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Royal Navy

Royal Navy

A soaring career

A trainee pilot with the Royal Navy gives an insight into his experiences and how serving in the forces has changed him for the better.

After clockwatching his way through industrial placements and other jobs, Dave Guest felt he needed a challenge – and there is nothing more challenging than landing a multimillion pound aircraft on the deck of a moving vessel in extreme environments. 'The Royal Navy has given me the skills to be comfortable with new and unfamiliar situations and to deal with them calmly and effectively,' says Dave, now a SubLieutenant and trainee pilot. 'The Navy gives you confidence but not arrogance. It moulds you into a better, more well-rounded person.'

The Royal Navy seeks to make its employees 'officers first', which means a world of personal development, professional development and a real sense of purpose. 'Quite often you come out of university feeling motivated but unsure about how you want to direct it,' Dave says. 'The Navy harnesses your sense of motivation and unleashes your potential – what I'm doing has real purpose.'

But what is that purpose? The Royal Navy's role is to protect and serve the UK's interests. This means that – in whichever of the 21 different officer roles – you could find yourself preventing conflicts, intercepting drug traffickers, tackling piracy or delivering aid in the wake of disasters.

We asked Dave to take us through some of the highlights of his time with the Royal Navy.

Sub-Lieutenant Dave Guest
Job title: 
Trainee pilot

Graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in computer security in 2015; joined up in 2016

I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a pilot, but I went to university for the security of having a degree and for the experience. I undertook an industrial placement in systems development and I soon realised that being in an office wasn't what I wanted, but it gave me the kick I needed to apply to the Navy. I'd thought always that the Royal Navy had the best pilots – there is nothing more challenging than landing on the deck of a moving vessel in extreme environments, in my view.

I compare being in the air to that sense of freedom and responsibility you get when you pass your driving test – but off the scale. It's so exhilarating and thrilling to realise that you have control over millions of pounds of kit. If you can say to yourself at work that there are only a handful of people doing what I am doing right now, it is a really good place to be.

The application process

The application process involved various fitness and recruitment stages, which all culminate in the admiralty interview board – the equivalent of a civilian assessment day. Aspiring pilots do further tests, which assess the raw skills required of aircrew (hand – eye coordination, mental arithmetic, verbal reasoning and so on).

The tests are intense – I remember coming back on the train afterwards feeling drained – but a lot can be done to prepare. For example, you can refine your mental arithmetic by using maths apps every day.

The training

For pilots, the training is meticulous and takes a number of years. The Navy teaches you to be officers first and aviators second. Basic training starts in Dartmouth and provides you with a comprehensive introduction to Naval life. Next, you are 'marinised' (where you learn the seaborne aspects, further develop leadership and military planning skills and spend time on a deployed vessel). Then you pass out as a midshipman before going on to pilotspecific training packages. Even though it is challenging, you've got a load of colleagues doing it with you. If one of you is struggling you all help out to get them up to standard.

A key assessment stage is the flying grading when you get your first proper taste of flying. It's fast paced and demanding. You need to pass this to go on to the next stage. It is exhilarating, but there is a lot of selfinduced pressure to do well because this is what you've been waiting for. I've found that the tests during your initial application are a good indicator of whether or not you'll make it. However, because you've done the basic training, there are alternative roles available in the Navy if you don't.

Leadership is a critical skill and I've learned about team dynamics, unconscious bias and how human factors can affect performance. I've naturally developed into a person that other people look to for strong direction, guidance and leadership.

Our elementary flying training teaches us the flying basics – such as circuits and aerobatics – and that's great fun. However, my biggest takeaway from that has been captaincy skills: what kind of captain I want to be. This is not something that is taught but it is something you work out for yourself – a combination of composure under pressure, professional competence, sound judgement and leadership.

The work

For my ship acquaint (my initial time on a deployed vessel), I was on a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship, responsible for providing a continued presence in the Gulf region alongside partner nations. She was involved in maritime security, anti-piracy and humanitarian operations. I really enjoyed being at sea – and the food's good!

I've also worked in digital communications at Naval Command, which included designing new features for the websites and managing social media accounts. I've spent time at the Navy cyber branch, using my degree. I didn't expect that diversity of roles, but it's all about helping your professional development.

Next I'm moving to another base for rotary wing training on the Juno helicopters, which will involve aspects such as night flying, formations and low-level navigation. I'm really looking forward to it. Long term, I'd love to do a full commission as an aviator. I want to become a flight commander and I'd love to be an instructor in the future.

The perks

I get more annual leave than any of my civilian friends for one! I also get two weeks of adventurous training leave (and funding) a year, which can be devoted to outdoor activities. I've achieved paragliding, climbing and skiing qualifications, for example. I'll earn a BSc in aviation systems management from my flying training, and I've gained a level 6 award in leadership and management.

The people

I'm surrounded by intelligent, highly motivated people from an eclectic mix of backgrounds who want to get the best out of life. I'd describe my colleagues as funny, dependable and trustworthy – especially at sea. There is such a strong bond; you go through the same hardships and successes and you don't get frustrated, even if you are in close proximity, because there is an ethos that we are all in it together. I honestly feel I could talk to my colleagues about anything.

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