No 6 FTS – Experience Flights

No 6 Flying Training School, with the headquarters based at RAF Cranwell, comprises the University Air Squadrons (UAS), Air Experience Flights (AEF), the Youth and STEM Team, and the Tutor Display Team. The UASs were formed in 1925 to encourage an interest in aviation, promote and maintain a liaison with Universities and assist those who wish to take up aeronautics in either RAF or a civilian capacity.’ They were disbanded in 1939, until the experience of the Battle of Britain prompted their significantly enhanced reformation in 1941, and by 1943 the UASs had contributed 2500 aircrew to the RAF Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). 

The modern UAS mission is to: ‘Attract talent to Regular and Reserve RAF Service and educate selected undergraduates on the role of Air and Space Power in delivering the Nation’s defence’and its specific task to provide 30% of the Graduate IOT Cadre. The Air Experience Flights aim to provide air experience to as many as possible of the 38000 or so Air Training Corps and Combined Cadet Force cadets in UK.

6 FTS is responsible for 15 UASs, with 13 embedded AEFs in 18 separate sites (13 flying locations) around the UK, mainly but not exclusively on RAF Main Operating Bases (MOBs), and includes 115 Squadron (instructor training) and 16 Squadron (standards). These units comprise some 200 military and civil service staff, 245 contractor support personnel, 270 volunteer pilots and 1000 UAS students, and 91 Grob 115 Tutor aircraft. Most of the UASs are aligned with several universities (about 110 in total) on a regional basis. The availability of UAS membership is promulgated through marketing, social media and ‘Freshers’ Fairs’. 

Flying is a fundamental part of the UAS syllabus, and aims to give students an enduring understanding of the air environment and its challenges.   It is available to all UAS students, whether or not they are interested in a career as a pilot, or in joining the RAF. Each student is allocated 8 hours flying per year, and those who demonstrate flying ability and enthusiasm can achieve more, academic commitments permitting. ‘First Solo’ is a key milestone, and the Preliminary Flying Badge can be attained after about 30 hours.

Flying and ground instruction is delivered by the UAS staff, who are regulars or full-time reservists, and a specialist NCO Ground Training Instructor will enable and instruct adventurous training. Recent developments under Project Mercury now empower the UASs to deliver formally recognisable RAF training through the Accelerated Training Pathway. The ground syllabus is designed to mirror that of the Military Induction Module of Initial Officer Training and that of the Basic Recruit Training Course, such that those completing 3 years on a UAS will be able to enter MIOT at the beginning of Module 2. Similarly, the flying syllabus mirrors the Elementary Flying Training (EFT) syllabus which is Phase 2 training for pilots, and successful graduates of this syllabus are now able to progress directly to more advanced fast-jet training on the T-6 Texan; in the future, it is hoped that there will also be direct pathways to Multi-Engine training on the Phenom and Rotary Wing on the Airbus Juno. 

The syllabi are enhanced by Air Power Development Training, Air Power Study Exercises, sport and expeditions in the UK and overseas. All courses are Defence Systems Approach to Training (DSAT) and OFSTED compliant.  

At any point in their university course, a student may apply to join the RAF through the normal OASC process, and will be able to access aptitude testing in advance and receive coaching in interview skills. Top-grade successful candidates may be offered a bursary whereby, while in the UAS, they will be attested into the Volunteer Reserve and be paid a special rate for up to 35 days per year. In FY 18/19, approximately 36% of the IOT intake came from the UASs and, in FY20/21, 128 UAS students were delivered into various branches of the RAF. The UAS system remains, therefore, a key element in attracting young people of high quality to join the RAF, and also imbuing those destined for high achievement in other careers with an appreciation of the Service and the air environment. 


Grob Trainer. Image credit: RAF.