Flying Training, Strategic Defence Security Review and 92(R) Squadron

A Holding Officer’s Perspective.

I arrived on 92(R) Squadron, RAF Waddington on 10 January 2011 as the latest in a long line of Flying Training (FT) holding Officers. For me and many others this hold was to be for an indefinite period due to the turbulent, uncertain, and for some, devastating repercussions of Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

I met the team with all the enthusiasm you would expect from a newly commissioned holding Officer on his first day. I had been snatched from the relative comfort of the flying training ‘bubble’ and thrust into the world of tactics and training, from whom front line units received potentially life saving information from the team of Subject Matter Experts that make up the Squadron. I wondered how I would be of any use to them with my limited experience, and would I be the often stereotyped ‘holding tea boy’?

I have now been here for 4 months and am pleased to say I have only had to make the tea twice. I have learnt much, and due to the responsibilities entrusted to me, I have had the opportunity to do my bit, to great personal reward. In the near future I will deploy to RAF Kinloss with the Squadron in support of Combined Qualified Weapons Instructors Course, Operational Phase Training.

However, despite the efforts of the Squadron to integrate me and to keep me occupied, my mind often wandered to the looming question, ‘do I still have a career to look forward to in the Royal Air Force’? A question which was not be answered for more than 3 months. During this difficult period it appeared that the passage of information had completely dried up, leaving FT holding Officers such as myself feeling isolated and uncertain.

As the months passed, frustrations rose and I was saddened to hear several of my colleagues and friends become disillusioned by the situation. Many of the young Officers who pinned everything on a career as an aviator in the Royal Air Force, and signed on the dotted line for 18 years, had never stopped to look at what else they could do. We suddenly found ourselves faced with the possibility of having to revert back to civilian life. As a potential pilot you enter the FT pipeline knowing that you must make the grade. We were now faced with the reality that although many of the 500 trainee pilots in the system were ‘making the grade’ 170 now had to be removed from training sometimes regardless of their progress, due to the need for rebalancing, as outlined in the SDSR.

‘D Day’ came for us all in March, and we were summoned to RAF Cranwell for a 90 second individual debrief with a Senior Officer, to inform us of our futures. It all came down to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. In through the front door, salute, hear our fate, march through the back door, if successful turn left, if not successful, turn right. Was there a ‘Pythonesque’ trap door to the right?

For me, and the majority of the original 500 trainee pilots it was good news, we are the lucky ones. However, there are 170 FT Officers who are hurting, having fallen foul of SDSR. Sadly, all of us who have survived the cuts so far know at least one person who has now been made redundant. It can be hard to accept that these highly capable, talented individuals have had their dreams dashed, whilst ours remain.

We now have the answers to all of the questions we had during the months of uncertainty, therefore I now know that my hold is no longer indefinite; instead it’s just 11 months, but at least I have a job! Please excuse me; I’m off to put the kettle on.

Future CAS
Flying Officer Dom Smith