RAF airman/woman
Emergency Services and Military

RAF airmen/women work in a variety of trades, mostly in ground support. A small number of airmen/women have flight duties.

Work Activities

Royal Air Force (RAF) airmen/women maintain the security of the UK and its allies from the air, as well as providing relief and aid where needed. Most people have ground trades, while a small number have flight duties. There are over 50 different roles in RAF and include the following:

  • Aircrew including non-commissioned aircrew and weapons systems operator
  • Air operations support jobs such as air traffic controller, flight operations
  • Communications and intelligence roles like intelligence analyst, photographer, joint cyber unit
  • Force protection including RAF police, regiment gunner
  • Logistics such as catering specialist, chef, driver, mover, distribution specialist
  • Medical and medical support work in dental, nursing, medical and laboratory roles
  • Personnel support including chaplain, human resources, musician, physical training instructor
  • Technical and engineering such as electrician, aircraft technician, weapons technician, vehicle and mechanical equipment technician.

RAF airmen and women will also carry out military tasks, like guard duties, and take part in military exercises and training.

RAF personnel are based at military bases throughout the UK and abroad. They can expect to be deployed anywhere in the world, sometimes at short notice. This can mean extensive periods away from home. They will sometimes have to go into combat zones, working in difficult, dangerous and sometimes life-threatening conditions, especially if working as aircrew.

Hours of work for airmen/women vary depending on operational requirements, but may include shifts, weekend work and working on public holidays. You may need to work at short notice, and you should expect to work longer hours during military exercises or on operational missions.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Key skills for RAF airmen/women

As an RAF airman or woman, you need to be

  • Practical skills
  • The ability to understand and follow instructions
  • Courage and the ability to stay calm under pressure
  • Teamworking and communication skills
  • Organisational skills

Each trade has specific requirements in terms of personal qualities and skills. For some trades, your colour vision and/or hearing will be tested.

Pay And Opportunities

The rate of pay for most airmen/women is between £15,000-£49,000 a year. Pay rates vary, depending on specialism and length of service, and increase with promotion. If you live in RAF accommodation, the rent will be taken from your salary. All RAF staff receive private health and dental care as part of their salary package.

Vacancies and apprenticeships are advertised on the RAF website(https://www.raf.mod.uk/recruitment) and online.


Qualifications and training required

Age requirements vary depending on which role you choose. The youngest age for applying is 15 years and nine months for an airman and less than 30. You will need consent from a parent or guardian if you are under 18. Those becoming air crew (weapons and systems operators) must be at least 17 and a half years old. There are exceptions, eg registered nurses and RAF police, for whom the upper age limit is 32, and for some it is 35.

Women serve in all roles, and from September 2017 will be able to serve as gunners.

The qualifications needed depend on the role applied for but the minimum requirements are:

  • GCSEs at grades 3 to 1 or equivalent in English and maths. For some eg medical and technical posts, you will need have more GCSEs or equivalent
  • For Scottish students, qualifications vary depending on role, although generally you need 2-5 passes at National 4 or 5. English, Maths and a science subject or a language are recommended.
  • Pass a series of background checks
  • Pass tests covering aptitude and practical initiative
  • Be interviewed and have a medical assessment

Other entry routes:

  • If you do not hold these qualifications, there may still be opportunities to show the appropriate potential in the selection tests
  • If you apply under the age of 17, you will be able to gain some experience by joining the Air Cadets (https://www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets/).
  • It is also possible to get an RAF 6th form scholarship if you are still at school.
  • You can enter via the apprenticeship route at Intermediate Apprenticeship level. There are apprenticeships available in aviation operations, engineering, IT and hospitality and catering.

Potential airmen/women – except for aircrew – take aptitude and fitness tests, and have a health assessment and selection interview at an Armed Forces Careers Office.

You will also need to have a series of security and background tests.

Potential aircrew and air traffic controllers attend RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire for their tests and interview.

For details on qualifications and training for individual roles see the RAF website, (https://raf.mod.uk/recruitment)

Once selected, most recruits undertake up to 11 weeks of basic military training. Gunners spend 29 weeks in military training.

Those learning a trade will then follow a specialised training path. Length of training varies from a few weeks to 18 months, depending on the trade you choose.

Those becoming aircrew (weapons systems operators) follow initial training with a ten-week leadership training course. This is followed by specialised training for the specific role and type of aircraft to be worked on.

There is a clear route of progression and promotion available to RAF personnel.

Apart from nurses, as an airman or airwoman you will join for 12 years initially, but there will be opportunities for you to extend your service.

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