Air Training Corps

From Academic Kids

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ATC Crest

The Air Training Corps (ATC) is a UK cadet force. It is controlled and funded by the Royal Air Force, although the young people who make up its membership are civilians. It is not a pre-service organisation, however a significant minority of its members do go on to join the RAF or other services.



National level

The ATC is the larger part of the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO), along with the RAF sections of the Combined Cadet Force. It is divided geographically into six regions, each of which are sub-divided into wings. There are currently 36 Wings, most named after the one or two counties they operate in. Wings are further sub-divided into squadrons.

Headquarters Air Cadets (HQAC), based at RAF Cranwell, controls the organisation; there are subordinate HQs at Region and Wing levels staffed by officers of the RAF Reserve and civil servants. A regular RAF Air Commodore serves as Commandant Air Cadets. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh serves as honorary Air Commodore-in-Chief.

Two Air Cadet National Adventure Training Centres are controlled by HQAC, at Llanbedr, Wales and Windermere, England. These provide a range of adventure training courses and accommodation for squadron and wing expeditions. HQAC also control 28 Volunteer Gliding Schools around the UK, through the Air Cadet Central Gliding School at RAF Syerston.

Local level

ATC Squadrons are established in most large towns in the UK and there are also units in Cyprus, Germany and the Channel Islands. Each squadron has a minimum size of 30 enrolled cadets, but some have over 100 members. Each squadron is commanded by a Commanding Officer (CO) and there will also be additional staff to instruct the cadets and administer the squadron. There are approximately 900 squadrons in existence at any one time. The first 50 squadrons formed have their squadron numbers followed by an F to show they are founder squadrons.

In towns not large enough to sustain a squadron of 30 cadets, a Detached Flight (DF) may be formed. This operates much like any other unit, but is technically a component part of a nearby larger squadron. The establishment of Officers and cadet NCOs is dependant on the size of the squadron or DF.

Civilian committees

Each level of organisation in the ATC down to the squadron level has associated with it a civilian committee. The civilian committee is responsible for fund raising (the ATC is a registered charity) and oversees the activities of units and formations. They do not have any executive authority, though; this rests with the Officers. Committees are made up of respected members of the community in which the unit is based, and often include parents of cadets and retired staff.



Young people can join the ATC at any time between the ages of 13 and 18. Cadets can stay in the organisation until they reach 18; they must leave unless they reach the rank of cadet sergeant. Those who stay on beyond 18 are termed Instructor Cadets and can stay until they reach 20; they receive additional training as they can now be responsible for the younger cadets. All cadets are issued with uniform and must pay a small amount in subscriptions, usually below 5 per month.

The cadets of a squadron all join at the rank of Cadet, however, they can be promoted by the CO to the status of NCOs. The NCO ranks within the ATC mirror those of the RAF and are Cadet Corporal, Cadet Sergeant, Cadet Flight Sergeant and Cadet Warrant Officer (CWO). It is common within the ATC to abbreviate these ranks by dropping the prefix "Cadet". The rank of Cadet Warrant Officer is the only rank to require a promotion interview by a senior officer; promotion to the lower ranks is in the power of the squadron commander.

Not all cadets who join the ATC can expect to receive promotion. However all cadets can progress through the training system and, by passing exams, achieve increasing levels of qualification. The qualification levels are Second Class Cadet, First Class Cadet, Leading Cadet, Senior Cadet and Staff Cadet. For each of these qualifications cadets study a variety of subjects including airmanship, navigation, first aid and communications. Each successive qualification allows a cadet greater participation. For example, cadets must be First Class before they can take part in some activities such as UK annual camps or air experience flying. Cadets who have achieved the Staff Cadet qualification wear a distinguishing yellow lanyard on their uniforms and are then authorised to teach lessons.

Adult Staff

The staff who run the ATC at unit level come in 3 types: commissioned officers, adult SNCOs (Sgt, FS, WO) and civilian instructors. Officers are commissioned into the Training Branch of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, giving them the postnominal letters RAFVR(T). Unless an officer has previous service, he or she is commissoned as a Pilot Officer, being promoted to Flying Officer after two years. From then on promotion is on merit in order to fill established vacancies. Squadrons are usually commanded by Flight Lieutenants, who are also found as Wing and Regional staff officers along with Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders.

Adults may also be appointed as Adult SNCOs, although these ranks are within the ATC and so therefore these are not members of the RAF reserve. Adult NCOs are uniformed in the same way as their RAF counterparts with two exceptions: a small gilt ATC badge is worn on the rank badge and Warrant Officers (unless they have previous regular warranted service) wear a different rank badge.

Civilian Instructors, known as CIs, play an important role in training cadets. Unlike Adult NCOs and Officers, CIs do not wear uniform and are do not form part of the chain of command on the squadron.


The ATC was founded by Royal Warrant signed by King George VI on 5 February 1941 in response to a shortage of pilots. It was formed out of the Air Defence Cadet Corps by Air Commodore Adrian Chamier. It proved very popular during the war, as cadets who passed their proficiency training in the ATC could choose which service they wished to join when they were conscripted; they were also excused several weeks of basic training should they join the RAF.

After the war membership declined but the ATC was kept going, the emphasis changing from a pre-service training organisation to a broader based youth organisation.


Within the framework of the training programme ATC cadets have the opportunity of taking part in many activities. On most Squadrons the only compulsory activities in the ATC year are attendance at various church parades, usually ATC Sunday (to celebrate the founding of the Air Training Corps on 5 February 1941, see below) and Remembrance Sunday.

Parade nights

Every Squadron parades at least once, usually twice a week during the evening. Parade nights always begin and end with a parade. First parade is usually used as an opportunity for uniform inspection and to instruct cadets on the evening's activities, while final parade is usually used as an opportunity to inform cadets of upcoming events that they may wish (or may be required) to take part in.


Cadets can take part in regular flights in the Grob Tutor at one of 12 Air Experience Flights (AEFs) around the UK. These flights typically last 20 minutes; as part of a structured syllabus of training it is usual for the cadet to be offered the chance of flying the aircraft or of experiencing aerobatics. The instructors are all qualified service pilots, usually serving or retired RAF officers. Prior to the introduction of the Tutor, AEFs were equipped with Bulldogs as a temporary measure following the retirement of the Chipmunk in 1996. The Chipmunk was introduced in 1957 and during its service flew many thousands of cadets. Prior to the Chipmunk and established AEFs, cadet flying was a more ad-hoc affair, athough during the 1940s and 1950s, Airspeed Oxfords and Avro Ansons were used specifically to fly cadets.


Cadets can also take part in air experience flights at various ATC Volunteer Gliding Schools (VGSs), and can take part in Gliding Scholarship programmes which provide 8 hours of tuition. Cadets successfully completing these programmes are awarded either blue or, if they successfully perform a solo flight, silver wings to wear on their uniforms.

VGSs fly either the Grob Viking glider or the Grob Vigilant powered glider. Some airfields such as RAF Kenley near Croydon are now only suitable for gliding activities, by reason of their size or situation.


Cadets have the opportunity of firing a variey of rifles on firing ranges. Cadets first train with and fire either the Lee Enfield No.8 .22 rifle or .177 air rifles. They can then progress to the L98-A1 CGP, a manually operated variant of the 5.56mm SA80. The 7.62mm Parker Hale L81A2 Cadet Target Rifle is also used at long ranges for competition shooting. Although safety has always been the main concern when shooting, with everything done by the book (as written by Army), recent years have seen the introduction of a wider range of training courses for staff involved in shooting to improve quality and safety even further. There are many competitions, from postal smallbore competitions to the yearly Inter-Service Cadet Rifle Meet at Bisley, the home of UK shooting.


All ATC squadrons practice drill as a means of distilling discipline and teamwork. Drill is also used in formal parades and for moving around military bases; there are also drill competitions. Air cadet drill is taken from the manual Air Cadet Publication 19 (ACP19) which is based on the RAF drill manual.

Annual and overseas camps

The highlight of the cadet's calendar is annual camp - a week away at an RAF station. Annual camps are organised for all squadrons so that every cadet who wishes to take part and who has achieved at least the First Class qualification may attend. Cadets usually stay in RAF barrack blocks and eat in the station's mess facilities. The itinerary is always packed with typical ATC activities such as air experience flying, shooting, adventure training and of course drill. Cadets will also have the opportunity to visit various sections of the station and meet the people who work there.

For older and more experience cadets who have achieved the Leading Cadet qualification the corps also offers overseas camps. These are more expensive than UK camps as the cost of flights has to be paid for, and are generally more relaxed and seen as a reward for hard working and long serving cadets. Since the end of the cold war, and the closure of RAF stations in Germany, the number of overseas camp opportunities has decreased. As of 2005 the destinations for overseas camps were:


Sport plays a key part in the activities of every squadron. Seven sports are played competitively between squadrons. Cadets who show talent can be selected to represnt their Wing, Region or the Corps in competative matches; these cadets win wing, regional or corps 'Blues'. The main sports played are:

  • Rugby Union
  • Hockey
  • Netball
  • Association Football
  • Swimming
  • Athletics
  • Cross-country running

Other sports are also played, sometimes in matches between squadrons, including Volleyball, 5-a-side football, table tennis, etc. Cadets also use various sports to take part in the physical recreation section of the Duke of Edinburghs Award.

Volunteer work in the community

Cadets often volunteer to help at various national and local events. For their services a small payment is usually offered to their squadron's funds. Typical examples of such work includes car parking duties at events and delivering copies of Gateway Magazine to RAF married quarters.

The largest example of cadets involved in volunteer work is at the Royal International Air Tattoo, an annual air display held at RAF Fairford. Each year several hundred air cadets volunteer to stay on the base in temporary accommodation. During the course of the event they help with duties such as selling programmes, crowd control and clearing litter.


Cadets and staff of the ATC wear uniform similar to RAF uniform. This is supplied to each cadet when they join by the supply squadron at the local RAF station. Items are then replaced if the cadet grows out of them. Uniform consists of:

  • Black leather parade shoes, of which the toe caps must be polished to a high shine.
  • RAF trousers, pressed with sharp creases at the front and back of each trouser leg. RAF skirts and optional slacks for females.
  • Belt, with highly polished buckle (males only).
  • RAF working blue shirt with the top button left undone.
  • RAF Wedgwood blue dress shirt. Worn with a tie (tied in a Windsor knot), for formal inspections and parades.
  • RAF jumper.
  • Cadets wear a brassard on the right shoulder. The brassard is used to show badges depicting their level of qualification (first class, leading, etc), their unit, and awards for achievements such as marksmanship.
  • Beret with ATC cap badge. The ATC cap badge is in silver metal and depicts a albatross surrounded by the words 'Air Cadets'. Staff wear the capbadge appropriate to them, i.e. the RAF Officer, Warrant Officer or Other Ranks badge for officers, AWOS and other NCOs respectivley.
  • Staff Cadets wear a yellow lanyard around their left shoulder. Graduates of the Junior Leaders Course [1] ( replace this with a burgundy lanyard.
  • Although not issued as part of the official uniform, most squadrons also issue their cadets and staff with DPM combat uniform which are appropriate for fieldcraft and some adventure training activities. This is the standard Combat Soldier 95 uniform worn by the British forces.

See Also

External links

Links to ATC Squadron websites

Links to ATC Wing websites


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