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Royal Air Force: career area

Royal Air Force: career area

In a career in the Royal Air Force you can specialise in a wide range of areas and help defend the UK's interests and strengthen international stability.
This branch of the armed forces recruits around 500 officers each year.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is responsible for defending the UK’s airspace, policing the skies, bringing aid and protection to the victims of disaster and war overseas and being on hand in times of emergency in mountainous and coastal areas. The RAF consists of different ranks within three groups of personnel –  trades, non-commissioned aircrew and commissioned officers. Trades are also known as airmen and airwomen. They provide specialist ground support in one of more than 40 different trades. Non-commissioned aircrew work in flying roles, supporting the pilots as weapons systems operators.

Commissioned officers are the management of the RAF. These are professional roles of great responsibility, which is developed through training to equip them to lead, use their initiative and make decisions under pressure. All roles in the RAF, with the exception of the RAF regiment (the ground fighting force of the RAF), are open to women. You can earn promotion in most RAF trades from junior ranks to non-commissioned management and instructing roles.

Specialist career routes in the Royal Air Force

There are several areas in which you can specialise:

  • Aircrew are at the forefront of RAF operations, with flying and support roles in jets, helicopters and other aircraft.
  • Air operations support helps keep aircraft on course and in the air. Roles include flight operations and air traffic control. 
  • Catering and hospitality provides food and accommodation wherever the force is based. 
  • Communications and intelligence involves developing, operating and maintaining secure telecommunications equipment, as well as intercepting and analysing messages from the enemy.
  • Engineering and technical covers up to a third of RAF personnel. Specialists work on equipment ranging from aircraft engine components and hydraulics to flying helmets. 
  • Force protection includes police and fire crews as well as the specialist RAF regiment, which protects bases from attack. 
  • Logistics and equipment involves controlling stock, managing budgets, transporting equipment and making sure everything arrives on time, where it’s needed and ready for action. 
  • Medical support keeps the RAF fit and healthy by providing everyday services such as dental treatment as well as emergency medical help.
  • Personnel support looks after physical and mental well-being with spiritual guidance, legal advice, physical training, administration and even music.

Royal Air Force recruitment

To become an officer in the RAF:

  1. Fill in an online application form available via the RAF website, or contact the recruitment team by phone.
  2. Attend the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC) at RAF College Cranwell. Over the course of two days, you’ll undertake aptitude tests, an interview, leadership scenario exercises and a health assessment, which includes hearing, eyesight, medical and fitness tests. You'll then be invited to pre-recruit training, a two-day course designed to give you an insight into officer training.
  3. If you are commissioned as an officer, the next step is 30 weeks on the Initial Officer Training Course at RAF Cranwell. This starts with four weeks of military training to develop fitness and self-discipline. This is followed by leadership training to develop your management skills, academic studies and specialist training. You’ll then be equipped to start your first position as an officer – most RAF officers join on a contract lasting six to twelve years. Different branches and specialisations offer different lengths of contract depending on their needs at the time.