Although I mentioned in my first post that the plan is to look forward, I’m actually going to start by rewinding.
The first few years of my RAF career look like this –
- 10 weeks basic training at RAF Halton (26/11/14 – 17/02/2015)
- 6 months AMM training at DCAE Cosford (18/02/15 – 31/08/2015)
- AMM Posting to XI(F) Squadron, RAF Coningsby (01/09/2015 – 11/11/2016)
- 12 month Mechanical Aircraft Technician course at DCAE Cosford (14/11/2016-Present)
- Mechanical Aircraft Technician Posting (TBC)
For this post, I’m going to focus on what my time was like during my first posting on an operational Typhoon squadron.
My arrival at RAF Coningsby was nothing short of a comedy sketch. I pitched up, found a car park and set about locating the accommodation cell so I could get the key to my room. I was rather excited about getting my room as since joining the RAF, I had only experienced shared living accommodation. Halton had 16 man rooms, and Cosford had 4 man rooms. I had no idea what my room at Coningsby would be like, but at least it would be mine. It was a blisteringly hot day and I was looking for accommodation. 20 minutes later, I was still looking for accommodation. I had a map, but the map was old. Accommodation was on the map, but it had moved and the map was not updated. Fantastic. I asked 3 different people to point me in the right direction and they all pointed me in different directions, none of which led me to the right building. I finally found the place, to discover that I’d actually walked past it countless times in the last hour but the sign was on the door and the door was propped open due to the heat… Great start.
The room was a nice surprise. Apart from the pink wall. That was… very pink.
The initial plan was to grab my key, go to my room to relax and cool down for a little while and then head off in search of XI squadron. Due to the difficulty I had in obtaining my key, I decided I would just head off walking and try to find my squadron straight away. There’s something very wrong with one of the words I chose in that last sentence. Walk. See, I didn’t know this, but it turns out like most airfields, Coningsby has a ring road, which means there are buildings and facilities on the other side of the airfield aaand guess what some of those buildings were? Yep. XI Squadron. I was politely told by someone who worked at 29 Squadron that I may need my car if I wanted to arrive there before tomorrow. He wasn’t wrong. Turns out XI is almost 3 miles from the car park on the main camp. I was in uniform, I had driven 3 hours in the heat, and the once-interesting typhoons were very quickly becoming an annoyance overhead that I just wanted to disappear. By this point I just wanted to go to bed but I went a jumped back in my car, and made my way across to my new place of work.
The drive to work did offer some nice views in the early morning light
It’s funny. A new AMM is incredibly easy to spot. We all look like a rabbit in the headlights. We are fresh out of a training environment and we’re not sure how anything works in the real RAF yet. Do I still call Corporals by their rank? Does my uniform need to be perfect all the time? How strict is this place? We are clueless. The learning curve is astronomical and that’s never more apparent than when you arrive at your first unit. Eventually I met the flight sergeant and my line manager and then I was shown to a small office which was home to training cell. Training cell are your go-to people until you’re fully qualified. Although you’ve just spent 6 months doing AMM training, you aren’t ready to be an AMM on a specific type of aircraft. We learn primarily on Jaguars at Cosford, and now we’re dealing with typhoons. There are lots of differences and new things to learn.
Before you are let loose on a £100m aircraft, you need to complete a 2 week common induction module (CIM course) ran by BAE systems and a couple more weeks on line training which is done on your squadron by training cell. The CIM course at Coningsby is the only CIM course for typhoon, which means if you get posted to Lossiemouth then unlucky because guess where you’re going on holiday for a couple of weeks! The course is fairly in-depth on typhoon systems, both mechanical and avionics. It also gives you basic understanding of topics such as safety and hazard information and how to apply electrical power etc. We got to try out the typhoon simulator that the pilots use which was pretty cool. Once you pass the exam, you can return to your squadron to start line training.
Line training typically lasts two weeks and everything you learn is essentially how to do your job. You learn the different types of flight servicings and all that is contained within them. You will also get QRA trained and do a couple of mock QRA scrambles. The pilots play ball and will come running out to help simulate a real QRA. Once complete, you will do a written and a practical exam and once those are passed – you are good to go! It is surprising you quickly you pick everything up. Within about 3-4 months, you’re helping show the new AMM’s what and what not to do.
The sunsets weren’t too bad either…
Personally, I had a really enjoyable posting on XI squadron. I had the chance to undertake QRA duty which is a long week of not being allowed to leave the building but the adrenaline when the alarm goes off is pretty intense. If you don’t get any calls, then it’s a nice relaxing week off work with free food. What more do you want?!
Unfortunately I arrived at XI at the wrong time for detachments. The squadron had not long got back from Turkey when I arrived and a month after I arrived, they went to Langley AFB, Virginia. Unfortunately I wasn’t trained in time so I stayed behind and painted the engineers tea bar instead. So while I would love to talk about all the cool places I visited… the reality is I went to Leeming for 2 weeks on Ex GRIFFIN STRIKE. Not saying it was a bad det… actually no, who am I kidding. It was awful. I was chosen to be in charge of tool control and tool stores during the two weeks at Leeming. It was actually quite a lot of responsibility and would usually be a position held by someone with more seniority. Truth was, I pretty much just sat in portacabin for two weeks and made sure everyone signed for their tools correctly. But hey, at least I got to stay dry. I didn’t complain once while I was there and took everything in my stride which I was commended for by management. The real trick is just knowing when to shut up and keep how you’re feeling to yourself!
A pretty eerie picture I managed to grab of our English Electric Lightning gate guard at XI Squadron. Taken at 3am after a very long, foggy night shift.
One thing I absolutely loved about being on a squadron was the freedom and opportunities that I could take advantage of. I wanted to do two main things while on my first posting and they were 1) learn to fly and 2) apply to be an RAF pilot. Honestly, I had no idea how I would do either of those. I took it upon myself to look into both. I also decided I wanted to improve my C grade in GCSE Maths, so I set about doing an IGCSE course which I found on the defence internet page for Coningsby. Upon finding this course, I saw a little link on the same page which was titled something like “Junior Ranks Pilot Scholarship Scheme – Apply now!”. I didn’t hesitate. I had no idea what was involved or even if I was elgibile.. I was at work but I decided to stay in the little computer room and throw together an application. It was rushed, it was a spur of the moment thing and looking back it was probably awful but then again maybe not because long story short – I got it! I managed to check the small print a couple days after I sub,mitted my application and thankfully I met the criteria. I applied about a month after I arrived at Coningsby and I found out I had been awarded a place around 3 months later. I had a chat with my management who were extremely supportive and I got two weeks off work to complete the flying without having to use any leave to cover it. I have lots to talk about regarding the scholarship so there will be many posts about it in the future!
Turns out the Maths course was eventually cancelled, but I think I got something a whole load better by looking for it!
I also wanted to apply for RAF pilot and see how I got on with the aptitude. I decided that should I pass the aptitude, I’d need to be ready for the interview. This could either mean hours slaving away looking up information on flying training and all the flying squadrons in the RAF, or I could go and visit a bunch of squadrons and see what they do first hand. I could take a day off whenever I wanted so I emailed about 15 flying squadrons and just decided to see who got back to me. For various reasons I only got to visit 2. I managed to get a day with 45(R) Squadron at RAF Cranwell and another day with 16(R) Squadron at RAF Wittering. Look out for future posts detailing these trips but they were incredible and something I’ll be looking to do again as soon as I get back onto a squadron!
After doing the visits, it was time to sit the aptitude test. I wouldn’t say I was as prepared as I could have been but I decided to give it a shot any way. The worst case scenario is they tell me to come back next year. No big deal. Again, I won’t go into too much detail because this will make another good post in the future but I didn’t pass the aptitude for pilot. I was a few marks short. Not by much, but enough. I qualified for many other officer branches but they just aren’t for me. It’s always been pilot or engineer so I’m happy where I am until I get another go.
My time at Coningsby was really good. It could have been better if I had the chances to do more things and see more places but I made the most of it as much as I could. The management was great which is exactly what you need and I had a good time and plenty of laughs with the other guys I spent my time with there. We got up to all kinds of mischief to make the night shifts go faster and I was dreading leaving but excited to get my technicians course done so I can get back out there.
That was a summary of my time at XI Squadron, RAF Coningsby. Had a blast and who knows, with any luck I may be back there later this year!