The University Air Squadron (UAS) concept was originally conceived by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Hugh Trenchard in the 1920s, with the first units being formed at Oxford and Cambridge in 1925. They were set up to provide preliminary flying training to students studying at those universities, and to promote the Royal Air Force to those high flying students lucky enough to secure a place there.
During the 1930s, events on the world stage brought about a massive increase in the number of required pilot and officer recruits. As a result, many more UAS were formed throughout the country before, and during, the war years to help increase the number of aircrew going to the front line.
Throughout the period of the Second World War, most university Squadrons were flying the de Havilland Tiger Moth. These were also supplemented with North American Harvards, a type that was to remain in UAS service to the end of the 1950s.
The post-war years saw the new Squadrons being largely maintained, with some rationalisation and reorganisation. The value of the UAS had been fully recognised during the war, proving to be an excellent source of high calibre recruits to the RAF. As an outcome of this, the UAS were less affected by the post-war reduction in manpower than other areas of the Royal Air Force.
1950 saw the introduction into service of a brand new training aircraft, the de Havilland Chipmunk. Oxford University, at that time flying from Kidlington, was the first to receive the new aircraft, with the other Squadrons following soon after.
The Graduate Entry Scheme was introduced in 1969 and, during the 1970s, some 50% of RAF pilots entered the service as University Graduates. In April 1973 the Scottish Aviation Bulldog began to replace the Chipmunk as the standard RAF primary training aircraft. The first UAS to receive the type was the University of London Air Squadron in October 1973, then based at RAF Abingdon (now Dalton Barracks).
This training system continued throughout the 1980s. In 1995 the University Air Squadrons were recognised by a Defence Cost Study as being the future primary source of RAF pilots and several squadrons were enhanced to deliver elementary flying training for direct entry pilots as well for their own undergraduates. This dual role remained until the formation of discreet elementary flying training squadrons in 2006.
Despite originally being conceived as an aircrew-training organisation, the 1990s saw an increase in the number of UAS students wishing to enter the Ground Branches of the Service. As a response to this a formal Ground Branch training syllabus was introduced in 1998.
The Bulldog gave sterling service in the primary training role up until the turn of the century, when it was finally withdrawn from service. In replacement, the UAS were re-equipped with the Grob 115E (Tutor) primary trainer. Over 100 aircraft, owned and maintained by a civilian contractor, are utilised by all UAS across the country, together with the elementary flying training squadrons of all 3 Services. The first units to receive the new aircraft were the University of London Air Squadron and Cambridge University Air Squadron.
Currently, there are around 1000 UAS members across the fifteen Squadrons. Those selected for the UAS are no longer designated as Air or Ground Branch members. UAS flying, amounting to some 8,000 hrs per year, is available to all cadets with formal Elementary Flying Training for those going on to be RAF pilots undertaken after graduation and successful completion of Initial Officer Training.
2015 marked the beginning of another new era for the UAS with the transfer of their command and management to No 6 Flying Training School, which is integral with the RAF College Cranwell, and the re-establishment of a UAS in Northern Ireland. Tasked with recruiting 30% of the RAF Officer cadre the UAS remain as important today as they have been at any time in their long history. You will find more information about each UAS on its own history page.