Last Updated: 08 August, 2016


In the First and Second World Wars, men had come forward to join the colours willingly or, later on, had been compelled by conscription. But after the end of National Service, and the demobilisation of the last conscripts in 1963, Britain’s military needed to find new ways to fill its ranks, without an ideological enemy threatening it directly, or conscription.

With the discharge from the British Army of the last National Serviceman on 16 May 1963, the UK military became an entirely professional force. The end of National Service also meant that there was a need for the Royal Air Force (RAF) to maintain its numbers of professional regulars.

As such, the RAF – since 1963 to present – has utilised a variety of methods to sell itself to potential recruits, which has also been varied across the service branches of land, sea and air. A regular fixture on British television was recruitment advertising including the slogans ‘Be the Best’ and ‘Be Part of It’ (National Archives, 2006).

This article will provide an overview of the structure of the RAF and organisational changes in terms of manpower. The article will then provide a general outline of the recruitment and selection process (i.e. how to join the RAF) by looking at areas such as eligibility, fitness standards, minimum qualifications, and tests and interviews.

Finally, the article will look at funding streams and outline the future RAF before providing some useful links.

On 08 July 2016, the MOD announced that all Ground Close Combat Roles (RAC, Infantry, Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment) would be opened to women by 2018 (British Army, 2016).

Structure of the Royal Air Force

From a careers perspective, The RAF is made up of a number of jobs which can be categorised into one of four groupings:

  1. Officers: these are equivalent of senior managers or team leaders, with 20 jobs available covering a wide range of skills, for example Dental Officer, Logistics Officer or Pilot. The RAF expects a great deal from their officers, they have to lead by example.
  2. Non-Commissioned Aircrew (NCA): four flying roles.
  3. Airmen and airwomen: ground support roles using specialist skills. There are around three dozen different jobs to choose from, anything from medical support to aircraft maintenance, administration to logistics.
  4. RAF Regiment: the fighting force trained to protect RAF personnel, bases and high-value assets.

From an organisational perspective the RAF is made up of a number of different elements, as highlighted below:

  1. HQ Air Command: RAF High Wycombe, situated at Naphill in Buckinghamshire, is the home of the Royal Air Force’s HQ Air Command. It was formed on 1 April 2007, when the RAF’s Personnel and Training Command and Strike Command merged.
  2. Air Groups: 1 Group (fighter aircraft and helicopters), 2 Group (refuelling and air transport) and 22 (Training) Group (recruitment & training).
  3. Expeditionary Air Group (EAG) & Wings (EAW): 83 EAG, 901 EAW, 902 EAW, 903 EAW and 904 EAW.
  4. RAF Stations: there are currently 63 stations across a mix of RAF, tri-Service and MoD establishments to which personnel can be posted.
  5. RAF Squadrons: the squadron is the basic fighting unit of the Royal Air Force. Although the shape and composition will vary depending on their role, squadrons are generally organised in a similar way.
  6. Support Services: this means units that support the ‘flying portion’ of the RAF, such as the RAF Police, Medical Services, and security and defence and so on.
  7. RAF Regiment: The RAF Regiment is the ground fighting force of the RAF and is a diverse organisation that provides worldwide Force Protection (FP) to UK air assets.

The RAF is made up of both Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks (known as Airmen/Airwomen).

Due to a number of structural changes (see below) and economic pressures the RAF is increasingly utilising a Joint Force (or tri-Service) model of working with the British Army and Royal Naval Service. Typically the tri-Service concept is the removal of duplication and the standardisation of procedures, but also enables the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to make efficiency savings.

Organisational Change

Since 1963 there have been nine important organisational change initiatives (always resulting in a reduction in total manpower) by both the MoD affecting RAF – resulting in greater integration (tri-Service model) – and cost savings between the three service branches) and initiatives by the RAF resulting in both greater integration and significant structural change. These organisational change initiatives are outlined in Table 1 below:

Table 1: Defence reviews since 1963




British Army Manpower Change

Healey Reviews



  • Unknown

Mason Review



  • Unknown

Nott Review



  • Unknown

Options for Change



  • RAF down to 75,000

Front Line First: The Defence Costs Study



  • RAF down by 7,500

Strategic Defence Review



  • RAF neutral overall

Strategic Defence Review New Chapter



(in response to the 9/11 attack

  • Some structural change otherwise manpower neutral overall

Delivering Security in a Changing World



  • RAF down 7,000

Strategic Defence and Security Review


Conservative & Liberal Democrat Coalition

  • RAF down by 5,000 to 33,000

Source: Taylor, 2010

Manpower Requirements

The MoD calculates the numbers that need to be enlisted to maintain the RAF’s manning levels. The MoD takes account of changing unit establishments, wastage caused by servicemen and women leaving the RAF at the end of their engagements, and those who might choose to leave before their engagements come to an end (PVR or Premature Voluntary Release). The number required in each trade in the RAF is assessed and figures are published at six monthly intervals so that adjustments may be made during the year.

Traditionally, the RAF has not met these recruiting targets and this shortfall in recruiting tends to be worse for the Army and for particular trades within the RAF and Naval Service.

With this in mind, the full time trained strength of the RAF was 33,990 at 01 November 2013, against the requirement for a full time trained strength of 34,750 personnel (DASA, 2013a).

By 2020 the RAF will have a full time requirement of 31,500 personnel (DASA, 2013a).

The latest figures suggest that the RAF requires approximately 500 new personnel each year (DASA, 2013a).

Key Points

Key points to note regarding RAF manpower include (DASA, 2013b):

At 1 April 2013:

  • There were 37,030 (trained and untrained) RAF personnel, of which 8,230 were Officers and 28.790 were Other Ranks.
  • The percentage of women in the RAF was 13.9% in April 2013.
  • Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) personnel comprised 2.0% of the RAF, continuing a long term gradual increase in the proportion of BME personnel.
  • 40% of RAF personnel were aged under 30, compared with 48% of the Naval Service and 56% of the Army.
  • 0.1% of RAF personnel were under the age of 18, and 17.5% were under the age of 25.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2013:

  • 45% of all Other Ranks intake occurred under the age of 20; compared with only 3.3% of all Officer intake.
  • 69% of all Officer intake comprised personnel aged between 20 and 24; compared with only 39% of Other Ranks intake.
  • The profile of outflow by age is to some extent determined by the nature of contracts under which personnel serve. In the 12 months to 31 March 2013, common exit ages for Officers were 40 and over. Nearly 60% of all Other Ranks outflow occurred between the ages of 20 and 34; however there is also a peak at age 40 which broadly corresponds with personnel completing a full 22-year career.

A General Outline of the Recruitment and Selection Process

Within the UK individuals tend to be attracted to individual service branches rather than the military per se. Each Service has their own identity, ethos, core values and standards and people tend to join the Army, Navy or Air Force. This is reflected in the way that each service branch conducts separate recruitment and marketing campaigns. Each has its own strap-line (e.g., the Army’s is “Be the best” and the RAF is “Rise above the rest”).

Selection is conducted separately for each of the Services, but the selection processes are similar in nature. All three Services have different selection procedures for Officers and Other Ranks. However, all include interviews, aptitude and ability testing and some personality measures. There is a filtering system that will select people at the initial application stage, while others will be invited to attend an assessment centre which can last up to three days. As well as technical ability, individuals will be assessed on their general qualities to be a member of the UK military. In addition, preliminary medical examinations will also be carried out including checks on weight, eyesight and hearing, and individuals will need to pass a physical fitness assessment.

Table 2, below, provides an outline of the current RAF recruitment and selection process.

Table 2: Outline of the RAF recruitment and selection process





Initial Application (& CV for some officer roles)

Application Forms, RAF 1 (2015-06-08)

Application Forms, RAF 2 (2015-08-06)


Aptitude Tests


Selection Interviews


Occupational Health Assessment


Pre-Joining Fitness Tests



Specialist Interview

(certain professionals)


OASC for Non-commissioned aircrew and air traffic controllers

4-day Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC)


3-day Pre-Recruit Training Course & Functional Skills (FS) qualification

(as required) or the 4-day Potential Gunners Selection Course (PGSC) for the RAF Regiment

2-day selection procedure (successful OASC candidates and all non-aptitude branch officers)


Provision Offer of Service Interview


Start Training

Recruit Attraction Methods

The RAF utilises a number of marketing channels in order to engage with domestic and international populations and these include:

  • High street stalls;
  • Trade shows and other events;
  • School and university visits;
  • Commercial recruitment fairs;
  • Own websites;
  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress);
  • Newspapers;
  • Television;
  • Billboards and posters;
  • Cadet and other youth organisations; and
  • Friends and family of current and ex-military personnel.

General Eligibility

There are a number of eligibility criteria that must be considered before making an application to join the RAF and these vary across the trades due to the nature of the job/role an individual may wish to undertake. The general principles are outlined below:

  • Age: Every job/role in the RAF has a minimum and maximum age limit. The minimum age can differ between jobs/roles and is specified within each job description.
  • Fitness Standards: all applicants are required to complete a fitness test.
  • Minimum Qualifications: a number of Airmen/Airwomen roles do not require minimum qualifications, however, some technical trades do. Officers are required to achieve a higher academic standard. With over 50 roles there is a lot to choose from.
  • Medical: there are various criteria including height, weight, eyesight, and checks medical conditions and any ongoing illnesses.
  • Nationality & Residency: Individuals are required to fulfil a number of nationality and residency criteria. Documents required include passport, birth certificate and educational qualifications.
  • Gender: only male applicants can apply to the RAF Regiment.
  • Criminal Convictions: some kinds of offences and sentences can bar recruits from joining or rejoining.
  • Tattoos & Piercings: these are dependent on location and nature and will usually need to be declared and shown during a medical examination.

When Can an Individual Join?


Individuals must be a minimum of 16 years old on entry to initial training, although individuals can apply from 15 years and 9 months. Older individuals must be in initial training before their 36th birthday.

If an individual is under 18 years of age, they will need consent from their parent or guardian before they can progress their application at the Careers Office.

If an individual is currently under a care order then the RAF will have to seek permission of the local authority in order for an individual to join.


Officers must be in the age range 17.5-35 (job dependent) on entry to initial training at the RAF College Cranwell, although individuals can apply for sixth form and university sponsorship earlier.

Higher age limits for professional and specialist applicants do apply.

Fitness Standards

Get Fit To Join

Due to the nature of military training and operations it is critical that individuals get in the best possible shape in order to help them excel during pre-joining fitness tests, initial training and throughout their military career.

The RAF has put together training programmes designed to help individuals get their fitness levels to what they should be and increase their chance of success.

The standard an individual is required to achieve is dependent on their age, gender and the job applied for.

Fitness Test

As part of the selection process individuals will be required to complete a fitness test in the form of a gender and age fair health based test in order to demonstrate their physical preparedness to enter Initial Training.

Table 3: Outline of RAF fitness standards for the fitness test



2.4 Km Run


MSFT (Level)

Press-Ups (Number)

Sit-Ups (Number)






































2.4 Km Run


MSFT (Level)

Press-Ups (Number)

Sit-Ups (Number)





































  • MSFT: this the multi-stage fitness test, otherwise known as the bleep test.
  • Applicants for the roles of Officer, Non-Commissioned Aircrew (NCA) or Senior Non-Commissioned Officer for Air Traffic Control SNCO (ATC) through the Direct Entry route will be required to complete the run (on a treadmill), press-up and sit-up elements of the fitness test.
  • Defence Sixth College applicants substitute the MSFT for the run element of the fitness test.
  • Airmen/Airwomen applicants will be required to complete the run, press-up and sit-up elements of the fitness test.
  • Applicants on the Pre-Recruit Training Course (PRTC) will be required to complete the MSFT, press-up and sit-up elements of the fitness test.

RAF Gunner Pre-Joining Fitness Test

The RAF Regiment Gunner Pre-Joining Fitness Test (RGPJFT) has slightly higher standards in order to prepare potential candidates for the Potential Gunner Selection Course.

Table 4: Outline of the RAF gunner pre-joining fitness test



2.4 km run (1.5 mile)







Minimum Qualifications


Certain jobs require specific GCSE, A-level or degree subjects, although a number of jobs have no minimum.


As a minimum, Officers’ require 2 A-levels (at grade A-C) or 3 Highers or equivalent, plus 5 GCSE/SCEs at Grade C/2 minimum or equivalent including English language and grade B/1 in maths.

However, some roles require higher academic standards and/or qualifications.

Professionally Qualified Officers

Professionally Qualified Officers undergo an additional Specialist Interview before or after completion of OASC as well as shorter initial training.

Medical Assessment

Life in the RAF can be mentally and physically challenging. This is the reason why some medical conditions and ongoing illnesses can stop an individual from joining. As such a full medical examination is part of the application process. It is worth checking the list on the RAF website.

  • Height and Weight: some roles have a minimum height requirement and individuals are informed if this is applicable to the role they have applied for.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): individuals who do not meet the minimum and maximum BMI criteria will not be accepted into the RAF. The BMI standards acceptable for entry are outlined in Table 5 below.
  • Eyesight: the minimum standards for both uncorrected and corrected vision vary for different roles and are determined by RAF medical staff.

Table 5: BMI criteria by age and gender


Male and female minimum

Male and female maximum

Male maximum with additional assessment

Female maximum with additional assessment

18 +





16 to < 18





Nationality and Residency

Table 6: Nationality and residency requirements for the RAF




British Citizen


British Subject under the Nationality Act 1981


Citizen of a Commonwealth country or holding British Overseas Territories Citizenship

Individuals must have Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK or have resided in the UK for five years before they can start an application to join the RAF. Individuals must not have been out of the UK for a continuous period of more than 180 days (6 months) during this five year period.

British Protected Person


Citizen of the Irish Republic


Tests and Interviews

The RAF has a number of techniques designed to check the suitability of individuals for life in the military. These techniques are outlined in Table 6 below:

Table 7: Outline of RAF tests and interviews



Aptitude Tests

All applicants will sit the Airman/Airwoman Selection Test (AST). The AST consists of seven multiple-choice tests, each focusing on different skills. The tests will cover (Assessment Centre HQ, 2014):

  • Verbal reasoning (15 mins & 20 questions): how do you use and interpret written information?
  • Numerical reasoning (11 mins & 15 questions): can you use basic fractions, decimals and formulae; can you understand and interpret graphs and tables?
  • Work rate (4 mins & 20 questions): how quickly and accurately do you complete tasks?
  • Spatial reasoning (part 1 (2D) 4 mins & 10 questions; part 2 (3D) 3 mins & 10 questions): can you understand how shapes and objects work?
  • Electrical comprehension (11 mins & 21 questions): can you work with electrical concepts?
  • Mechanical comprehension (10 mins  & 20 questions): can you work with mechanical concepts?
  • Memory (20 questions): how accurately can you remember information?
  • The test takes approximately 90 minutes to complete.

Selection Interviews

The first interview will occur at the Careers Office and chat/be asked about:

  • Their CV (if you have one);
  • Education and qualifications gained;
  • Your family and leisure time;
  • Work (any jobs you may have done); and
  • Your interest in the RAF and potential roles you would like to do.

Specialist Interviews

Some trades and branches require individuals to undergo a specialist interview or test about the specific career they have applied for. Specialist interviews are normally conducted on an RAF base where the individual can see and experience the kind of environment they would be working in.Interviewed are conducted by an experienced specialist and further tests may be needed to confirm suitability.

Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC)

During the OASC individuals will complete a number of tests:

  • Aptitude tests, as above.
  • Exercise: for the exercise phase applicants will be grouped with three to five other candidates and complete five exercises that show leadership potential and style in a variety of challenging environments.
  • Interview (see below): this is an opportunity to tell the RAF about yourself; such as achievements, team involvement, reasons for joining the RAF and knowledge of the RAF.
  • An occupational health assessment
  • Selection Fitness Test (as described earlier)

OASC Interview

The aim of the OASC interview is to demonstrate your potential to be effective as a member of the RAF team. The first half of the interview is about what you have achieved at school and college; in sports; in your community; at work; and as a cadet, scout or guide. The second half will be about your motivation for joining the RAF – what you know about current affairs and the RAF’s role in the national and international arena. For example, you might be asked: ‘Outside the UK, what world events have caught your attention in the last 12 months?’The interview, which will last about 45 minutes, will be conducted by two officers. Individuals will be assessed on their: confidence and resilience; communications; influence; teamwork; motivation; and awareness.Individuals should project themselves with self-confidence and give answers that highlight their qualities and achievements. It would also be useful to have a good basic knowledge of news and current affairs (i.e. do some research).

Pre-Recruit Training Course (PRTC)

All potential recruits (bar RAF Regiment) have to attend and pass the PRTC. The PRTC is conducted at least 6 weeks before joining the RAF and starting the Basic Recruit Training Course (BRTC). The course takes place over 3 days and is designed to familiarise candidates with the training environment. The course includes:

  • A Functional Skills test in English and Maths (see below)
  • A fitness test (which is a pass or fail test).

Individual will have the chance to ask any questions.

Potential Gunners Selection Course (PGSC)

As part of the 4-day PGSC individuals will learn all about the RAF Regiment, such as duties and training. During the PGSC individuals will undergo:

  • Diagnostic tests for learning difficulties;
  • A multi-stage fitness test which includes a series of shuttle runs, followed by sit-ups & press-ups.
  • Teamwork and leadership skills on the RAF Regiment assault course;
  • A Skirmish Exercise: This is a battle physical training exercise that aims to replicate the arduous nature of combat operations, testing an individual’s endurance. During this exercise there will be simulated casualty evacuation, tactical movement through the battle area and the transportation of vital equipment as a team;
  • A chance to meet current RAF Regiment Gunners and have the chance to ask them about their experiences; and
  • Finally, there will be an interview with the instructors, which will provide an opportunity to confirm an individual’s interest in joining the RAF Regiment and ask any further questions.

Functional Skills (FS)

All RAF ground trades recruits (except Air Traffic Controller – Senior Non-Commissioned Officer) must have or gain Functional Skills (FS) qualifications in English and Maths to graduate from Recruit Training. The first chance to pass these tests, if an individual do not already have the necessary FS grades, will be at the PRTC (except for those who join as a RAF regiment Gunner as the FS tests as part of the combined Gunner basic recruit and trade training course).The level of FS qualifications is dependent on the trade an individual is applying for.

Provision Offer of Service Interview

Subject to being offered a provisional offer of service, the interviewing officer will discuss the terms and conditions of service when joining the Royal Air Force. Upon successful completion of this interview individuals will be informed of their start date for recruit training. This interview also acts as a final check for both parties.

RAF Scholarships

The RAF Scholarship is, currently, available to applicants who wish to be considered for Direct Entry into the RAF on completion of their A levels (or equivalent). The Scholarship is available for the following branches:

  • Pilot (Officer);
  • Air Traffic Controller (Officer & Senior Non-Commissioned Officer);
  • Aerospace Battle Manager (Officer);
  • Intelligence (Officer); and
  • Logistics (Officer).

Applicants may only apply for one of these branches.

Bursaries and Cadetships

Sponsored undergraduates are awarded a bursary to help support them through their studies. As a medical student, individuals can also apply for a Cadetship, which covers the cost of the final two years of study; this includes tuition fees, a book allowance and a ‘salary’.

Bursars and Cadets have to pass selection at OASC, and Cadets will also need to pass a specialist medical interview.


RAF Apprenticeships provide individuals with the chance to complete a UK-recognised trade apprenticeship whilst training or working in the RAF. The RAF offers apprenticeships across a number of branches:

  • Aeronautical engineering;
  • Catering and hospitality (chef and caterer);
  • Security and defence (RAF Police, RAF Regiment and fire and rescue);
  • Personnel support;
  • Air operations support;
  • Communications and intelligence; and
  • Logistics and equipment.

Future Force 2020

Future Force 2020 looks at the restructuring and re-equipping and of the RAF by 2020 (MoD, 2013). Principally it is the replacement of old aircraft types with the latest generation in both multi-role (i.e. fighters) and transport aircraft.

However, Future Force 2020 also comments on a reduction of personnel and rationalisation of RAF estate (MoD, 2013).

Useful Links

Listed are some links which the reader may find useful:

  1. A very thorough document ‘Informed Choice? Armed Forces Recruitment Practice in the United Kingdom’ written by David Gee in 2007 and available from:
  2. Official MoD website:
  3. Official RAF website:
  4. Official RAF Facebook website:
  5. Official RAF Twitter website:
  6. An MoD paper discussing the future air and space operating concept (FASOC), a joint concept note published on 13 September 2012 and available from:

Useful Documents


Assessment Centre HQ (2014) RAF Aptitude Test – 2014 Success Guide: What to Expect & How to Succeed. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 12 January, 2014].

DASA (Defence Analytical and Statistics Agency) (2013a) UK Armed Forces Monthly Personnel Report: 1 November 2013. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 04 January, 2014].

DASA (Defence Analytical and Statistics Agency) (2013b) Annual Personnel Report 2013. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 04 January, 2014].

Gee, D. (2007) Informed Choice? Armed Forces Recruitment Practice in the United Kingdom. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 04 January, 2014].

MoD (Ministry of Defence) (2013) Fact Sheet 8: Future Force 2020 – Royal Air Force. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 12 January, 2014].

National Archives (2006) Army Recruitment. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 02 January, 2014].

Taylor, C. (2010) A Brief Guide to Previous British Defence Reviews. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 04 January, 2014].

British Army (2016) Ground Close Combat Roles Open To Women. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 08 August, 2016].


3 thoughts on “RAF Recruitment & Selection Overview

    1. Hi Eleanor,

      Individuals who apply for Airmen/Airwomen roles must be a minimum of 16 years old on entry to initial training (which is undertaken at RAF Halton), although individuals can apply from 15 years and 9 months. If an individual is under 18 years of age, they will need consent from their parent or guardian before they can progress their application at the Careers Office.

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