Air Training Corps Wiki

The Air Training Corps (ATC) is a uniformed youth organisation based in the United Kingdom. Although operated by the Royal Air Force there is no obligation on cadets to enter the armed services after leaving the ATC, however many do choose to do so.


The motto of the ATC is "Venture Adventure".

The aims of the ATC are:

  • To promote and encourage among young men and women a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force.
  • To provide training which will be useful both in the Services and civil life.
  • To foster the spirit of adventure.
  • To develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship.


At enrollment all Cadets must make the following promise:

Openquote I, Full Name do hereby so solemnly promise on my honour to serve my Unit loyally and to be faithful to my obligations as a member of the Air Training Corps. I further promise to be a good citizen and to do my duty to God and the King, my Country and my Flag. Closequote

It should be noted that cadets do not have to pledge to God on enrollment, and can substitute the word for their appropriate deities or lack thereof.


National Level[]

The Air Training Corps is part of the Air Cadet Organisation (ACO) along with RAF Sections of the Combined Cadet Force - CCF (RAF).

The ACO is administered from Headquarters Air Cadets (HQAC), based at RAFC Cranwell and is commanded by Commandant ACO. The current Commandant is Air Commodore Tony Keeling RAFR.

There are in excess of 900 ATC squadrons which are grouped into 34 wings - each commanded by a RAFVR(T) Wing Commander.

These wings are, in turn, grouped into six Regions each commanded by a Regional Commandant, in the rank of Group Captain - either a civil servant holding a RAFR commission or as a Full Time Reserve Service officer.

Local Level[]

ATC Squadrons are present in most major towns and cities in the UK as well as in Cyprus, Germany and the Channel Islands. As of July 2006 there were 926 active squadrons around the world.

In order to remain active a Squadron needs to maintain a strength of at least thirty cadets (or 20 cadets for rural squadrons). In towns too small to retain sufficient cadets a Detatched Flight is formed, which operates as a satellite of a larger Squadron.

Each Squadron is commanded by an RAFVR(T), usually a Flight Lieutenant with support from other VR(T) officers, Adult NCO and Civilian Instructors.

Units can vary in size from 15 Cadets in a Detatched Flight to over 100 Cadets in a large Squadron.



Young people can join the ATC at any time between the ages of 12 and 17, they must be in school year 8 or above. Cadets can stay in the corps up until age 20. Those who stay on beyond 18 are termed Staff Cadets. All cadets are issued with uniform and must each pay a small amount in subscriptions (or 'subs' as they are commonly known), usually around £100 per year. The subscription money covers parts of the activities undertaken by the Cadets for example Adventure training, local camps etc. Each squadron also has to pay a fixed amount to the wing to which it belongs for each cadet 'on its books'. Activities such as target shooting, flying and gliding are paid for by the Royal Air Force.

The cadets of a squadron all join as junior cadets, becoming full cadets when they are enrolled. As they become more experienced, and if suitable they (cadets) can be promoted by their Squadron Commanding Officer (CO) to the status of Cadet NCOs. The NCO ranks within the ATC mirror those of the RAF and are Cadet Corporal, Cadet Sergeant, Cadet Flight Sergeant and Cadet Warrant Officer (CWO). It is common within the ATC to abbreviate these ranks by dropping the prefix "Cadet". The rank of Cadet Warrant Officer require's a promotion interview by the Officer Commanding of the wing (Wing Commander), his deputy or the Wing Staff Officer (WSO) of that area; promotion to the lower ranks is in the power of the squadron's Commanding Officer. Unlike Warrant Officers in the Regular British Armed Forces, CWOs are addressed by their rank.

All cadets who are over the age of 18 are "Staff Cadets". These Cadets wear a slide on any rank insignia worn showing the words 'STAFF CADET'.  A Staff cadet has extra responsibilities over under-18 year olds which include a duty of care to the younger Cadets and NCOs. Staff Cadets are required to attend training to aid them in their transition from 'child' to 'adult'.

Nevertheless, staff cadets have no authority over cadets below the age of 18 holding the same or a more senior rank. This has been the source of much debate within the ATC.

Not all cadets who join the ATC can expect to receive promotion. However all cadets can progress through the training system and, by passing exams ), achieve different classifications. The classification levels are Second Class Cadet (commonly known as a 'basic'; this is automatically achieved on commencing service), First Class Cadet, Leading Cadet, Senior Cadet and Master Cadet. For each of these qualifications cadets study a variety of subjects including airmanship, navigation, first aid, communications, principles of flight, airframes and propulsion. These subjects are studied using online publications via the BADER database system. Each successive qualification allows a cadet greater participation. For example, cadets must be First Class before they can take part in some activities such as UK annual camps or air experience flying, while Leading Cadets can participate in overseas activities. Cadets who have achieved the Instructor Cadet classification have completed their academic training and can attain a BTEC Award in Aviation Studies. Instructor cadets wear a yellow lanyard over the left shoulder, and are allowed to teach other cadets.

Cadets can also qualify for various other BTEC awards through the training that is carried out at their squadrons.

Adult staff[]

The staff who run the ATC at unit level come in 3 types: commissioned officers, adult SNCOs (Sgt, FS, WO) and civilian instructors. Officers are commissioned into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Training Branch) Unless an officer has previous service, he or she is commissioned as a Pilot Officer, being promoted to Flying Officer after two years. After 4 years commissioned service, the rank of Flight Lieutenant is bestowed. Squadrons are usually commanded by Flight Lieutenants, who are also found as Wing and Regional staff officers along with Squadron Leaders and Wing Commander. Particularly large squadrons are sometimes commanded by Squadron Leaders.

Adults may also be appointed as Adult SNCOs, these being ranks within the ATC so unlike the officers they are not directly part of the RAF. Adult NCOs are uniformed in the same way as their RAF counterparts with two exceptions: a small gilt ATC badge is worn on the rank badge and Warrant Officers (unless they have previous regular warranted service) wear a different rank badge.

In addition to above, the ATC (now RAF Air Cadets - RAFAC) also has within its structure the role of Chaplain. They operate at all levels within the Air Cadet structure (Squadron Chaplain, Wing Chaplain, Regional Chaplain) and also occupy a place on the Command Committee too. They wear a Chaplain's badge of office and come from many denominations. The majority are ordained but those holding Lay positions can also take up this challenging and rewarding position. The main thrust of their ministry is to be found in the 'Padre's Hour' but they also offer pastoral, moral, and spiritual support and conduct 'church parade' services such as 'Air Cadet Sunday', Battle of Britain, Remembrance and any other service required by the unit.

Civilian Instructors, known as CIs, play an important role in training cadets. Unlike Adult NCOs and Officers, CIs do not wear uniform and do not form part of the chain of command in the squadron.

Civilian committee[]

For each level of command there is an associated Civilian Welfare Committee. There is a minimum of 5 members to any "Civ Com", and there must be a Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary as well as the CO and the Squadron Padre (both ex-officio members). The CWC is responsible for overseeing the initial unit formation and direction. The committees, consisting of respected members of the community but mostly parents of cadets and retired staff, also manage finances (in particular fund raising) but do not have any executive authority.

The ATC is a charitable organisation. The Royal Air Force provides funds for a few of the key activities such as flying training. These finances are known as 'public funds'. The great range of other activities offered by the ATC however are financed from 'non-public funds'. Here the Civilian Committees come into their own in their tireless effort to seek the necessary financial assistance which allows these other activities to take place.

Squadrons are "charities excepted from registration" and have their own 'Charity Exception Number' (CEO). This means they enjoy all of the legal benefits of a registered charity without the burden of registration.  They are, however, accountable within the ATC on an annual basis.


Within the framework of the training programme ATC 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[]

Every Squadron meets (parades) during the evening at least once, and usually 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 '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 Commanding Officer and other staff. The activities done each night, between first and final parade, depend very much on the staff present and whether the Sqaudron is practicing for any upcoming event. The activities are usually structured to what the cadets would like to do, with the exception of drill! It should be noted however that drill is not done everynight and it is not all that the ATC does. An example of some other activities are engineering, bushcraft/fieldcraft, debates and lessons that will help improve their chances of getting desirable jobs.

Grob Tutor 5AEF

One of the Grob Tutor aircraft used by Air Experience Flights.


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.


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

Gliding initially consists of three one day Gliding Induction Courses, GIC 1,2 & 3. Each GIC consists of learning about controlling the aircraft in one of the three axes of flight. GIC 1 is pitch, GIC 2 is roll and GIC 3 is yaw and a demonstration of stalled flight. A VGS will either fly the winch-launched Viking T Mk1 glider or the Vigilant T Mk1 self-launched motorglider.

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, 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.


One of the Viking T Mk1 used by the VGSm Squadrons.

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. Ultimately an FSC can achieve a C category instructors rating. A 'C cat' is a probationary instructor who is qualified to teach the Gliding Scholarship course.

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, progression onto 'B cat' and 'A cat' is possible. An A cat is able to send first solos, and B cat can send subsequent solos. Both can perform SCT (Staff Continuation Training) to keep other members of staff well trained and current in their flying categories.


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 L98A2 CGP, a semi-automatic only variant of the 5.56 mm L85A2. The 7.62 mm Parker Hale L81A2 Cadet Target Rifle is also used at long ranges for competition shooting. 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 Inter-Service Cadet Rifle Meet at Bisley, the home of UK shooting.


All ATC squadrons practise drill as a means of instilling discipline and teamwork, it is also used in formal parades, for moving around military bases and moving cadets in a smart and orderly fashion. There are also drill competitions comprising inter-wing competitions up to national competitions. Air cadet drill is taken from the RAF drill manual (AP818).

Adventure Training[]

Within the ATC there are many opportunities to take part in adventure training, such as hill walking, canoeing/kayaking, walking/camping and mountain bike expeditions. All activities of this kind are supervised by appropriately qualified staff (Mountain Leader for Hill walking, British Canoe Union (BCU) instructors for canoeing). 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 weeklong camps.

Annual, overseas and band camps[]

The highlight of the cadet's calendar is annual camp - a week away at an RAF station. Annual camps are organised for all squadrons so that every cadet who wishes to take part and who has achieved at least the First Class qualification may attend. Cadets usually stay in RAF barrack blocks and eat in the station's mess facilities. The itinerary is always packed with typical ATC activities such as air experience flying, shooting, adventure training and, of course, drill. Cadets will also have the opportunity to visit various sections of the station and meet the people who work there.

For older and more experienced cadets who have achieved the Leading Cadet qualification, the corps also offers overseas camps. These are more expensive than UK camps, as the cost of flights has to be paid for, and are generally more relaxed and seen as a reward for hard working and long serving cadets. Since the end of the Cold War, and the closure of RAF stations in Germany, the number of overseas camp opportunities has decreased. As of 2005 the destinations for overseas camps are:

  • Akrotiri on Cyprus. A two week camp over the Easter school holiday period and at select other times of the year.
  • RAF Gibraltar in Gibraltar.
  • JHQ Rheindahlen in Germany

There are also band camps, which is where a cadet of musical proficiency applies to go on this camp and are selected depending on the musical skill (grades) and their other qualities. The Band Camps are held at RAF College Cranwell, HQ of the ATC.


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:

  • Rugby Union
  • Hockey
  • Netball
  • Association Football
  • Swimming
  • Athletics
  • Cross-country running
  • Orienteering

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.

Duke of Edinburgh's Award[]

The Air Training Corps is the single largest operating authority of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award system and celebrates its 50th year of providing this opportunity to its cadets in 2006. 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 will also participate in the Duke of Edinburgh's Millennium Volunteers Award


An extensive range of communication training is offered where appropriately skilled instructors and equipment are available. This can range from handheld radio operating procedures to networked digital communication, and even encompasses publishing online (such as this Wiki). The Provisional Radio Operator Certificate is available to cadets who can demonstrate a working knowledge of basic Air Cadet radio operating procedures and techniques, and the Full Radio Operator Certificate to cadets who can demonstrate more advanced radio operating knowledge and skills.

Cadets are encouraged to pursue this training across a range of mediums and technology. Once a sufficiently broad spectrum of skills have been mastered and validated by the Wing Communications Officer the cadet is awarded the Communicator Badge to be 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'.

Rememberance Day Ripon

ATC and ACF cadets at a Remembrance Sunday parade.

Community volunteering[]

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.

Cadets also help out on a smaller scale, in local parades such as remembrance day, mayors Sunday and sometimes the local carnival. Cadets will also help out at air shows, doing things like selling programs, cakes and drinks to car parking to recruiting. Sometimes, cadets will even have to collect entry fees or hand out free water on a very hot and warm day.


Cadet musician badges are currently available in "silver" or "gold" and are worn in the centre of the brassard.

Cadets who reach specific standards may be awarded "silver" badges as follows:

Drummer - a drum.

Piper - a set of bagpipes.

Trumpeter - two crossed trumpets.

Instrumentalist - a lyre.

With the exception of the "piper" badge, the appropriate ‘gold’ badge may be awarded to a cadet who has qualified for (or subsequently qualifies for) the appropriate ‘silver’ badge and has successfully completed an ACO National music camp or workshop and played with the relevant National ensemble at a recognised public performance.

The ‘gold’ Pipe Badge may be awarded to a cadet who has successfully completed the ACF Annual Pipes and Drums Concentration including participation in the main performances at Inverness and Dingwall.

Drum Major Insignia are only issued to Drum Majors trained at National or Regional Band Camps and can only be worn when on National or Regional Band duties.  Wing and Squadron Drum Majors are to wear their normal Badges of Rank.

Drum Majors may wear a dark blue or Air Force grey Drum Major Sash over the left shoulder


800px-Ensign of the Air Training Corps svg

The Air Training Corps Ensign

On many squadrons, the Air Training Corps Ensign is hoisted every parade night, whereas others will only hoist it on special occasions such as parades and visits from senior Officers. It is treated with the same respect and dignity afforded to the Royal Air Force Ensign.


Cadets and staff of the ATC wear uniform similar to that worn by regular members of the Royal Air Force. This is issued to each cadet when they join by the supply squadron at the local RAF station. Items are then replaced free, as needed. Blue uniform consists of:

  • Black leather parade shoes (These are the only item of kit not officially issued, cadets are usually expected to provide their own footwear.)
  • RAF No. 2 Dress trousers (male cadets) RAF No. 2 dress skirts or slacks for females.
  • RAF Blue-grey belt with a polished brass/staybrite buckle. (Female Cadets may wear the RAF Purse Belt, or Female Pattern Stable Belt. Male Cadets may wear the RAF Stable belt.)
  • RAF working blue shirt, worn open necked, without a tie.
  • RAF Wedgwood blue shirt. Worn with a tie (tied in a Windsor knot), for formal inspections and parades.
  • RAF jumper, with Flying/gliding proficiency badges ('wings') sewn to the shoulder patches as applicable
  • All Cadets wear a brassard on the right arm. This is used to show badges depicting the cadet's classification(First Class, Leading etc), their squadron number, and awards for achievements such as marksmanship. An Air Training Corps distinguishing badge is also worn.
  • RAF Blue-grey Beret with ATC cap badge. The ATC cap badge a circular silvered metal badge which depicts a falcon surrounded by the words 'Air Training Corps'. Staff wear the cap badge appropriate to them, i.e. the RAF Officer, Warrant Officer or Other Ranks badge. Officers wear a peaked cap when in blue uniform.
  • Instructor Cadets wear a yellow lanyard around their left shoulder, this is worn once the cadet has completed a MOI (Method of Instruction) course. Cadets are able to acquire this lanyard once they have completed their master cadet training and recieved the master cadet badge, which is worn on the brassard. This is replaced by a maroon lanyard if the cadet completes the Junior Leaders course or a blue lanyard if they have completed the QAIC course. If a cadet has completed both, it is then the cadets choice over which lanyard they choose to wear, Junior leaders does not take priority over QAIC.
  • Lord Lieutenant's Cadets can be authorised to wear RAF Other Ranks No.1 SD Uniform on formal duties under authorisation from the representative Lord Lieutenant. Members of the ACO National Marching Band are also authorised to wear No.1 SD uniform (with beret, not SD cap) when preforming on a national level with said band. 
  • Cadets who have completed the Junior Leaders course are also authorised to wear No. 1's for their formal dinner. 

Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) Combat Soldier 95 (CS95) uniform generally comprises:

  • DPM Shirt.
  • Undershirt/T-Shirt
  • DPM Jacket (Smock).
  • DPM trousers.
  • Issued Beret with ATC cap badge.
  • Black leather combat boots.
  • 2inch Belt.

As DPM uniform, informally known as 'combats' or sometimes 'greens' has since its' introduction into the ACO/ATC gained its' own dress regulations. Two badges are required, one is a tactical recognition flash (TRF) which is sewn onto the right hand sleeve of the shirt and jacket, and a second rectangular badge with the words "AIR CADETS" is sewn onto the shirt and jacket above the right breast pocket. The wearing of DPM uniform varies quite widely across the ATC. Some units are able to issue cadets with DPMs, however many cadets purchase their own surplus DPM uniforms.

The Multi terrain Pattern (MTP) Personal Clothing System (PCS) uniform generally consists of:

  • MTP shirt
  • Undershirt/T-Shirt
  • MTP Jacket (Smock)
  • MTP trousers
  • ATC beret
  • Brown combat boots (however, it is also acceptable to wear black boots with MTP)
  • Belt.

Currently (June 2015) MTP is quite recent, and as such, it is usually privately purchased. Aside from the obvious colour scheme difference, MTP dress regulations state that only the air cadet tactical recognition flash (TRF) is required to be sewn onto the right hand side blanking plate. MTP does not have the "AIR CADET" badge that DPMs do. MTP also should not have creases in the shirt or trousers due to the patches and angles of trouser pockets.

As of 2024 DPM is no longer issued. New cadets usually privately purchase MPT.

External links[]