1.0 Introduction

This article provides an overview of the training process for those wishing to become a non-commissioned aircrew (NCA) or non-commissioned controller (NCC) within the Royal Air Force (RAF).

The article specifically outlines the Non-Commissioned Aircrew and Controller Initial Training Course (NCACITC).

2.0 Training Pipeline

NCA and NCC training has three distinct phases of training:

  • Officer and Aircrew Selection Course (OASC).
  • Phase 1a: Basic training that all recruits to the RAF must complete, regardless of future job/role. Basic training designed to help candidates adjust to a military environment. As well as fitness and military training, candidates will also learn about service life.
  • Familiarisation Visit (FV): The FV is conducted on completion of recruit training, normally around 1-2 weeks before the start of Phase 1b training.
  • Phase 1b: Initial training specifically designed to deliver air-minded leadership training. This period of training is designed to develop a candidate’s leadership and management skills and includes fitness development, military training and academic study as well as practical outdoor leadership challenges.
  • Phase 2: Specialist or employment training that all recruits to the RAF receive so they can perform in their selected job/role. This period of training starts with a foundation module, followed by a specialist module.

This article outlines the training undertaken by candidates in Phase 1b training, which is known as the Non-Commissioned Aircrew and Controllers Initial Training Course (NCACITC).

3.0 Hierarchy of Training

Officer and Aircrew training is delivered by the RAF College Cranwell (abbreviated to RAFC Cranwell or RAF Cranwell), which is led by the Commandant, an Air Commodore (OF-6). The Commandant is assisted by the Group Captain Training (OF-5).

Within RAFC Cranwell is the Officer and Aircrew Training Unit (OACTU), led by a Wing Commander (OF-4), which is composed of:

  • A Squadron:
    • Special Entrant Officer Courses.
    • NCACITC:
      • Aaron Section.
      • Gray Section.
      • Hannah Section.
      • Thompson Section.
      • SNCO Ex Plans.
  • B Squadron:
  • C Squadron:
  • D Squadron:

Each squadron is led by a Squadron Leader (OF-3), and assisted by a Flight Lieutenant (OF-2).

On arrival at OACTU, NCACITC candidates are allocated to one of the training sections above (each named after WWII non-commissioned aircrew recipients of the Victoria Cross).

Each section is commanded by a Master Aircrew (MAcr), or a Warrant Officer (WO) from the Air Operations Support branch, one of whom will be the Course Commander for the course as a whole.

In addition, the NCACITC staff includes a RAF Regiment Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) responsible for discipline, drill, the conduct of inspections, and the planning and delivery of the practical leadership exercises.

4.0 General Eligibility Criteria

General eligibility criteria for direct entry candidates (i.e. civilians) includes:

  • Be aged 17.5-47 years old (Must attest before 48th birthday);
  • Have GCSE at Grade C/4-5 or SCE Standard Grades at Grade 2/Scottish National 5 in English Language, Maths and three other subjects;
  • Be a citizen of the United Kingdom (UK) or holder of dual UK/other nationality;
  • Commit to minimum 12 years’ service;
  • Meet the health and fitness criteria; and
  • Pass a General Fitness Test.

Serving airmen/women may also apply for NCA/NCC training, known as an in-Service transfer.

5.0 Familiarisation Visit

Candidates who successfully complete Phase 1a training will attend what is known as a familiarisation visit, usually occurring 1-2 weeks prior to the start of Phase 1b training, which both direct entry and in-Service transfers must attend.

As part of the familiarisation visit candidates will:

  • Receive an orientation of RAF College Cranwell and the NCACITC accommodation;
  • Meet candidates from the current course;
  • Receive a brief from the Officer Commanding (OC) NCACITC; and
  • Undertake, and must pass, the OACTU familiarisation visit fitness test.

6.0 Training Syllabus

The NCACITC is an eleven (11) week course designed to:

“…deliver air-minded leadership training in order to develope credible, highly motivated, physically and mentally robust Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) capable of undertaking specialist training in the air environment.” (RAF, 2018, p.3).

This phase of training is significantly more challenging than basic training as candidates are held to the standard of a SNCO within the RAF, not as a junior Airman/woman.

Below is an outline of the NCACITC:

  • Induction Week:
    • OACTU entry fitness test (EFT).
      • Failure of the FVFT will result in a review of a candidate’s suitability to start the course.
      • Candidates who fail the EFT will be placed on the 3 Tier review system and are unlikely to be permitted to continue on course.
    • Arrivals administration.
    • Interviews.
    • Introduction to Defence writing.
    • Leadership and followership.
    • Physical education and introduction to Battle Physical Training (BPT):
      • All personnel must maintain a minimum standard of physical fitness.
      • SNCO’s must be able to set an example to their subordinates.
      • Some sessions will be physical and mentally tough.
      • Sessions will take place in the gym, swimming pool, and outdoors.
      • BPT, wearing combat clothing (including webbing and helmet), includes a confidence course.
    • Working Weekend 01: Candidates provide assistance to a local community conservation project.
  • Week 01:
    • Diversity & Inclusion brief.
    • Drill.
    • Defence Presentation brief.
    • Written & verbal communications (including two minute talks):
      • Candidates must be able to convey detailed information quickly, calmly, unambiguously, and calmly in any situation, especially when under pressure.
      • Candidates are introduced to Defence Writing.
    • Introduction to pine poles and lashings.
    • Confidence course.
    • Leadership theory:
      • Action Centred Leadership (ACL) model.
      • Followership and mission command.
      • NATO orders process using the SMEAC model.
      • Balance the needs of the task, team and individual using PICSIE (plan, initiate, control, support, inform, and evaluate).
    • Essential Service Knowledge (ESK):
      • SNCO’s are responsible for:
      • Physical education and BPT.
      • Working Weekend 02: Candidates undertake a project in the local area.
  • Week 02:
    • Leadership theory and exercise.
    • Written & verbal communications.
    • Drill.
    • Navigation theory & exercise.
      • Candidates are taught how to use a map and compass.
      • They are also a number of vital skills for aircrew and controllers of aircraft, including compass bearings and headings, maps and charts, geographic co-ordinates and distance/speed/time (DST) calculations.
    • Exercise protocols.
    • Climatic injuries.
    • Physical education and BPT.
  • Week 03:
    • Leadership theory and exercises.
    • Navigation exercise and test.
    • ESK.
    • Written communications exam.
    • Physical education and BPT.
    • OACTU Fitness Assessment (OFA).
  • Week 04:
    • Initial practical leadership training (IPLT):
      • IPLT takes place on the North Airfield at RAFC Cranwell.
      • Candidates are mentored and coached throughout a series of leadership tasks, each lasting approximately 2 hours, covering distances of 8-10km per day over flat terrain with few obstacles.
      • Breakfast and dinner will be taken in the No.1 OACTU Mess as normal and a hot lunch will be provided in the field.
      • Candidates return to their normal accommodation at the end of each day.
    • Beliefs & Values.
  • Week 05:
    • Additional practical leadership training (APLT):
      • APLT takes places on Stanford Training Area (STANTA) in Norfolk.
      • Leadership tasks are more complex than those undertaken on IPLT and candidates will cover approximately 10-15 km per day over more challenging terrain.
      • Candidates will experience increased physical and mental pressure but will continue to be coached and mentored throughout each task.
      • Candidates will eat from Operational Ration Packs (ORPs) and sleep in bivouacs (under shelter sheets) each evening.
  • Week 06:
    • ESK and exam.
    • Beliefs & Values.
    • Maths:
      • Undertaken without calculators.
      • Must be able to calculate headings and bearings, wind components, fuel loads, aircraft weight and balance, numerical components of electronic warfare, and DST quickly and accurately.
    • Drill.
    • Verbal communications (including 5 minute talks).
    • Charity/social evening.
    • Mid-course interviews.
    • Physical education and BPT.
    • Exercise ULTIMATE CHALLENGE:
      • This is a 3 hour BPT session in which candidates compete in teams.
      • It is conducted under strict supervision and control, the session begins with a series of demanding relay races and exercises using heavy training equipment.
      • The relay phase is immediately followed by up to a 10 km race in which teams carry a stretcher and weighted dummy, or build and push a chariot.
      • The event is a gruelling test of aerobic fitness, physical robustness, strength and endurance.
      • Above all, it tests a candidate’s motivation, determination and war-fighting spirit.
  • Week 07:
    • Exercise SOUTHERN BORDER:
      • This takes place on the Otterburn Training Area (OTA) in Northumberland.
      • The leadership tasks increase in complexity and candidates will cover up to 18 km each day over difficult, hilly terrain with additional weight.
      • The OTA is predominantly exposed countryside and the weather can be unpredictable bringing additional challenges.
      • Candidates will experience a significant increase in physical and mental pressure and, although still being coached and mentored, will be expected to demonstrate determination, motivation, physical robustness and the war-fighting spirit.
      • As per APLT, candidates will eat from ORPs but will be accommodated in tents instead of bivouacs to help ensure adequate rest and sleep.
      • This exercise is the final opportunity to develop and practice practical leadership skills before the assessment week on Exercise BORDER PATROL.
  • Week 08:
    • Air Power Studies:
      • SNCO’s must be politically and globally astute.
      • Study the employment of Air Power and its effectiveness.
    • Verbal communications (10 minute talks).
    • Drill.
    • Maths.
    • ESK.
    • Ethos and Heritage visit.
    • Training Dining-in-Night in Warrant Officers’ & SNCOs’ Mess. This organised by the candidates and attended by senior officers.
    • Physical education and BPT.
  • Week 09:
    • Exercise BORDER PATROL:
      • This is the summative (pass or fail) leadership assessment phase of the NCAITC.
      • Like Exercise Southern Border, this execise takes place on the OTA.
      • The complexity of each task, weight carried and distances covered remain the same as those for Exercise Southern Border to ensure nothing new is introduced during testing.
      • Again, meals will be provided from ORPs but this time, candidates will be accommodated in hardened accommodation to provide better opportunity for rest and sleep.
      • Candidates must pass one (1) assessed lead and will have two (2) opportunities to do so.
      • However, passing an assessed lead does not guarantee graduation from the NCACITC.
      • To graduate as a SNCO, candidates must have met the required standard across all elements of the course.
    • Working Weekend 03.
    • Defence presentation preparation.
    • Progress Review Board (Section 6.0).
  • Week 10:
    • Defence presentations. 40 minute presentation to senior officers.
    • Maths exam.
    • Beliefs & Values.
    • Progress Review Board (PRB).
    • Phase 2 training briefs and visits.
    • End of course interviews.
    • Graduation.

There are a total of three working weekends and four practical leadership weeks. Candidates will also have kit and accommodation inspections to ‘fit in’ with their busy days and evenings. For example, homework, revision, preparation for inspection, preparation for deployment, and management of additional duties.

For the first three weeks there are daily inspections, but this largely depends on the time it takes for candidates to achieve and demonstrate the required standard.

During the course, candidates will undertake the RAF Role Related Swim Test (RRST). Candidates immediately destined for airborne duties must pass the RRST and candidates who fail the RRST are not permitted to graduate from Phase 1 training (as per AP 3342, Section 8, Leaflet 803).

There are a number of examinations and (summative) assessments that must be passed in order to graduate. For example, land navigation, ESK, written and oral communications, maths, inspections, fitness, and leadership.

7.0 Progress Review Board

On return from Exercise BORDER PATROL, a progress review board (PRB) is convened by the Officer Commanding (OC) OACTU. The purpose of the PRB is to determine whether or not each candidate has reached the standard required to graduate from the NCACITC.

Every aspect of a candidate’s performance and attitude is scrutinised in accordance with the OACTU Assessment Strategy. Academic results, fitness and practical leadership performance provide vital evidence to the PRB and, if applicable, performance whilst on the 3 Tier Review Process.

Passing any or all of the summative elements of the course does not guarantee graduation. The PRB will also place considerable emphasis on a candidate’s maturity, integrity and attitude to training. It will also look to be assured that the candidate truly understands, and is able to demonstrate, the qualities of a SNCO.

Candidates who do not meet the standard required to graduate will be recommended for re-course or withdrawal from training.

8.0 Graduation

For those candidates who are deemed to have achieved the required standard, the NCACITC culminates with a formal graduation.

Each candidate is presented with a certificate of graduation by a senior or air officer, normally from the flying or air operations support branches. Candidates are also promoted to acting (unpaid) Sergeant.

The ceremony takes place in the Rotunda of College Hall Officers’ Mess in front of friends and family and is followed by a formal lunch in the Warrant Officers’ & Sergeants’ Mess, again, with friends and family. Lunch in the Mess is a particularly significant milestone for the newly graduated sergeants because it marks the first occasion on which they are able to enter the Mess in their own right as SNCO’s.

9.0 Phase 2 Training

Graduates of the NCACITC will progress to their Phase 2 specialist or employment training which provides candidates with the skills and knowledge to perform their roles within the RAF.

Following successful completion of specialist training, candidates will undertake a first tour lasting approximately 24-36 months and will be at one of the RAF’s airfields around the UK or in Cyprus, at one of our two Control and Reporting Centres (CRCs) or at the Air Traffic Control Centre.

Candidates will then consolidate their specialist training and develop post-graduate skills allowing them to achieve ‘Combat Ready’ status and become available to deploy on military operations anywhere in the world.

10.0 Useful Publications

  • Air Publications (AP):
    • AP 1: RAF Ethos, Values and Standards. Second Edition (2017).
    • AP 7000.
    • AP 7001: Leadership in the Royal Air Force.
    • AP 3342: Section 8, Leaflet 803 (refers to the RAF Role Related Swim Test (RRST).
    • AP 3376: Volume 1, Part 2.
  • RAF (Royal Air Force). (2018) The Non-Commissioned Aircrew & Controllers Initial Training Course for Non-Commissioned Aircrew and Non-Commissioned Controllers. Sleaford: RAF Cranwell.
  • Adair, J.E. (1973) Action-Centred Leadership. London: McGraw-Hill.
  • Certificates, Ratings & Courses:
    • Military Air Traffic Control Certificate of Competency.
    • Rating in Aerodrome Control (Visual).
    • Rating in Aerodrome Control (Surveillance).
    • Rating in Aerodrome Control (Precision Approach).
    • Rating in Aerodrome Control (Supervisor).
    • Terminal Control operating endorsements.
    • Combat Ready Fighter Allocator.
    • Weapons Controller or Fighter Allocator instructor.
    • Human Factors Foundation training.
    • Error Management Foundation Training.
  • Military Aviation Authority (MAA):
    • Manual of Military Air Traffic Management (MMATM).
    • MAA regulatory articles.

11.0 Useful Links

  • RAF College Cranwell: https://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/stations/raf-college-cranwell/.
  • Military Aviation Authority (MAA): https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/military-aviation-authority.

12.0 References

RAF (Royal Air Force). (2018) The Non-Commissioned Aircrew & Controllers Initial Training Course for Non-Commissioned Aircrew and Non-Commissioned Controllers. Sleaford: RAF Cranwell.

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