The Royal Air Force (RAF) patrols and defends UK airspace, playing an important part in NATO operations and in operations elsewhere in the world. RAF non-commissioned aircrew, or weapon systems operators, are non-commissioned officers (NCOs). They fly on board multi-engine aircraft and on helicopters. NCO aircrew specialise as crewmen/women, linguists or in electronic warfare/acoustics.
Weapon systems operators specialising as linguists work only on Nimrod aircraft. They are mainly system operators, monitoring and manipulating specialist, complex electronic reconnaissance equipment. The exact details of the role are classified. Linguists are employed primarily for their language ability.
Those specialising in electronic warfare or acoustics work on board surveillance aircraft using radar and sonar to search above and below the waves. Their missions vary: hunting submarines, flying as sentry aircraft in support of NATO and UN operations or taking part in search-and-rescue operations. Some work in airborne early warning.
Crewmen/women, have complete responsibility for the aircraft cabin in all transport aircraft and the aircraft’s payload: from troops, stretcher cases and fuels, to heavy weaponry and explosives. They also take on additional duties according to the aircraft type and its operational role. For example, they may load and despatch parachutists and air-dropped loads on a tactical transport aircraft, or voice-marshall and give navigational assistance to the pilot of a support helicopter. On the search-and-rescue Sea King helicopter, crewmen/women act as winchmen or winch operators.
NCO aircrew work flexible hours according to the needs of the RAF.
Work can be indoors or outdoors in all kinds of climate and weather conditions.
NCO aircrew are posted to RAF bases in the UK and overseas, and may also go on exercises anywhere in the world. All NCO aircrew can expect to work in operational conditions. NCO aircrew serving on detachment may be separated from their families for several months at a time.
To be a non-commissioned officer you should:
There are more than 40,000 non-commissioned personnel in the RAF, of whom around 1,300 are NCO aircrew.
Entry to NCO aircrew is very competitive, but those with the right combination of qualities are in demand. NCO aircrew are promoted to acting sergeant when they start their aircrew flying training, and are promoted to full sergeant when they begin their full duties. Further promotion is to flight sergeant and then to master aircrew. NCO aircrew may go on to commission as RAF officers.
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