Student pilots from 30 Sqn RAF Brize Norton fly the Mach Loop (Picture: RAF).
Student pilots fly the Mach Loop (Picture: RAF).

RAF turns to US to help as more than 300 held up in its training programme

Student pilots from 30 Sqn RAF Brize Norton fly the Mach Loop (Picture: RAF).
Student pilots fly the Mach Loop (Picture: RAF).

Pilots are being sent to the USA for training as more than 300 personnel are held up in the RAF flying training pipeline, according to the Government.

Defence Minister James Heappey says additional slots on the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training in America are being requested, in response to a question from Defence Select Committee Chair Tobias Ellwood about steps the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is taking to increase RAF training capacity.

He explained: "The RAF constantly reviews its training pipeline and introduces measures as and when required in order to strike the best balance between pipeline supply and the frontline demand for new pilots.

"Such measures currently include a small number of pilots being trained on the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training programme in the USA as part of a five-year commitment completing in FY 2024/25, with additional training capacity being requested through this programme.

"Other measures to increase capacity include reducing the length of Operational Conversion Unit syllabuses and making greater use of synthetic training.

"We are also working with allies and partners to examine whether UK pilots could be trained overseas, or where we might pool our resources to mutual benefit."

Around 280 personnel are being held between Military Flying Training System (MFTS) courses.

RAF students drop cargo from the back of an A400m Atlas over Brize Norton.
RAF students drop cargo from the back of an A400M Atlas aircraft over Brize Norton.

Mr Heappey provided the data in a written response to a later question from Mr Ellwood about how many RAF personnel are currently awaiting flying training.

The figures have been rounded to the nearest 10.

As of September 2022, around 30 personnel are on hold pre-flying training. This includes 20 in the Fast Jet/Multi Engine/Air Mobility & ISTAR/Rotary Wing classification and 10 in Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS).

Around 280 personnel are on hold between MFTS courses, of which 260 are in the Fast Jet/Multi Engine/Air Mobility & ISTAR/Rotary Wing category.

Several personnel have completed MFTS but are on hold pre-Operational Conversion Unit (OCU).

This includes 10 in Fast Jet, 20 in Multi Engine/Air Mobility & ISTAR, 20 in Rotary Wing and 10 in RPAS.

Each RAF officer begins their career by completing the Initial Officer Training Course at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire, where the 24-week course is split into four terms.

Specialist training then involves Elementary Flying Training, on the Tutor of Prefect aircraft. Students are then streamed into Fast Jet, Multi-Engine or Rotary Wing (helicopter) training.

Fast Jet training lasts two years, Multi-Engine US is 10 months long and Rotary Wing takes 18 months to complete.

Touch screen avionics on new helicopter at the Defence Helicopter Flying School.
Touch screen avionics on a helicopter at the No.1 Flying Training School.

In a statement, an RAF spokesperson said: "The RAF has enough qualified aircrew to meet all frontline operational commitments, but work is also ongoing to reduce the time it takes for our pilots to complete training, such as the recent acquisition of additional training aircraft.

The number of pilots holding before starting training has decreased since 2019, however, the impact of COVID and the reduced requirement for aircrew as part of the Integrated Review, has led to a number of pilots being held in the pipeline.

"These holds allow the RAF to ensure courses are fully utilised and enable trainee pilots to develop other skills across the Armed Forces."

It comes after the MOD admitted that "some mistakes were made" after reports of a recruitment drive that favoured women and ethnic minorities.

There are currently 33,140 regular RAF personnel, of whom 29,620 (89.4%) are trained, according to the Ministry of Defence's latest quarterly service personnel statistics, released in July 2022. There were 33,370 regular Royal Air Force personnel at the same stage in 2021.

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