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Royal Air Force College Cranwell

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Royal Air Force College Cranwell

Royal Air Force College Cranwell
Coat of arms of the Royal Air Force College
Active 1919-Present
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Type Training
Role Initial officer training
Part of No. 22 Group
Based at RAF Cranwell
Motto Superna Petimus (Latin: We seek higher things)
March The Lincolnshire Poacher
Commandant Air Commodore C Luck
Commandant-in-Chief HM Queen Elizabeth II

The Royal Air Force College (RAFC) is the Royal Air Force training and education academy which provides initial training to all RAF personnel who are preparing to be commissioned officers. The College also provides initial training to aircrew cadets and is responsible for all RAF recruiting along with officer and aircrew selection. Originally established as a naval aviation training centre during World War I, the College was established as the world's first air academy in 1919. During World War II, the College was closed and its facilities were used as a flying training school. Reopening after the War, the College absorbed the Royal Air Force Technical College in 1966. In recent years it has incorporated the Air Power Studies Division of Portsmouth Business School.

The Royal Air Force College is based at RAF Cranwell near Sleaford in Lincolnshire, and is sometimes titled as the Royal Air Force College Cranwell.


The Lord Trenchard inspecting cadets

Cranwell was first established in 1916 as the Royal Navy air training centre and airships were operational there until the end of World War I.

In December 1915, after the Royal Naval Air Service had broken away from the Royal Flying Corps, Commodore Godfrey Paine was sent to Cranwell to start a naval flying training school[1] in order that the Royal Navy would no longer need to make use of the Central Flying School. The Royal Navy's Central Depot and Training Establishment opened on 1 April 1916 at Cranwell under Paine's leadership. In 1917 Paine was succeeded by Commodore Luce and in 1918 following the foundation of the Royal Air Force in April, Brigadier-General Briggs took over.[2] As a Royal Air Force establishment, Cranwell became the headquarters of No. 12 Group for the last few months of the war. After the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard was determined to maintain the Royal Air Force as an independent service rather than let the Army and Navy control air operations again. The establishment of an air academy, which would provide basic flying training, provide intellectual education and give a sense of purpose to the future leaders of the service was therefore a priority. Trenchard chose Cranwell as the College's location because, as he told his biographer:

"Marooned in the wilderness, cut off from pastimes they could not organise for themselves, the cadets would find life cheaper, healthier and more wholesome."
In practice this meant that (unlike RMC Sandhurst cadets) Cranwell cadets could not reach the temptations of London in their free time. When first occupied, the site was largely empty fields: it is now ornamented by several avenues of mature trees, many commemoratively marked with plaques naming the distinguished guests who planted them 1920–1970.
College Hall

The Royal Air Force College was formed on 1 November 1919 as the RAF (Cadet) College under the authority of its first commandant Air Commodore Charles Longcroft.[3] On 5 February 1920 the College was raised to command status. It is the oldest military air academy in the world.

On 20 June 1929, an aeroplane piloted by Flight Cadet C J Giles crashed on landing at the College and burst into flames. A fellow flight cadet, William McKechnie pulled Giles, who was incapable of moving himself, from the burning wreckage. McKechnie was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for his actions.

In 1936 the College was reduced from command to group status within Training Command[4] and the commandant ceased to hold the title of Air Officer Commanding RAF Cranwell.[5]

Just before the outbreak of World War II, the Air Ministry closed the College as an initial officer training establishment. With the need to train aircrew in large numbers it was redesignated the RAF College Flying Training School and it did not return to its former function until 1947. It was also in 1947 that the Equipment and Secretarial Branch cadets were admitted to the College alongside the traditional flight cadets.[6]

The postwar restoration of the College was a period of change and uncertainty. Recruiting often failed to find enough qualified candidates to fill each entry (50 pilots, two or three times a year, with 10 to 20 navigator and non-flying officers as well.) The pilot washout rate approached 50 per cent, so RAF authorities debated whether flying training to professional levels (pilot wings standard) should be separated from a (shorter) officer training course. Cranwell cadets were in 1950 equipped and treated as airmen, i.e. had to clean their own quarters and uniforms impeccably, while undergoing both flying training and college-level courses in engineering. By 1960 they lived and were dressed as officers, served by batmen. In the same period the 1957 Defence White Paper suggested the RAF would replace human pilots by guided missiles, at least for home defence of the UK. These vicissitudes are documented in Haslam's narrative[7] and the personal memoir of a New Zealand cadet 1951-53. [8]

In 1952 a College Memorial Chapel was established within College Hall.[9] Ten years later it was relocated to the then new College Church, St Michael and All Angels,[10] which is situated nearby to the south-east of College Hall.

In 1966 the Royal Air Force Technical College at RAF Henlow, a similar cadet college for engineering officers, was merged with the College at Cranwell.[11] The College functioned 1919-71 as a cadet college (like RMC Sandhurst) graduates receiving permanent RAF commissions after a residential course of two to three years. These trainees now include women, and the Royal Air Force College Cranwell is today the RAF's only initial officer training establishment.

College Hall

The dignitaries present for the founding ceremony for the new College Hall building in 1929.

Prior to the construction of the neo-classical College Hall, training took place in old naval huts. In the 1920s Sir Samuel Hoare (later Lord Templewood) battled for a substantial College building. Architect's plans were drawn up in 1929 for the present-day College. After some disagreement between Hoare and architect James West, the building plans incorporated design aspects of Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital at Chelsea. In September 1933 the building was completed; it was built of rustic and moulded brick. Its frontage was 800 feet (240 m).

In front of the Hall, orange gravel paths lead around a roughly circular grass area ("The Orange") toward the parade ground.[12]

The building has been used for RAF officer training since HRH the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) officially opened it in October 1934. In 1987 the building was given Grade II listed status.[13]

Current training and organisation

The College is the RAF equivalent of the Royal Navy's Britannia Royal Naval College and the British Army's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. At present, most RAF officer cadets complete a 32-week course within the College's Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit (OACTU),[14] Within OACTU the officer cadets undertake transformational leadership tuition, academic air power studies (including ethics and strategic thinking) delivered under contract by Portsmouth Business School, military skills, essential service knowledge, drill and physical training. Cranwell intakes are in February, May, August, October and November throughout the year.[15]

Omani officer cadet saluting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In addition to the many British officer cadets who have passed through Cranwell, the College has graduated cadets from Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago.[16][17][18] OACTU also provides Special Entrant and Re-entrant (SERE) courses for medical and dental officers, chaplains, legal officers and nursing officers, and for officers rejoining the Service or transferring from the sister services.[14] A small number of short induction courses cater for warrant officers selected for commissioning, university cadets, bursars and Volunteer Reserve officers. In addition, OACTU delivers a 2-week Reserve Officer Initial Training course for Full Time Reservists, Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF), Mobile Meteorological Unit and Aviation Officers.[14]

The Band of the Royal Air Force College

The band prepare for a graduation parade at College Hall

Based at RAF Cranwell, the Band of the Royal Air Force College is one of three established Bands in the RAF. Originally formed to support the Royal Air Force College, the band is now administered by RAF Music Services. In addition to its duties at Cranwell, the Band takes part in major events such as The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and the Edinburgh Tattoo as well as a busy schedule of services and charity engagements.[19]


The Commandant is the Air Officer Commanding No. 22 Group[20] who has Service-wide responsibility for training. From 1920 to 1936 the College Commandant was double-hatted as the Air Officer Commanding RAF Cranwell.

  • 1 November 1919 Air Commodore C A H Longcroft (5 February 1920 appointed AOC RAF Cranwell)
  • 15 August 1923 Air Commodore A E Borton
  • 1 November 1926 Air Vice-Marshal F C Halahan
  • 16 December 1929 Air Vice-Marshal A M Longmore
  • 30 January 1933 Air Vice-Marshal W G S Mitchell
  • 3 December 1934 Air Vice-Marshal H M Cave-Browne-Cave
  • 21 December 1936 Air Vice-Marshal J E A Baldwin
  • 15 August 1939 Air Commodore D Harries[21]
  • Dates unknown Air Commodore R Halley (the reference raises significant doubt about this appointment)
  • July 1945 Air Commodore W E G Bryant (died while holding the post of Commandant)[22]
  • 12 October 1946 Air Commodore R L R Atcherley
  • 1 January 1949 Air Commodore G R Beamish
  • 31 July 1950 Air Commodore L F Sinclair
  • 25 August 1952 Air Commodore H Eeles
  • 16 April 1956 Air Commodore T A B Parselle
  • 26 August 1958 Air Commodore D F Spotswood
  • 16 April 1961 Air Commodore E D McK Nelson
  • 21 August 1963 Air Commodore M D Lyne
  • 28 December 1964 Air Commodore, later Air Vice-Marshal I D N Lawson
  • 1 February 1967 Air Vice-Marshal T N Stack
  • 9 March 1970 Air Vice-Marshal F D Hughes
  • 23 September 1972 Air Vice-Marshal R D Austen-Smith
  • 9 July 1975 Air Vice-Marshal W E Colahan
  • 28 January 1978 Air Vice-Marshal D Harcourt-Smith
  • 9 January 1980 Air Vice-Marshal B Brownlow
  • 31 January 1982 Air Vice-Marshal R C F Peirse
  • 18 January 1985 Air Vice-Marshal E H Macey
  • 17 July 1987 Air Vice-Marshal R H Wood
  • 8 December 1989 Air Vice-Marshal R M Austin
  • 21 February 1992 Air Vice-Marshal D Cousins
  • 7 October 1994 Air Vice-Marshal A J Stables
  • 22 January 1997 Air Vice-Marshal J H Thompson
  • 30 July 1998 Air Vice-Marshal T W Rimmer
  • 21 July 2000 Air Vice-Marshal H G Mackay
  • 27 June 2002 Air Vice-Marshal A J Smith
  • Month unknown 2003 Air Commodore M C Barter
  • 24 November 2005 Air Commodore R B Cunningham
  • 4 April 2008 Air Commodore A D Stevenson
  • 3 June 2010 Air Commodore P N Oborn CBE[23]
  • March 2012 Air Commodore D Stubbs[24]
  • December 2013 Air Commodore C J Luck


Graduated officers and families in the afternoon after a passing out parade
For more information, see the category: Graduates of the Royal Air Force College Cranwell.

Cranwell has had many famous graduates. As there have been many notable RAF officers who were commissioned from Cranwell, a fair and representative list would be impractical. Therefore, only those who are notable in other ways are listed below:




See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Phillips-Evans, J. The Longcrofts: 500 Years of a British Family (Amazon, 2012)
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Haslam, E.B.Haslam, History of RAF Cranwell (HMSO 1982)
  8. ^ Hancock, Rutherford M.Hancock, Rutherford M., Flight Cadet: Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, (Pentland Press, 1996.)
  9. ^ Haslam, p. 83
  10. ^ Haslam, p. 96
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c RAF College Cranwell. OACTU
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Air Commodore W E G Bryant
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "70th Anniversary Of Jet Engine Flight Commemorated At RAF Cranwell",


  • Bruce Barrymore Halpenny Action Stations: Wartime Military Airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2 (ISBN 978-0850594843)
  • RAF Cranwell - College History
  • Air of Authority - Schools and Staff Colleges
  • E.B. Haslam History of RAF Cranwell (HM Stationery Office, 1982)

External links

  • Read a detailed historical record about RAF College Cranwell

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