Air Cadet Organisation (ACO) is one of the UK's largest national
voluntary youth organisations. Part-sponsored by the Royal Air Force,
the ACO has an outstanding record of investment in young people
from all social and ethnic backgrounds. The ACO encompasses the
Air Training Corps (ATC) and the RAF sections of the Combined Cadet
Force (CCF), and provides a structured programme of activities and
training opportunities designed to achieve the following broad aims:
- To promote
and encourage a practical interest in aviation, the RAF and the
among young people.
- To provide
training that will be useful both in the Services and in civilian
- To foster
a spirit of adventure and to develop qualities of leadership as
well as good citizenship.
The ACO's success
in achieving these objectives can be measured by the high degree
of respect afforded to air cadets within their local communities,
and by civilian and military employers alike.
So what exactly
is the secret of helping young people to become high flyers? Air
Commodore Jon Chitty, Commandant Air Cadets, explains: "Quite
simply, we give our cadets the opportunity to gain self-confidence
and develop strong personal qualities, whilst taking part in exciting
and challenging activities. The air cadet training syllabus is comprehensive,
and both cadets and staff can gain nationally recognised qualifications.
We aim to develop enthusiastic and responsible members of society
who strive to succeed in whatever occupation they choose - and the
results prove we are successful."
activities and opportunities available to members of the Air Cadet
Organisation (ACO) are certainly impressive. From flying to community
work, adventure training to BTEC qualifications and navigation to
target shooting, the list is endless.
It is the flying
opportunities that most obviously distinguish the ATC from other
youth organisations. Many air cadets take control of an aircraft
before they drive a car! A comprehensive syllabus of aviation-related
instruction is taught on a weekly basis. Subjects covered include
principles of flight, radio procedures, aircraft recognition and
The first flying
experience for most cadets is gained in a two-seat Grob Tutor aircraft
based at one of 12 Air Experience Flights (AEFs) around the country.
AEF Instructors are recruited from current and former regular Service
pilots. Flying is scheduled largely at weekends and during week-long
camps during Easter and Summer holidays in order to enable as many
cadets to participate as possible.
The ACO also
has 89 winch-launched Viking gliders and 59 Vigilant motor-gliders
based at 27 Volunteer Gliding Schools throughout the UK. Volunteer
gliding instructors (some are VR(T) officers) are generally ex-cadets
or civilians who demonstrate aptitude and have an interest in gliding.
The gliding courses available to cadets stretch from basic level
through solo courses, to advanced B Category instructing qualifications
for cadets over the age of 20. Each year the ACO completes over
78,000 glider launches, 18,000 hours of flying and sends over 18,000
cadets solo. Some cadets also become staff cadets, assisting at
an AEF or Volunteer Gliding School in exchange for extra flights.
Other flying opportunities open to cadets include hang-gliding,
parachuting and micro-lighting.
element in educating young people about aviation is the close link
between the ACO and the RAF. Each squadron and CCF(RAF) section
is parented by an RAF station, some are adopted by RAF squadrons,
and wherever possible cadets are given the opportunity to visit
RAF stations. This introduces them to every type of RAF aircraft,
and to the pilots, engineers and other ground staff who fly, maintain
and support them. This experience also gives
cadets a good insight to wider RAF life.
The ACO's commitment
to fostering a spirit of adventure is reflected in the range of
activities on offer to air cadets. Apart from teaching skills such
as rock climbing, canoeing, and abseiling, adventure training is
invaluable in instilling confidence, determination and developing
teamwork. In addition to activities organised at ATC wing/squadron
and CCF(RAF) section level, cadets can also attend residential courses
at two specialist Air Cadet National Adventure Training Centres
based in Wales and the Lake District.
Air cadets are
encouraged to participate in numerous sports including athletics,
cross-country, hockey, football, netball, rugby and swimming. There
are also opportunities to compete at local, regional and national
The ACO is also
the Commonwealth's highest achieving Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
operating authority. At any one time there are 15,000 cadets participating
in the scheme, and 3000 per year gain gold, silver and bronze awards.
As befits a
military organisation, high standards of behaviour and appearance
are expected from all air cadets. A strictly regulated target shooting
syllabus, regular drill practice at parade nights and First Aid
are three examples of activities which contribute to developing
mature and responsible young people. Such attributes cause cadets
to be well regarded within their local communities, and they are
encouraged to play an active role. With 930 ATC squadrons, 189 CCF(RAF)
sections and the support of over 15,000 adult volunteers throughout
the country, air cadets make a significant contribution to their
local communities in many practical ways. For many people in isolated
areas, air cadets are the visible face of the RAF. Cadets can be
found offering support to senior citizens' homes, helping to improve
the local environment and assisting at community events. Air cadets
also raise over £200,000 for charity each year.
80 senior cadets each year there is also the option of acting as
'ambassadors' for Britain by participating in the International
Air Cadet Exchange (IACE).
and military employers recognize that former air cadets make good
employees, and training and qualifications gained by cadets are
recognised at a national level. Qualifications offered by the ACO
include BTEC Certificates in Public Service and Aviation Studies,
Sports Coaching and Officiating Awards and RAF Gliding Instructor
Categories. Air cadet activities are also acknowledged on individuals'
National Record of Achievement. Experience gained by staff may be
used to contribute to NVQ Level 3 certificates, and a City and Guilds
Adult Education Teachers Certificate is currently under trial.
Many major civilian
companies say they look favourably on cadets because they demonstrate
qualities vital in the workplace, including teamwork, discipline,
confidence and self-motivation. Many former cadets are recognised
as leaders in spheres such as industry, science, sport and entertainment.
Notable luminaries include Nobel Prize for Medicine winner Sir Paul
Nurse; Olympic gold medallist Linford Christie; senior BBC correspondent
Laura Trevelyn; former England rugby star and RAF pilot Rory Underwood;
Rolls Royce Chairman Sir Ralph Robbins, former James Bond actor
Timothy Dalton; boxing champion John Conteh;- the list goes on..
the ACO is not a recruiting organisation for HM Forces, many air
cadets do make the RAF their first career choice. In fact 52% of
all RAF officers and 19% of all other RAF personnel were once air
the ACO's proven ability to instil a sense of adventure, teamwork,
pride and responsibility in large numbers of young people fully
justifies the Air Cadets' 'Next Generation' motto. Air Commodore
Chitty's verdict for the future? "We look forward to building
success upon success, and I have no doubt that we will continue
to do so for many years to come."