The latest group of RAF Air Cadets Qualified Aerospace Instructors have graduated in a prestigious ceremony at RAF Cranwell for the first time in nearly three years.
The graduation was last held in person in 2019, as the pandemic curtailed the end of training in 2020 and stopped the course altogether in 2021.
The students of course 14 were congratulated by Air Marshal Philip Sturley, Hononrary President of RAF Air Cadet Gliding and Aerospace, alongside Commandant RAF Air Cadets and Commandant 2 Flying Training School.
There was a mixture of pride and relief among the graduating students after a tough six months of training.
Cadet Warrant Officer Chloe Harber, from 176 (Hove) Squadron, said: “It’s a lot of hard work but it definitely pays off.
“I'd say this course is alongside becoming a lord lieutenant’s cadet as the pinnacle of my career.
“I'm excited to use a qualification to use it a squadron, wing and regional level, and to return for things like National Air and Space Camp as well,” she added.
CWO Harber was known by the callsign ‘Hornet’ throughout her training. As part of the ethos of the course, students adopt callsigns and don’t use ranks, building camaraderie and reminding them that they are all equals during training.
Sergeant Ben Abe from 127 (Wakefield) Squadron, AKA ‘Designated Driver’ was also celebrating.
“When I first joined we had a Cadet Warrant Officer who was a QAI from course 12,” he said.
“He helped out with the first class training and did a lot of the aerospace activity and he looked great with his lanyard.
“To have come out the other side and earned one now for myself, I’m really proud.”
This year’s course had to handle more than most, adapting to online training and uncertainty over how covid would impact their training.
The initial plan was developed during the 2020 lockdown.
It required two weekends of the seven to be delivered online, with the rest face to face at Inskip and Boscombe Down.
“We’ve dealt with our fair share of storms, snow and accommodation issues on the course over the years,” Wg Cdr Ian Revell, Officer Commanding QAIC, said, “but never a global pandemic.”
“It has been a really challenging process to redesign and deliver this new hybrid model, combining digital training with face-to-face teaching.”
When the course began in October, covid cases were falling and the effect of the vaccine booster programme made for a positive outlook.
But when the Omicron variant was first identified at the end of November, the spike in cases and uncertainty over its severity forced some difficult decisions.
“We had just gotten back on our feet and we were looking forward to our first face-to-face meeting with the cadets,” Wg Cdr Revell explained.
“But with all of the uncertainty around Omicron, and what had happened at Christmas 2020 before with the Alpha variant, we had no choice but to put safety first and pull the weekends.”
Although the reasons behind the cancellation were clear, both staff and students were disappointed.
“Despite that frustration, I was so impressed with the response from our whole team, cadet and adult volunteer alike, adapting to the new circumstances and continuing to push the course forwards.”
The covid situation improved enough for face-to-face training to resume in February.
This meant students were able to get back to hands on, practical training they had missed for so long.
“It was really great to actually be able to sit down and use a flight simulator or an air traffic control simulator,” Cpl Simran Kainth, from Reading School CCF, said.
The course has given her “a much better understanding of the syllabus”, particularly in aerodynamics, she explained.
“I’ve got all the skills I need now to deliver engaging sessions for younger cadets to make sure they enjoy the subject too.”
Despite the changes forced by covid, the overall aim of the course remains the same; to develop senior cadets as instructors, ready to deliver high quality training to other members of the RAF Air Cadets.
The course takes 40 students each year, running at two centres at MoD Boscombe Down near Salisbury and Inskip Cadet Training Centre near Preston.
Students develop their knowledge of airmanship and navigation, aerodynamics, air power and the theory behind instructional technique.
They then apply this in practical training using synthetics, such as flight simulators and air traffic control simulators, as they learn how best to use these to support learning.
Finally they develop as presenters and public speakers, building up to deliver a 40 minute presentation on an air power subject to a large audience.
This graduation week also gave the course the chance to say goodbye to two instructors who are leaving the team.
Sqn Ldr Marian Stanley, Course Director (North), and Flt Lt Tim Stanley, her deputy, decided to move on after more than 10 years involved with QAIC.
They were met celebrated with a standing ovation at the Graduation dinner, as they were presented with a momento to remember their time with the course.
“Marian and Tim have been a key part of our team for so long and I am so sad to see them go,” Wg Cdr Revell said.
“Through all the challenges we’ve faced this year they’ve not been afraid to tackle issues head on and get the course up and running.
“I am so glad we were able to properly celebrate them at graduation and I wish them all the best for the future.”
As the dust settles on this course, planning for QAIC 15 is well underway, with applications due to open in the next few months.
Cadets from both the Air Training Corps and CCF (RAF) can apply, as long as they are 16, have completed their cadet academic training and are keen on aerospace.
Applications are sifted first by local aviation officers, before applicants are then put through a rigorous process to find the final 40.
The message from this year’s students to cadets considering applying: “go for it”.
CWO Harber said: “When the application came out last year, I was one of those people that was in two minds.
“I wasn't sure if I was going to be good enough for it or if I was going to get through the selection process but you never know unless you try.”