Barbara Cooper (RAF officer)

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Barbara Cooper
Air Cmdr Barbara Cooper.jpg
Air Cdre Cooper, photographed in 2008
Born 1958 (age 58–59)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Years of service 1979–2012
Rank UK-Air-OF6 infobox.svg Air Commodore
Service number 8032068L
Commands held Air Cadet Organisation
Battles/wars Gulf War
Operation Telic
Awards Order BritEmp rib.png Commander of the Order of the British Empire

Air Commodore Barbara Cooper, CBE (born 1958) is a retired British Royal Air Force officer and former Commandant of the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO). She was promoted to Air Commodore in 2008 and became the RAF's highest-ranking female. She became the Assistant Chief of Staff (Manning) at Air Command headquarters. She previously served at the tri-Service military Defence Academy in Shrivenham as Division Director.

Early life[edit]

Born in Canada, Cooper moved with her family to Britain aged eleven. She lived in Worcestershire, where she attended Evesham High School.[1]

Military career[edit]

On a short service commission in 1979, Cooper joined the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) in the role of air-traffic controller, at a time when far fewer women were in the Service.[2] She served for seven years. She was promoted from flying officer to flight lieutenant on 3 June 1984.[3] She transferred to the reserves on 2 February 1985.[4]

On leaving, she went on to gain qualifications in property management.[1] Finding she missed the Service, she chose to return to the WRAF, entering the Administrative Branch as a flight lieutenant on 16 October 1987 with seniority from 16 April 1987.[5]

Since the 1980s, Cooper has had a number of postings, including as staff officer to the Chief of the Air Staff (the most senior position in the RAF). During the Gulf War, she had responsibility for running the Prisoner of War Information Bureau, acting as liaison to the International Committee of the Red Cross.[2] Cooper was promoted to squadron leader on 5 January 1993,[6] and to wing commander on 1 July 1997.[7]

She served a two-year tenure at RAF Lyneham (to March 2000), in which Wing Commander Cooper was in charge of base support and where her staff provided operational support for troop movements to Sierra Leone.[8] Thereafter she was stationed at Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC) at Shrivenham,[9] which relocated there in the same year.[10]

In the second Gulf Conflict, Cooper served as Deputy Director Service Personnel Policy (Operations and Manning), which includes operational welfare policy, and included reporting before the government Select Committee on Defence.[11]

In 2005, Cooper assumed the role of Director Royal Air Force Division at the Defence Academy, which formed in April 2002 as a consolidation of the constituent colleges such as the JSCSC, and Royal College of Defence Studies.[12]

From 2007 she was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff Manpower and Personnel Capability at RAF Air Command HQ. At the beginning of the following year, Cooper was promoted from Group Captain to the rank of Air Commodore, becoming the most senior female officer in the British armed forces.[13]

From May 2010 she became the senior officer responsible for running the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO).[1] Her first public appearance in her new Commandant role followed one week later at the Cadet150 reception commemorating 150 years of the Cadet Forces of the tri-Service military. The following month she attended the second of the two sesquicentenary events, a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, where she spoke to Air Training Corps members from all over the UK.[14]

Personal life[edit]

Cooper lives in Cirencester, with her husband William, a retired RAF officer. Among those she admires she considers suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst her greatest inspiration. Her interests include gardening, cycling and watching horseriding events. She lists her favourite author as Shakespeare, she enjoys gardening, walking, cycling and the theatre and is president of the RAF Theatrical Association and the RAF Netball Association.[1] In 2012 she was elected to the Council of the National Trust.[15]

Honours and decorations[edit]

Cooper was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2001 New Year Honours.[16] She was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) on 31 October 2003 "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in connection with operations in Iraq during the period 19th March to 19th April 2003".[17]


  1. ^ a b c d "Barbara takes command of Air Cadets" (28 May 2010). RAF Air Cadets News. Royal Air Force.
  2. ^ a b Staff writer. (20 January 2010). "The sky's the limit". Daily Telegraph: p.3.
  3. ^ "No. 49800". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 July 1984. p. 9438. 
  4. ^ "No. 50059". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 March 1985. p. 3475. 
  5. ^ "No. 51128". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 November 1987. p. 14451. 
  6. ^ "No. 53164". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 January 1993. p. 106. 
  7. ^ "No. 54820". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 June 1997. pp. 7559–7560. 
  8. ^ "The Armed Forces" (30 December 2000). The Times.
  9. ^ "Head is honoured on the eve of retirement". (5 January 2001). This is Wiltshire. Newsquest Regional Press.
  10. ^ "Joint Services Command and Staff College" (2010). Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.
  11. ^ "Defence – Third Report" (Jan–Mar 2010) Defence Select Committee. Defence Committee Publications: pp. Ev 301, 344.
  12. ^ Maynard, Graham. (November 2003). "Scholarly soldiers Archived 9 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine.". Defence Management Journal. PSCA International: pp. 112–116.
  13. ^ "Officer Promotions" (1 Jan 2008). Royal Air Force.
  14. ^ "Right Royal treat for honoured volunteers". (3 June 2010). RAF Air Cadets News. Royal Air Force.
  15. ^ "2012 Council election results". National Trust. 2012. Archived from the original on 15 December 2012. 
  16. ^ "No. 56070". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2000. p. 7. 
  17. ^ "No. 57100". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 October 2003. pp. 10–11. 
Military offices
Preceded by
Air Commodore Ian Stewart
Commandant Air Cadet Organisation
Succeeded by
Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty