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Air Cartographer

currently open

The facts

Job description

You'll create and update maps, charts and books used in the planning and completion of flying missions.



Pay after training


Joining age

17 - 35

Similar civilian jobs

  • Commercial cartographer
  • Civil service cartographer
  • Air traffic controller
  • Environmental computer modeller

Usual service

9 years


Citizen of the UK or the Republic of Ireland, or a Commonwealth citizen since birth

Open to

male or female

Qualifications you need

GCSE/SCEs at Grade C/2 minimum or 2 SNEs at Grade 5, including English Language and Maths.

Qualifications you can gain

DefAB Level 4 diploma in aeronautical cartography


Whether or not you were born in the United Kingdom, you should have resided there for the five years immediately preceding your application.

The job

Air Cartographers are the RAF’s mapmakers. You’ll be trained to use modern digital techniques to create and update the flight information publications known as FLIPs – maps, charts and books used by aircrews in the planning and completion of their flying missions. You’ll also help maintain a computer database of digital aeronautical information. The work takes place at the Number 1 Aeronautical Information Documents Unit at RAF Northolt in West London, which has an annual output of seven million charts and a quarter of a million books. It’s a job that demands accuracy and an eye for detail.

Air Cartographers produce the maps, charts and books that play an essential role in providing appropriate aeronautical data to ensure that flying missions are carried out safely and successfully.

Your role could be to process digital mapping for use in frontline aircraft cockpit displays and mission planning systems, or update the aeronautical charts that guide our pilots safely through take-off and landing. In addition, you could be updating charts that detail obstructions, such as buildings and power-lines, that enable fast jets and helicopters to navigate safely at low level, or you could be creating charts showing airways over countries all around the world used by the transport fleet to carry troops to the frontline.

You’ll use the latest Geographic Information System (GIS) software to create and edit charts and publications and use state-of-the-art printing presses. All our Air Cartographers are based at RAF Northolt, near London.

The Aeronautical Information Documents Unit (AIDU) produces around 12 million charts and one million books every year. As well as being used by the RAF, these documents are used by other UK Armed Forces, foreign air forces and some civilian airlines.

I do this job

Air Cartographer

David Young
Air Cartographer

‘It’s critical to be exact with map design, the slightest mistake on a chart and lives could be put at risk.’

My role

‘I work in the mission planning section, where we supply all the RAF squadrons with data such as maps and digital information. It’s a really varied role — one day I could be supplying information for the transport of a VIP, the next day it could be a mission over Afghanistan.’

My day

‘We’ve recently been upgrading the Nimrod map system, adding a lot more detail. That involved removing, updating and replacing all the digital map disks, and changing the application settings. It’s really cutting-edge stuff, very technical. Our maps contain all sorts of detailed information on the terrain, from elevation and landscape data, to where power lines are located.’

My experiences

‘It’s crucial that you know what the other cartography sections do because you never know when you may need something from them. For example, working in terminal charts, you’ll be drawing pictures of airport approaches using digital mapping, whereas mission planning is much more CD-based, creating maps on a digital system. There’s also a lot of liaison with en route and low-flying sections, so it’s essential to know what part each section plays.’

My life

‘I’ve been working with the local youth club for the last seven months, doing activities with the kids. I’m looking to do an NVQ in youth work. The opportunities for training are great — I’ve done Microsoft Word and Excel courses and I completed my NVQ Level 2 in desktop publishing when I was at the School of Air Cartography. It’s great that the RAF supports you to gain qualifications that you can take with you afterwards.’


Recruit training

Your career will start with a 10 week Basic Recruit Training Course (BRTC) at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire. The course is designed to help you adjust to a military environment. As well as fitness and military training, you’ll also learn about the RAF lifestyle.

Specialist Training

The next step is a specialist training course at the School of Air Cartography (SOAC), No. 1 AIDU, RAF Northolt, which lasts about three months.

This course is designed to give you a basic understanding of your role and includes specific elements of training designed to prepare you for your first tour.

The training will also provide you with the opportunity to gain a DefAB Level 4 Diploma in Aeronautical Cartography (QCF), and Key Skills in all six units.

Your first tour

For your first tour you’ll work in one of our departments on:

  • take-off and landing charts;
  • charts of airways;
  • charts of helicopter landing sites; or
  • our information databases.

Ongoing development

As your career progresses, we’ll continue to train you in new job-related skills as well as management and leadership.

Your future

Career prospects

You’ll initially join the RAF for a period of nine years.

After a year, you’ll be eligible for promotion to Senior Aircraftman/woman if you pass a trade ability test.

Further promotion to the rank of Corporal and beyond is by competitive selection.

Transferable skills

Many of the GIS software packages and Adobe products that we use are industry standard and these skills are recognised and are easily transferable. The DefAB Level 4 Diploma you can earn is as valuable in the civilian world as it is in the RAF – which means that whenever you decide to leave the Service, you’ll be well placed to find a job in one of the following areas:

• commercial or civil service cartography;
• desktop publishing;
• database analysis; or
• printing.

Apply now

Call us on

0845 605 5555

  • Mon-Fri8am to 8pm
  • Sat9am to 6pm
  • Sun10am to 4pm
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