Other than the RAF's website, anyone interested in the Air Force can use Facebook or Twitter to ask questions of serving personnel.

You can also chat with recruiters in your local careers office or at one of the many events the RAF team attends throughout the year.

Are there any specific recruitment issues that people should know about?


RAF, Lord Mayor's Show 2014

The best place to go for further understanding of what's needed to join the RAF - be it the selection process, medical or fitness requirements, or more information on drugs policy and the rehabilitation of offenders - can be found on the RAF careers website.

For further careers guidance, those interested can contact their local careers office, who will endeavour to answer all their questions.

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