The main responsibility of the Royal Air Force (RAF) at home is to defend UK airspace. It also operates a search and rescue service at sea and on land. Its role abroad is to operate both as a fighting and peacekeeping force. In addition, it brings aid to the victims of war and natural disaster.
Officers are the managers and leaders of the RAF and they take responsibility for the welfare of the airmen and airwomen under their command. They also specialise in one of the following roles:
Pilots fly aircraft in air combat and ground attacks, to transport troops and equipment and in search and rescue. They may fly fast jet, multi-engine or rotary wing aircraft.
Weapons Systems Officers manage air-to-air combat from the back seat of a Tornado aircraft or operate weapons systems in other aircraft.
Engineer Officers specialise either as aerosystems engineers (responsible for the weapons, avionics and propulsion systems of all kinds of aircraft) or as communications/electronics engineers (maintaining every type of communications link, from telephone exchanges to satellite communications).
RAF Police Officers lead and manage teams of RAF police in the UK and overseas.
RAF Regiment Officers lead infantry units that defend RAF airfields and other installations from ground and low-level air attack.
Dental Officers are qualified dentists, practising on UK bases and overseas.
Medical Officers are qualified doctors, providing medical care for RAF personnel and their families.
Medical Support Officers support the RAF's medical services in a range of management and administrative roles.
Medical Support Officers (physiotherapists) are qualified physiotherapists who practise physiotherapy in a hospital, a rehabilitation facility or on a frontline operational base.
Nursing Officers (in the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service) provide nursing services to RAF personnel.
Personnel Support Officers provide support services, such as personnel management, estate management or public relations.
Chaplains support the spiritual, moral and social well-being of RAF personnel and their families.
Legal Officers are qualified barristers and solicitors. They advise in criminal cases and conduct prosecutions both in the UK and overseas.
Physical Education Officers arrange fitness programmes, organise adventurous training and manage a wide range of sports facilities.
Training Officers design, set up and run training courses.
Air Traffic Control Officers use radar and communications equipment to help aircraft take off and land safely. They also provide pilots with flight and navigation information.
Aerospace Battle Managers manage battles in the sky. They may be weapons specialists (who direct combat aircraft), surveillance specialists (who monitor the skies and gather war-fighting information) or space specialists (who warn of missiles and hostile intelligence-gathering satellites).
Flight Operations Officers plan and manage the RAF's flying tasks.
Intelligence Officers gather, analyse and provide defence intelligence both in times of peace and war.
Logistics Officers manage the movement of personnel, aircraft, freight, fuel, explosives and technical equipment. They are also responsible for delivering catering and hospitality services to RAF personnel both in the UK and overseas.
Officers need to be available for duty at all times, but they usually work office hours over a five-day week. Occasional weekend work may be required. Some roles involve shifts, early starts and late finishes. On exercise or operations, working hours can be long and changeable.
Many RAF stations are like small towns, with housing, shops, gyms, religious facilities, crèches and banks.
Officers may be posted to RAF bases in the UK or overseas, in territories such as Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Ascension Island and Gibraltar. They may also go on operations and exercises anywhere in the world, including conflict zones.
Pilot officers earn £24,130 a year. Flight lieutenants earn from £37,170 to £44,205 a year. Squadron leaders earn between £48,824 and £56,075 a year.
There are different pay scales for some specialist officers and for people who join as graduates or with professional qualifications. Salaries are higher for the most senior personnel. Living costs at RAF stations are heavily subsidised, and there are no charges while on operations.
There are around 8,460 officers in the RAF. All officer roles are open to men and women, with the exception of RAF Regiment officer, which is open to men only.
Officers join for a minimum length of service. This is usually between 6 and 12 years. Many extend their career in the RAF well beyond the number of years for which they initially join up.
Competition for some specialisations can be fierce.
Entrants need to be aged at least 17 years and six months (older for some specialisations).
Entry to many specialisations is with at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), including English and maths. Equivalent qualifications, such as an Advanced Diploma, may be accepted for some specialisations. Many entrants are graduates.
Some roles have more specific entry requirements:
Applicants must be of UK, dual UK, Commonwealth or Irish nationality when they apply. For security reasons, there are stricter nationality requirements for some roles. A few are open only to applicants who have been a UK citizen and a UK resident since birth.
The RAF offers a range of sponsorship schemes for those in school sixth forms and at university. Students who are sponsored at university join their nearest University Air Squadron. They have the opportunity to play sports, take part in overseas expeditions, try out fieldcraft and leadership training and get some flying experience.
Applicants have to pass a series of selection tests held at the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF College Cranwell, in Lincolnshire. The selection process lasts for up to four days and includes aptitude tests, fitness tests, interviews and an occupational health assessment.
The upper age limit for entry to most branches is 36 years. The exceptions are:
- 25 for pilots and weapon systems officers
- 26 for physical education officers
- 35 for legal officers
- 49 for chaplains
- 55 for medical officers and dental officers
Entrants first take the initial officer training course at RAF College Cranwell. It consists of three ten-week terms and includes military skills, fitness training, leadership exercises, adventurous training and simulated military exercises.
Professionally qualified entrants, such as medical officers and legal officers, undertake shorter training (around 11 weeks) at Cranwell.
After successfully completing initial training, officers go on to specialist training in their chosen branch.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
An RAF officer should:
Non-graduates begin as pilot officers, while entrants with a degree or professional qualification start as flying officers.
Promotion is possible to flight lieutenant, squadron leader, wing commander, group captain and beyond.
Further information is available at www.raf.mod.uk/careers
Applicants can also call the RAF advice line 0845 605 5555
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.