Budding RN Aviators make the grade

  • Author: Nichola Aldridge
  • Date: Wednesday 13th December 2017
Budding RN Aviators make the grade

The final group of budding aviators have returned to Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) after passing an arduous assessment to prove they have what it takes to conduct flying training.

This group brings to an end a big year at BRNC for aviation with over 50 students passing their flying grading either at the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton or RNAS Culdrose. 

Pilots spent five weeks with 727 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at Yeovilton, where the students are taught the basics of flying an aircraft, spending 12 hours in the air on familiarisation flights.  The students spend their 13th hour flying under the watchful eyes of the Squadron Commanding Officer for their Final Handling Test, a pass or fail examination.

Sub Lieutenant (SLt) Joel Finch is one of the latest batch to complete grading.  He hopes to become an F-35 Lightening II fast-jet pilot.  The 26-year-old, from Cambridge, developed an interest in aircraft from a very young age and decided a career as a pilot in a maritime environment was the job for him. 

SLt Finch said:  “I like the way aircraft work and the jobs they can do. They are very complicated so it’s a huge challenge to become a pilot.  Grading was an excellent experience, but it was also very challenging. The instructors were fantastic and the experience you get from just being next to them in a cock-pit, which is just over a metre and a half wide, is inspirational.  You learn very fast and flying itself was brilliant.  A lot of us would like to be fast-jet pilots, but rotary is just as difficult.  However I’d love to be a fast-jet pilot because that’s the elite of the elite, but being chosen as a rotary pilot I’d also be very happy with as well.”

Observers are the Fleet Air Arm’s Airborne Combat Systems Officers, charged with fighting the aircraft.  Grading for this specialisation takes place at Culdrose with 750 NAS.  The two-week course provides the students with an introduction to the systems used on board the aircraft and assesses their navigation skills in the intense airborne environment starting in the classroom and then moving on to simulators and flights.

Budding aviators must pass a flying aptitude before they even begin their basic Royal Navy training. Once their initial 30-weeks training is over they stay at BRNC for their Initial Warfare Officers course (Aviation) (IWO(AV)).

BRNC’s Flight Training Officer, Lieutenant Tim Curnock said:  “Grading is the highlight and hardest part of the IWO (AV) package.  It is rightly a tough assessment designed to see if these Young Officers (YOs) have what it takes to join the Fleet Air Arm.  These YOs will start flying training in the New Year and within the next few years will be flying on the front-line, whether that be from the deck of the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers or from the range of other new platforms which are due to come into service.”


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