THE AIR ENGINEERS
In the year that No 8 Sqn celebrates its centenary, a small group of servicemen continue to serve in a branch that has been steadily shrinking over the last two decades.
The Air Engineers of 8 Sqn are the last operational Air Engineers in the RAF. The branch was formed in 1941 and originally recruited men to serve on heavy bombers as the engines, airframes and systems experts to improve the operational efficiency of the early 4-engine aircraft of Bomber Command. Subsequently, Air, or Flight Engineers (as they were known in civil aviation) went on to serve on most 3- and 4-engine aircraft on the civil and military register, including Concorde.
Technology and computerised systems have slowly replaced them on civil models, including the Boeing 747, but the military continued to employ the Air Engineer on various platforms, including Nimrod, Hercules, Tristar, VC10 and the E-3D AWACS. Sadly these aircraft have slowly been removed from service or replaced and this resulted in the cessation of Air Engineer training in April 2005. Since then the cadre has slowly shrunk until today when the last of the many serve at RAF Waddington.
A total of ten Air Engineers are currently employed in their traditional flying roles on 8 and 54(R) Sqns. Others from the cadre have transferred to other branches or moved into ground appointments where the RAF can continue to utilise their vast aviation experience. Over the next few years a small number of Air Engineers will be recalled from their current jobs and be retrained on 54(R) Sqn (the ISTAR OCU) before joining 8 Sqn until the E-3D is eventually retired. Whenever that day is, it will be the last day that an Air Engineer is employed in their original, operational role in the RAF.
Ironically, one of the first aircraft that utilised the Air Engineer may well be the last. The BBMF Lancaster still employs the Air Engineer. So even when the operational life of the Air Engineer is over they will hopefully still have a place on a flight deck in the RAF and maybe one day get to celebrate the Branch’s Centenary. As 8 Sqn celebrated its 100th birthday in January 2015, the six Air Engineers employed there have an average age of 47, share a total of 158 years service in the RAF and have accumulated 40,100 flying hours between them.