Activities of the Air Training Corps

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Within the framework of the training programme Air Training Corps cadets have the opportunity of taking part in many activities. On most Squadrons the only compulsory activities in the ATC year are attendance at various church parades, usually ATC Sunday (to celebrate the founding of the Air Training Corps on 5 February 1941, see below) and Remembrance Sunday. Many wings also insist that attending Wing Parade is compulsory.

Parade nights[edit]

Squadrons usually meet or parade during the evening, twice a week. Parade nights always begin and end with a parade. First parade is usually used as an opportunity for uniform inspection and to instruct cadets on the evening's activities, while final parade is usually used as an opportunity to inform cadets of upcoming events that they may wish (or may be required) to take part in. On some squadrons subscriptions, or 'subs,' are paid on a per-parade night basis. On other squadrons, subs are paid monthly either in person or by automated standing order. Subs vary from squadron to squadron and are set by the civilian committee in consultation with the squadron's Officer Commanding and other staff. Each night's activities, between first and final parade, are normally structured into two sessions with a break in between. The activities are normally pre-planned and may include lessons, drill, aviation-type activities such as aero-modelling, radio communications and map reading. Some squadrons will include physical training. Some nights are used for fieldcraft training or exercises – sometimes colloquially referred to as 'greens nights'.


Air Experience[edit]

Cadets from both the Air Training Corps and CCF(RAF) are offered opportunities to fly in light aircraft, gliders and other RAF and civil aircraft. Cadets can take part in regular flights in the Grob Tutor at one of 12 Air Experience Flights (AEFs) around the UK. These flights typically last 30 minutes; as part of a structured syllabus of training it is usual for the cadet to be offered the chance of flying the aircraft or of experiencing aerobatics. The staff are all qualified service pilots, usually serving or retired RAF officers. Prior to the introduction of the Tutor, AEFs were equipped with Bulldogs as a temporary measure following the retirement of the Chipmunk in 1996. The Chipmunk was introduced in 1957 and during its service flew many thousands of cadets. Prior to the Chipmunk and established AEFs, cadet flying was a more ad hoc affair, although during the 1940s and 1950s, Airspeed Oxfords and Avro Ansons were used specifically to fly cadets. Cadets were most often used to manually pump the landing gear up or down when flying in the Ansons. Some Cadets who stand out from the rest may also get the opportunity to fly on a civil airliner or go on an overseas flight in an RAF Tri-Star, VC10 or Hercules. A few cadets have also had the opportunity to fly in a variety of other aircraft including fast jets and the Red Arrows. In general, every cadet will be given opportunities to fly during their time as an active member of an ATC or CCF squadron.


Cadets can also undertake elementary flying training at a Volunteer Gliding Squadron (VGS) in Air Cadet gliders. The staff are all qualified service gliding instructors, usually made up of a mixture of regulars, reservists and Civilian Instructors.

At age 16 onwards, cadets can apply for gliding scholarships through their squadron staff. If selected, the cadet will receive up to 40 instructional launches on the Viking conventional glider (although if the student is close to solo standard it is not unusual for this limit to be exceeded), or up to 8 hours of tuition on the Vigilant motor glider. Cadets who successfully complete either of these programmes will be awarded blue wings. Cadets who show the required aptitude and ability may go on to perform a solo flight and be awarded silver wings. Further training is available to a select few cadets who show potential to progress onto Advanced Gliding Training (AGT) where on completion they are awarded gold wings. Usually these cadets will be enrolled as Flight Staff Cadets (FSCs) and further training to instructor categories is possible.

A FSC can achieve a Grade 2 award, which recognises them as a competent solo pilot, a Grade 1 award, allowing them to carry passengers in the air and perform the basic teaching tasks involved in the GIC courses, a C category instructors rating which is a probationary instructor who is qualified to teach the Gliding Scholarship course, and possibly a B category instructors rating which allows them to perform the duties of a 'B cat' explained below, with the exception that they cannot perform the role of duty instructor (DI) who is in control of the day's flying and decisions for the time that they are in that role.

Once a cadet reaches 20 years of age, he can no longer be a FSC and must become a Civilian (Gliding) Instructor, CGI, (although a FSC has this option at age 18) or a commissioned officer. Once either of these adult statuses has been gained, 'B cat' and 'A cat' is possible. B cats can carry out AGT flying training. An A cat is able to send first solos, whereas a B cat can only send subsequent solos. Both can perform SCT (Staff Continuation Training) to keep other members of staff well trained and current in their flying categories.


A Sea Cadet Corps POC firing the L98A1 target rifle

Cadets at all levels of the Air Training Corps have the opportunity to participate in the sport of rifle shooting. Since the ATC was originally a recruiting organisation for the Royal Air Force it made good sense for marksmanship to be on the training syllabus. Shooting remains one of the most popular cadet activities. Cadets have the opportunity of firing a variety of rifles on firing ranges. Cadets first train with and fire either the Lee–Enfield No.8 .22 rifle or .177 air rifles. They can then progress to the L98A2GP (GP standing for Cadet General Purpose), a variant of the 5.56 mm L85A2, with the selector switch removed and locked on repetition. The 7.62 mm Parker Hale L81A2 Cadet Target Rifle is also used at long ranges for competition shooting such as ISCRM. Although safety has always been the main concern when shooting, with everything done by the book, recent years have seen the introduction of a wider range of training courses for staff involved in shooting to improve quality and safety even further. There are many competitions, from postal smallbore competitions to the yearly Cadet-Inter-Service-Skill-at-Arms meet (CISSAM or commonly pronounced "siss-amm")and the annual Inter-Service-Cadet-Rifle-Meet (ISCRM or commonly pronounced "iss-crum") at Bisley, the home of UK shooting. There are currently four types of marksman award that a cadet can achieve, ranging from "Trained Shot", through "Marksman" and "Advanced Marksman", up to "Competition Marksman". To achieve these awards the cadet needs to undergo a special shooting "marksman" practice and then achieve a high enough qualifying score depending on the award specified. The top 100 cadets in the ISCRM competition are awarded the prestigious "Cadet 100" marksman award, and the top 50 cadets in the CISSAM competition are awarded the equally prestigious the "Cadet 50" award.


ATC and ACF cadets at a Remembrance Sunday parade.

The Air Cadets, as a uniformed youth organization, sets itself and its members very high standards, including dress and behaviour. Drill is a vital part of encouraging teamwork. All ATC squadrons practice drill as a means of instilling discipline and teamwork and a means for Officers and NCOs to develop the ability to command and control. It is also used in formal parades and for moving around military bases and moving cadets in a smart, uniform manner. There are also drill competitions: inter-Squadron, inter-Wing, and inter-Region Exhibition drill competitions. Air Cadet drill is taken from the RAF Drill Manual (AP818). All drill instruction should be solely conducted by a qualified Drill Instructor (DI). However, as not all units have access to a DI other WOs, SNCO (ATC) will assume this responsibility. More often than not, cadet NCOs will instruct drill within their squadron and drill competition squads must consist of only cadets, led by a cadet drill co-ordinator.

Cadets participate in various forms of drill, some of which include:

The L103A2 - a drill purpose version of the L98A2 - used by cadets for practising rifle drill and weapons handling tests.
  • Static Drill
  • Basic Drill - Quick & Slow Time
  • Banner Drill
  • Ceremonial Parades
  • Band Drill
  • Rifle Drill

Drill & discipline is the responsibility of the WOs and/or NCOs on a squadron. Once a cadet has gained a few years of experience and has attained NCO rank, the cadet will pass on knowledge and experience to other cadets, such as instructing cadets how to participate in a drill squad, taking charge of a drill squad or flight or even taking a major part in ceremonial drill such as a Standard Bearer at Remembrance Day Parades. Some Wings run Drill courses in order to improve NCO drill.

Adventure Training[edit]

Kayaking at Buckenham Tofts Lake on the Stanford Training Area (STANTA)

Adventure Training is defined as:

"Challenging outdoor training for Personnel in specified adventurous activities, involving controlled exposure to risk, to develop leadership, teamwork, physical fitness, moral and physical courage, among other personal attributes and skills vital to operational capability.[1]"

It is an important part of ATC activities and can help develop teamwork as well as leadership skills.[2]

Within the ATC there are many opportunities to take part in adventure training, such as hillwalking, canoeing, kayaking, camouflage and concealment expeditions, hiking, and camping. All activities of this kind are supervised by appropriately qualified staff (Mountain Leader for Hill walking, British Canoe Union (BCU) instructors for canoeing and kayaking). There are also nationally run courses such as Parachuting, Basic Winter Training and Nordic Skiing to name a few. Adventure training can take place as part of regular squadron parade nights, weekend and week-long centres. There are also two national ATC adventure training camps. NACATC (National Air Cadet Adventure Training Centre) Llanbedr in Snowdonia and NACATC Windermere[3] in the English Lake District. Here cadets stay for a week participating in various activities in adventure training. There is a wide-ranging Adventure Training syllabus in the ACO – although specifics depend upon the squadron.


Most camps are run at wing level and are usually 1 week in duration. The activities at these camps vary. Most Wings will hold 1 or 2 annual camps that consist primarily of "blues" activities which could include museum visits, drill and flying or "greens" camps which consist more of adventure training, climbing, shooting and flying.

There are also overseas camps, usually in Germany, Gibraltar or Cyprus. These camps tend to include museum visits and local activities. Most camps carry a small cost to cover messing (food) while other costs are subsidised by a cadet's monthly payments and by the MOD.


Climbing is a physical challenge for the cadet, and also helps develop concentration and judgement as well as Teamwork.[4] Many squadrons go on climbing trips regularly – a few even have their own climbing walls. All climbing is supervised by professionally qualified instructors (either staff members or employed from the outside).[4]


Fieldcraft is an exciting part of any squadron's training programme, and the promise of a good exercise is always guaranteed to get good attendance. Fieldcraft is, to put it simply, the art of living and moving in the field. Although the ACO is generally focused on different activities, fieldcraft does play a part in most squadrons' training programmes.

Fieldcraft is taught from a single manual, common to all squadrons, so the basic lessons are very similar across the ATC; however, 'Consolidated Practical Training' (CPT) and full exercises differ greatly depending on local resources, staffing and skill levels. Exercises and CPT place emphasis on different aspects of fieldcraft – some might need you and your team to move slowly and quietly while approaching an 'enemy' installation, others require speed as well as stealth, and a quick decision on how much of the one to trade off against the other.

A generally acknowledged advantage of fieldcraft exercises is that it forces cadets to use their initiative. A relatively junior member of the squadron could find themselves in a decision-making position. For this reason, fieldcraft is often used by squadrons as a method of assessing cadets' leadership qualities, as it forces cadets to make quick decisions and perhaps to effectively lead a team, even when they're unsure of exactly what's going on or what they're supposed to be doing. For this reason, fieldcraft forms the core of the ATC's Junior Leaders course.

Leadership training[edit]

Leadership training is an important part of many squadrons' training programmes, with training available at higher levels too. Most wings run NCO courses (also run on a regional basis), designed to help newly promoted NCOs to perform their duties well, or to train those eligible for promotion, these are normally two days in length.[5]

There are also a number of courses run centrally by the ATC. These include:

Air Cadet Leadership Course[edit]

This is run by the Combined Cadet Force (RAF) at RAF Cranwell. Successful completion of this leads to the award of the Cadet Leadership badge.[5]

Cadet Leadership Course[edit]

Air Cadets are also able to attend the Army Cadet Force (ACF) Leadership courses which are held twice a year (either at Nesscliffe Training Area in Shropshire or at the Cadet Training Centre, Frimley Park in Surrey).[5]

Junior Leaders[edit]

Junior leader.gif

Cadets over the age of 17 and of the rank of at least Cadet Corporal can complete a leadership course called Junior Leaders, abbreviated to simply, 'JL'. This course requires over a hundred hours of planning and a high degree of physical fitness.[6] Upon completion, the cadet is awarded a maroon lanyard (which replaces the yellow Instructor Cadet lanyard on the cadet's uniform) and a green and wedgwood blue DZ Flash for wearing on the DPM or MTP uniform[7] as well as qualifying for the ILM level 3 diploma in Team Leading.[5][6]

Junior leaders flash

This course is run in three phases and split into 8 separate training weekends and a 10-day test phase which covers the following areas:[7] The Course demands the highest of commitment and dedication as a collection of the ATC's best Cadet NCO's tirelessly and continuously challenge themselves from weekend to weekend all with the goal of earning the all important Junior Leader's DZ Flash and Junior Leader Maroon Lanyard. Some JL's once completing the course, come back to the following year's Course as a Qualified Junior Leader, (QJL).

Phase one[edit]

Phase two[edit]

  • Tactics and Leadership Development (TLD). During this phase Cadets have to be able to use their skills in real life fieldcraft scenarios and receive coaching by members of the Regular and Reserve Forces. The emphasis is on leadership under high pressure, within the context of combat scenarios.[7]

Phase three[edit]

  • 10 days[6] at a graduation camp (eight days field exercise, followed by a day of R&R and then a day of awards with a graduation dinner).[6] All participants have to have a twelve-hour period to lead a section. It is during these days that the skills and knowledge gained by the cadet over the previous months is put to the test.[7]

Extra assessments[edit]

  • The Junior Leaders will also be assessed on a number of other elements. At the end of Phase One, they are tested on their knowledge on air power which they will have to study for before hand. They will also have to complete a presentation on a pre-chosen topic (for JL Course XV, the topic was World War I) and pass an L85 weapons handling test, and remain physically fit throughout the whole course. By the end of Phase Two, they must have also submitted the workbook for the ILM Level 3 diploma. Finally by the end of Phase Three, they must have raised at least £250 for the John Thornton Young Achievers Foundation (JTYAF).

Duke of Edinburgh's Award[edit]

Setting off on the Expedition phase of the DoE Award

The Air Training Corps is the single largest operating authority of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award system and celebrated its 50th year of providing this opportunity to its cadets in 2006. The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme is a voluntary, non-competitive programme of practical, cultural and adventurous activities for young people aged 14–25. The Award programme consists of three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold. Each has differing criteria for entry and the level of achievement necessary to complete each award. Air Cadets who meet the age criteria can join the award scheme.

Each award is broken down into four areas (five for gold) which participants must complete successfully to receive their award. These are:

  • Service

Helping others in the local community.

  • Expeditions

Training for, and planning, a journey.

  • Skills

Demonstrate ability in almost any hobby, skill or interest

  • Physical Recreation

Sport, dance and fitness.

  • Residential Project (Gold Award only)

A purposeful enterprise with young people not previously known to the participant.

Cadets are often encouraged to achieve the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards as they progress through their cadet careers. Some cadets aged 16 or over were formerly able to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh's Millennium Volunteers Award. As of 2012, this has been taken over by another authority and whether cadets will be able to undertake it is under review.

The Award is widely recognised by employers as it helps demonstrate that award holders are keen to take on new challenges, have a higher level of self-confidence than many of their peers, leadership qualities and the experience of teamwork.


A team from South & East Midlands Wing, Air Training Corps from 2006.

Sport plays a key part in the activities of every squadron. Seven sports are played competitively between squadrons. Cadets who show talent can be selected to represent their Wing, Region or the Corps in competitive matches; these cadets are awarded wing, regional or corps 'Blues'. The main sports played are:

Other sports are also played, sometimes in matches between squadrons, including volleyball, five-a-side football, table tennis, etc. Cadets also use various sports to take part in the physical recreation section of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Orienteering in the ATC only came about in 2006 where cadets from the different wings go to the cadet orienteering championships.

Various units send two teams to the annual Nijmegen Vierdaagse Marches where on successful completion of the event they are awarded a medal.


An extensive range of communication training is offered where appropriately skilled instructors and equipment are available. This can range from hand-held radio operating procedures to long-distance HF radio and networked digital communication, and even encompasses publishing online (such as this Wiki).

The Basic 'blue' Radio Certificate is the first step, followed by the Full Radio Operator 'bronze' Certificate. These qualifications have been part of the curriculum since 2000. Cadets are then encouraged to pursue this training further across a range of mediums and technologies. Once a sufficiently broad spectrum of skills have been mastered and validated by the Wing Radio Communications Officer the cadet is awarded the Air Cadet Communicator Certificate and the Communicator Badge, which is worn on the brassard. Communication training provides valuable practical lessons in information handling and management, develops interpersonal skills and meets one of the Corps' prime objectives: 'providing training useful in both civilian and military life'.

Community volunteering[edit]

Cadets often volunteer to help at various national and local events. For their services a small payment is usually offered to their squadron's funds. Typical examples of such work includes car parking duties at events and delivering copies of Gateway Magazine to RAF married quarters.

The largest example of cadets involved in volunteer work is at the Royal International Air Tattoo, an annual air display held at RAF Fairford. Each year several hundred air cadets volunteer to stay on the base in temporary accommodation. During the course of the event they help with duties such as selling programmes, crowd control and clearing litter.


Members of squadron bands may be entitled to wear specific band badges, subject to passing the appropriate assessment as per ACP 1812.

  • A Drummer's badge is a blue, bronze, silver or gold drum, displayed in the middle of the brassard.
  • A Piper's badge depicts a blue, bronze, silver or gold set of pipes, again displayed in the middle of the brassard.
  • A Buglers badge depicts two blue, bronze, silver or gold crossed trumpets, displayed in the middle of the brassard.
  • A Bandsman's badge, is a blue, bronze, silver or gold bell lyre, displayed in the middle of the brassard. It is given to any other bandsmember that doesn't play drums, bagpipes or bugle.

The Pipe Major's badge, composed of four inverted chevrons surmounted by a bagpipes is not permitted to be worn at any level. However, the standard Royal Air Force Blue Drum Major rank slides, consisting of four inverted chevrons surmounted by a drum, may be worn by Drum Major's when acting as such.

Music camps[edit]

There are also specific music camps, which is where a cadet of musical proficiency applies to attend, and they are selected depending on the musical skill (grades) and their other qualities. About 35 - 40 cadets are selected for this each year. The annual national Air Cadet music camp is held at RAF College Cranwell, HQ of the ATC. Upon attending this camp, cadets are rewarded by receiving a gold-coloured band badge, to replace the silver-coloured badges worn by ATC band members.

The National Concert Band of the Air Cadets, composed of attendees of the National camp, have recently performed at some very prestigious events. These include The Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), held at RAF Fairford. A Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, playing the National Anthem for the arrival of HRH Prince Charles and Camilla. The band has also performed at The Mansion House, London for the Royal Centenary Banquet of the Air League in the presence of distinguished guests such as the Lord Mayor of London, and HRH Princess Royal.

Towards the second half of 2008, the ACO Music Services agreed to establish a corps marching band, formed of cadets from all 6 regions throughout the Air Training Corps. The first National Marching Band camp was held in October 2008 at Browndown Battery, with a performance being made in front of HMS Victory.

The Nation Marching Band of the Air Cadets, now uses Fort Blockhouse as its training ground. The band's most recent performances have been at Royal Air Force Museum London, the previous Hendon Aerodrome. On 13 July 2010, the 72 cadets forming the band marched down Pall Mall and into Buckingham Palace in a contingent featuring 575 other Air Cadets, celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Cadet Forces.

First aid[edit]

Many squadrons offer a number of first aid courses, such as the St John Ambulance Youth First Aid course. Courses may be provided by individual squadron units, or by the wings and regions. The course can be completed over a weekend, or over a series of parade nights. Either way, the course is assessed by a practical exam, where cadets have to deal with three situations: a conscious, breathing casualty; an unconscious, breathing casualty; and an unconscious non-breathing casualty, involving CPR on a Resusci Anne manequin. .

A series of first aid topics are covered during the course such as fainting, bleeding, head injuries and bites and stings. These are taught by qualified staff, often qualified to the level of First Aid at Work. Upon completion, cadets receive a red Youth First Aid badge for sewing onto the brassard as well as a certificate. Some squadrons also offer the 'Heartstart' course, which is a basic first aid course in Emergency Life Support, coordinated by the British Heart Foundation

In addition to the Youth First Aid course, some cadets have the opportunity to undertake the St John Ambulance Activity First Aid Course, a much more detailed course for more senior cadets over the age of sixteen. Upon completing this course cadets will receive a Silver Activity First Aid badge for sewing onto the brassard. In the case a cadet already wears a Young Lifesaver Plus badge, the Activity First Aid badge should be sewn in its place. Completion of the Activity First Aid Course trains cadets to the level of first aid required for many adult 'outdoor' qualifications such as the Mountain Leader Award.[8] The qualification also makes it possible for cadets to teach the Youth First Aid course to less experienced cadets. The Progressive Training Syllabus has also introduced a Blue first aid badge on completion of the British Heart Foundation Heartstart Scheme and a gold 'instructor' first aid badge.

Other awards[edit]

Cadets can also qualify for various other BTEC awards through the training that is carried out at their squadrons. There are many additional courses and awards that can be gained. The recognised qualifications are:

  • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in Aviation Studies for Air Cadets - equivalent to 4 GCSE A-C grade (administered by HQAC).
  • BTEC Level 2 Extended Certificate in Aviation Studies for Air Cadets - equivalent to 2 GCSE A-C grade (administered by HQAC)
  • BTEC First Diploma in Public Services - equivalent to 4 GCSEs A-C grades (administered by CVQO).
  • BTEC First Diploma in Music - equivalent to 4 GCSEs A-C grades (administered by CVQO).
  • BTEC Certificate in Aviation Studies - equivalent to 2 GCSEs A-C grades (administered by HQAC)
  • ILM Certificate in Team Leading - Level 2 (administered by CVQO).


  1. ^ Ministry of Defence - About Defence, Adventurous Training Group (Army) (ATG(A)) Archived September 9, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. (website accessed 14/09/2010)
  2. ^ Adventurous Training - Air Cadet Organisation(website accessed 14/09/2010)
  3. ^ Sussex Wing Adventure Training Team (website accessed: 22/08/2010) Archived 31 October 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b Air Cadets Adventurous Training (website accessed:14/09/2010)
  5. ^ a b c d RAF - Air Cadets, What we do - Leadership (website accessed:15/09/2010)
  6. ^ a b c d Air Cadet News, Summer 2009 Page 21 Archived 29 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine. (retrieved:15/09/2010)
  7. ^ a b c d Junior Leaders - 1004 Sqn ATC[permanent dead link] (Website accessed: 14/08/2010)
  8. ^ Long S. Hillwalking; The official handbook of the Mountain Leader and Walking Group Leader Schemes, Second Edition 2004, Dealing with Injuries Chapter 13, Page 175. ISBN 978-0-9541511-0-2