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R.A.F. Pilot Training 1954
(The Aeroplane Sept 10th 1954)

The 2 aircraft on which RAF Pilots are trained, the Provost and Vampire T11.
The 2 aircraft on which RAF Pilots are trained, the Provost and Vampire T11.
This Vampire has the 'clear view' hood and extended fin, but no ejection seats fitted.

At the present time, the R.A.F. and the U.S.A.F. are the only Services to provide pupil pilots with jet experience during pre-wings training, one-half of the initial course, in fact, being completed in Britain on a type which is still in operational service.

Although other air forces are likely to follow the example of the R.A.F.- the French have on order the Fouga Magister-indecision in training sequence is evident by the recent reversion of the U.S.A.F. and the R.C.A.F. to a light piston aircraft for basic training - the Beechcraft Mentor. And the controversy between side-by-side and tandem-seating remains everywhere except in the R.A.F.

What, then, is behind the firm adoption by the R.A.F. of this revised training system? It was recently pointed out by the C-in-C. Flying Training Command, Air Marshal Sir Lawrence Pendred, that the standard R.A.F. training sequence of Provost/Vampire, was the result of four year's experience of jet instruction, and that after several post war combinations of basic and applied trainers, including the Tiger Moth/Harvad, Prentice/Harvard, Chiprnunk/Harvard, Prentice/Balliol, Chipmunk/Oxford and other combinations of these types, the sequence evolved is likely to be with us for some time. This experience, which has led to pupils flying jets after 120 hours total flying, was not lightly gained. Despite the attempts of the Air Ministry to play down the reports on jet accidents, it was recently admitted that from 1950 onwards, when the large scale conversion of pupil pilots to jets began, the accident rate was" frightful." The new sequence is designed to reduce that rate by several means, including the discovery, at the earliest possible stage, of unsuitable jet pilot material, as well as to provide operational commands with completely trained aircrew.

In the past, it was possible, and indeed, regrettably common, for pilots to complete their training satisfactorily on piston engined aircraft, only to be found unsuitable for more advanced flying when they reached their next stage of training. Two or three years ago it was not uncommon for as many as one-third of the newly qualified pilots to be rejected by the Operational Conversion Units, and while many of these were later acceptable after further training the total wastage represented an impossible financial burden. Although the first Provost /Vampire trained course has yet to 'qualify', it is confidently expected that the rejection rate will be reduced to a little less than 2%, from the O.C.U.s and will subsequently fall to somewhere around the 1% mark. At the same time, the wastage from accidents has been steadily reduced by such measures as a higher ratio of instructors to pupils-about 1 : 21/2 - better Air Traffic Control and navigational aids; and a close watch on students for fatigue. And by giving students jet experience it will be possible to eliminate one complete stage of training -the  Advanced Flying School - for the majority of pilots, who are needed for jet fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons. The full sequence of R.A.F. pilot training is therefore this, Initial selection on the basis of aptitude and physical condition is made at the Aircrew Selection Centre, R.A.F., Hornchurch, where, despite the very grave shortage of the right type of aircrew material, only the most promising applicants are accepted for service. After enlistment, the aircrew cadets are sent to the Initial Training School at Kirton-in-Lindsey, for a 12-week ground course, which is virtually an O.C.T.U.

As Acting Pilot Officers on probation, the students then move on to one of several flying training schools  which, in No. 23 Group, Flying Training Command, may include Ternhill, Hullavington. Feltwell, or Syerston, where naval pilots are trained. At these F.T.S. basic training is given, eventually entirely on the Provost, although at the moment, only Ternhill is completely equipped with this type. During the 30 weeks at Basic F.T.S., 120 hours are flown on the Provost, which, of course, is considerably more powerful than previous basic trainers employed in the R.A.F., and corresponds more in many ways to the Harvard. Sixty hours dual and sixty hours solo are completed on the Provost, or almost twice as much flying as was formerly done during Theoretical instruction on armament is given during the "wings course"
Theoretical instruction on armament is given during the "wings course", but no gunnery or bombing is done until the O.C.U. stage. Seen here at Oakington is a new gunsight simulator for the G.G.S. Mk4 and elctronic G.G.S Mk5

basic training, the extra time being spent on advanced exercises. The Provost has been designed to familiarize the student with many features which he will later encounter in the Vampire Trainer.

For instance, the cockpit layout is generally similar, both having side-by-side seating, and the range of throttle movement in the Provost reproduces that of the Vampire, in that a large amount of travel is necessary before the Leonides accelerates up to 2,000 r.p.m., thereby simulating the lag of a turbo-jet on the approach. The excellent handling qualities of the Provost are by now well known, and Flying Training Command are" extremely content " with it.

From the Basic Flying Training School, the student pilot, with 120 hours flying, goes on to one of the four Jet F.T.S. in No. 25 Group - Oakington, Merryfield, Middleton St. George or Weston Zoyland, to complete the " wings" course. With them go their ".5060s," or training records, which offer a complete commentary on pupils' progress during the basic stage. The first course of Provost-trained pupils to convert to the Vampire T.11 is in its closing stages at No. 5 F.T.S., Oakington, where the Chief Instructor is Wg. Cdr. L. Trent, V.C., D.F.C.

There are three training squadrons at Oakington, together with a Headquarters squadron which serves to check and recategorize the instructors at intervals. It is a remarkable fact that the 7 to 8 hours taken by the students to solo on the Vampire T.11 has been more than was really necessary, because of the atrocious summer we have had. With the high performance of the Vampire, it is understandably necessary that students preparing to solo should have time to accustom themselves to the extra speed in possibly poor visibility and low cloud base.
Immediately after the first solo flight, the accent is on instrument flying instruction, since most of the air work in the Vampire is naturally done above cloud, around 15-20,000 ft. A QGH, or controlled descent through cloud, which is a most important factor in jet operations, is therefore done at the end of nearly every exercise, although pupils are not allowed to fly solo through more than six eighths of cloud. Most aerobatic training is done at 10-15,000 ft., but there are also high-level aerobatics, which demand different handling, and Mach runs at various altitudes. One of the requirements of an applied trainer such as the Vampire T.11 is that it should be cleared for intentional spins for instructional purposes, and also that it should reproduce the spin characteristics of , operational jet fighters, With its extended fins, the T.11 now has excellent spinning qualities.

After the first solo on the Vampire T.11, students may then continue solo details on the single-seat Vampire F.B. 5 and 9, of the types which are still in operational service with one or two R.A.F. units. The establishment at Oakington should be divided equally between the T.11 and the F.B. 5/9, but at the moment, there is a preponderance of the two-seat Vampires.

RAF Training may eventually be all-jet, if the Hunting Percival Jet Provost is adopted
RAF Training may eventually be all-jet, if the Hunting Percival Jet Provost is adopted. The prototype now has a ventral fin and an extension on the innner wing roots.

Much of the later stages of the Vampire course is spent on formation flying, at various altitudes, with aerobatics being included briefly in nearly every sortie. About half-way through the 30-week course, students have completed enough instrument flying to qualify for their white instrument ratings, after a comprehensive examination on the ground and in the air.

In all , students complete a total of 110 hours on the Vampire at Oakington, or another jet F.T.S., and then receive their flying badges as fully qualified R.A.F. pilots, except for specialized and, armament training. At this stage, they have completed some 230 hours flying, almost one-half of it on jets, in 18 months, compared with the previous total, under the former training methods, of 180-200 hours, on piston-engined types .

Instead of going on to an Advanced Flying School, to gain jet experience, fighter and bomber pilots therefore are now able to go direct to an Operational Conversion Unit , for a further 12 weeks, to become fully battle-trained.


Some of the sudents of No 5 F.T.S. Oakington. with their Vampire trainers.
Some of the sudents of No 5 F.T.S. Oakington. with their Vampire trainers. Nearest the camera is a Mk9 and then some Mk5's

The courses at Oakington will go, after qualification, to the O.C.U's at Chivenor and Pernbray, to convert to the Sabre and Venom, and eventually, to the Hunter. For those pilots who, after graduation, opt to go to other Commands, such as Coastal or Transport, their O.C.U. course follows a period at an A.F.S. where they convert to multi-engined piston aircraft.

Following the almost undoubted success of the new R.A.F. training sequence, the next question io be decided is whether the present piston basic trainer, the Provost, should be replaced by the Jet-Provost, since all but a few aircraft in the R.A.F. will, in the very near future, be turbine-powered, if not pure-jet. There are many aspects of this question, but the decision will not be made on theoretical grounds. A dozen Jet-Provosts are on order, and practical instruction in these aircraft by Flying Training Command personnel on a comparative basis with the Provost should provide answer to the problem.-