In the RAF
‘I am a pilot on Reaper - a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) which has been operated from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire since April 2013.
The Reaper is controlled by crews of professional pilots, sensor operators and Mission Intelligence Co-ordinators centrally from Ground Control Stations.
Although the aircraft only flies as part of operations overseas, from the moment I begin preparation with the squadron for a sortie, deployment of a military unit, in my mind I am in Afghanistan.
Before a sortie I must complete all of the pre-flight work, but once it is done I make the walk down a secure stairway which brings me out in the hanger and from that point I am definitely in a bubble. From the moment I walk in, my mind is always on the mission ahead. ‘
'It is my job to control the aircraft and also go through the same preparation such as pre-flight planning, comprehensive briefing, hand-over, weather, intelligence and usual air-space flight considerations as any other daily routine on a flying squadron.
What makes my job so rewarding is that in a single shift my colleagues and I can fly in support of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) convoy from the moment it sets off to the moment it reaches its destination. We are constantly using Reaper to look over the horizon for threats, noting if they have any difficulties on the ground and, most importantly, being with them for the whole journey.
That, to my mind, is a good day’s work done and we know the guys on the ground really appreciate it.'
Ashley, Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Pilot
Like all our officers, you’ll begin your RAF career with Initial Officer Training (IOT) at the RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
You’ll follow a challenging 24-week course designed to develop your leadership and management skills. The course includes fitness development, military training and academic study as well as practical outdoor leadership challenges. You can find out more information about IOT in this publication.
Your specialist training begins with a bespoke version of Elementary Flying Training (EFT), including ground school and then flying the Tutor aircraft. You will complete the Tutor training with an Instrument Flight Test and Final Handling Test before being awarded RPAS(P) wings. You will then go to the Reaper Formal Training Unit (FTU) in the USA to train on the aircraft you will be flying operationally.
The FTU is completed at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, USA. You will spend 6 months completing the ground school elements and learning how to operate the aircraft, including weapons.
During your first tour, you will be posted to either XIII Sqn RAF Waddington (UK) or 39 Sqn Creech Air Force Base (USA). You will most likely fly an aircraft on operations over hostile territory, providing persistent ISR and if required, armed overwatch.
Your Career Prospects
You will join the RAF on an Initial Commission of 12 years and may be selected to serve on a pension earning commission of 20 years service or age 40, whichever is the later, during this time. Promotion to the rank of Flight Lieutenant is on a time served/satisfactory service basis. Further promotion to Squadron Leader and above is by competitive selection.
As an RPAS pilot, you will have opportunities for further professional development throughout your career. As well as training personnel at the FTU and deploying on the Reaper Launch and Recovery Element, there are opportunities for structured command and staff training as your career progresses.
The skills and experience you gain throughout your career as a RPAS pilot in the RAF will equip you for a number of civilian jobs, including civilian UAV pilot operator, pilot instructor, systems specialist and simulator coordinator.
You will need a minimum of 5 GCSEs (or acceptable equivalents) at a minimum of Grade C (Grade 4 to 5 with effect from Aug 17), including English Language, and Mathematics, Scottish Certificate of Education (SCE) Standard Grades; 5 at a minimum of Grade 2, including English Language, and Mathematics or 5 Scottish National Equivalent (SNE) Grades at a minimum of Grade 5 including English Language and Mathematics.
In addition, you need at least 2 A2 Levels / 3 Highers at Grade C or above (excluding General Studies or Critical Thinking) which must total a minimum of 64 UCAS points.
Alternatively, if you hold a UK degree at Grade 2:2 or higher (or acceptable alternative) you only need Mathematics and English Language GCSEs at a minimum of Grade C (Grade 4 to 5 with effect from Aug 17) or Mathematics and English Language SCE Standard Grades of 2 or SNE Grade 5.
- 17.5 - 31.5 (Must enter IOT before the age of 32 and six months)
To join the RAF you will need to meet the fitness, health, nationality, residency and other criteria detailed below.