February 9, 2023

RAF recruits wait months and even years to learn to fly combat aircraft, instead using desks for practice, leaked documents have revealed.

An internal memo from May and slides from an RAF summit in July revealed that the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) fast fighter jet pilots are experiencing a serious delay in waiting times for training slots due to a lack of aircraft and instructors.

The ‘crisis’ backlog means there may not be enough pilots available in the future to fly frontline aircraft, including Typhoon and F35 squadrons, reports Sky News.

The delays come at a time of international uncertainty with increasing threats from Russia and China and war in Europe.

The documents showed that 347 trainees – more than half of the total 596 in aircraft training – are waiting for a training slot or a ‘refreshment course’ due to delays between training phases.

British trainee frontline pilots are learning to fly desks rather than fighter jets due to severe training delays, leaked documents have revealed. Pictured: RAF Typhoons intercepting a Belgian transport aircraft in January 2020

Waiting times to learn to fly a Chinook helicopter are between two and three years.

What do the leaked documents reveal?

  • There is an engine problem in the Hawk jets used by recruits for training. This could increase training delays by a year
  • Concerns over qualified pilots leaving the RAF for better trained jobs in a ‘harmful drain’
  • There are only 11 British pilots in training to learn to fly an F35 or Typhoon this year, despite there being 43 slots
  • Limited training space is occupied by UK commitment to train pilots from Qatar and Saudi Arabia
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Source: An internal memo and slides from a meeting of RAF officers, reported by Sky News

Pilots in training wait around RAF bases, military headquarters and even at the Ministry of Defense in London – called ‘holdies’ because they are on hold for training.

This means that the average age of a newly qualified pilot is now 29 – an increase from early 20s.

A former senior Air Force officer spoke to Sky News anonymously, calling the delays a “scandal” and a “crisis.”

But an RAF spokesman said “most trainee pilots get stuck at the start of their careers” and said training times have “steadily improved” now that enough instructors have been hired.

An internal note claimed that the RAF was considering asking up to 30 recruits to voluntarily quit because of the problems.

The RAF said “no final decisions have been made” and asking staff to leave was just one option being considered.

Training courses had to be moved because instructors had to take time out to protect British airspace – an example that took place at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Other aircraft – including military transport, planes and helicopters – as well as the military and navy would also suffer.

Pilots in the RAF receive £30,000 minimum average wage in their first year, rising to £42,000 after specialist training.

In November, the RAF announced it would aim for pilots to spend only 20 percent of their training time in the air during training – and the other 80 in a flight simulator to reduce CO2 emissions.

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An RAF spokesperson said:

“Our people are our greatest asset and we are committed to ensuring that we attract and retain the best and brightest talent to face current and future threats.

The documents showed that 347 trainees – more than half of the total 596 in aircraft training – are waiting in one place for training or undergoing a ‘refresher’ course. Pictured is a 208 Sqn Hawk TMK1 with two 19(F) Squadron Hawk TMK1s

“While we recognize challenges with the training pipeline, we are working across defense, industry and our international partners to improve the training experience and outcomes for our staff, including recruiting more instructors and actively managing timelines for training.

“We still have enough flight crew to meet our operational obligations.”


Training Pipeline

“We recognize the challenge the flight training pipeline has faced and that it took longer than planned for trainees to complete their flight training.

“But a lot of progress has been made and the number of trainees going through UKMFTS has steadily improved. We have sufficient aircrew to meet our current operational commitments on the front line.

“A steady flow of trained aircrew is vital to deliver our future capability. We actively manage the pilot training pipeline to maintain pilot throughput and reduce wait time between courses and within training in general.

The ‘crisis’ backlog means that in the future there may not be enough pilots available to fly aircraft on the front lines, including Typhoon and F35 squadrons. File photo of RAF Typhoons above

“There have always been planned breaks in the flight training pipeline to ensure all courses are fully utilized, and most trainee pilots will experience a blockage early in their careers before embarking on operational training.

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“Holding flight personnel fulfill the required and essential roles within the armed forces with the aim of expanding their skills in other areas of MOD activities.

“While we recognize challenges ahead, we continue to work with industry partners and frontline commanders to improve the training pipeline and ensure the Department of Defense continues to have qualified pilots to meet our frontline commitments.”

Number of qualified instructors

“The RAF recognizes that it previously did not have enough qualified flight instructors, but this has improved and we now have enough instructors to carry out the duties.

“We will continue to work closely with our training partner to find ways to increase the number of instructors.

“The voluntary withdrawal of up to 30 trainees is just one of many options that the Aircrew Pipeline Steering Group considers as part of its routine work. However, no final decisions have been made yet.’