An introduction to the Aircraft Apprentices Scheme
From a pamphlet written for the 69th Entry Jubilee reunion in 2001 by Tony Parrott
An apprentice of the 69th at RAF HaltonFollowing the end of the first world war in November 1918, Chief of Air Staff Hugh Trenchard, in his considerations for the founding of a peacetime Royal Air Force, had recognised the need to train a wide variety of engineering trades, especially those connected with aircraft maintenance.
The Aircraft Apprentices Scheme, included in Trenchard's paper, which outlined his rationale for a substantive peacetime Royal Air Force, was endorsed by Winston Churchill - the then Secretary of State for Air - and was issued as a white paper entitled 'An outline of the Scheme for Permanent Organisation of the Royal Air Force', dated 11th December 1919. This was placed before Parliament and accepted.
The first qualifying examinations for entry into the RAF as Aircraft Apprentices were held in London and 14 provincial centres in November 1919, and set the pattern whereby future aspiring boys of between 15 and a half and 17 and a quarter years of age would gain entry, with selective examinations to take place twice annually.
Successful candidates reported to No. 1 School of Technical Training, formed at RAF Halton in December 1919, in the succeeding January or August. Entries were numbered sequentially and would be the first question asked by one apprentice to another "what Entry were you?". Trenchard's vision was for the recruitment of well-educated boys because he anticipated that they would go on to form 60% of the RAF skilled tradesmen.
Basic training at RAF Halton's workshops, date unknown, but likely pre-WWII
The examinations were set to test the candidate's resourcefulness and intelligence and thus [candidates] needed to be able to absorb the necessary technical training to complete their apprenticeship in three years rather than the normal five years current in civil life, with a considerable saving in cost.
Apprentices of the 69th, including Nosher's old man (bottom right) in front of a Gloster Meteor at Halton. The lads would occasionally set the guns up and fire them at sand buttsThe first entry numbering 235 boys were accepted for three-year apprenticeships in January 1920 and began training at Cranwell, as accommodation at Halton had not been completed. The move to Halton coincided with the 5th Entry in January 1922 when the rank of Aircraft Apprentice was adopted rather than the earlier title of Boy Mechanic. In May 1922 NCO Apprentice ranks were introduced.
Entries of Apprentices continued at a rate of two per year, with the exception of 1941, when there was only one - the 43rd in August - until 1946 when three intakes a year became the norm, until 1964 when it reverted to two.
During the early 1930's entry sizes had dwindled from around 500 per entry to 166 in January 1932 (the 25th Entry), but with the expansion of the Royal Air Force in anticipation of the Second World War and the need for a vastly increased number of improved-technology aircraft, and technicians to maintain them, aircraft apprentice entry sizes increased substantially, peaking at 1,378 entrants in August 1939 (the 40th Entry). During wartime, Aircraft Apprentices were still required to pass the entrance examination, but entry sizes were down to about 250 from August 1940 (42nd Entry).
Sea Vixen FAW 2's in RAF Halton's New Workshops, around 1977. Photo contributed to the public domain by Pete ButtThe introduction of a revised RAF trade structure and a policy of aircraft maintenance by replacement rather than repair, brought with it in 1964 a reversion to two entries a year and the introduction of two stream apprentices — Technician Apprentices, who continued the existing apprentice entry numerical sequence and the three year course, and Craft Apprentices, who were numbered in a 200 series and carried out a two year course.
By the mid 1980's recruitment of sufficient Apprentices to meet RAF needs was becoming ever more difficult. Apprentice entry sizes were down to less than 100 and by May 1990 (155th entry) they were down to 46. The 155th became the final Entry graduating in June 1993.
The Apprentice Scheme in the Royal Air Force
The foundation of the apprentice scheme was also mentioned in the 1953 edition of the Halton Magazine, where more details about potential careers in the RAF and the requirements expected of apprentices were provided.
"The aim of Apprentice Training is to produce completely reliable airmen and skilled craftsmen, of sound character, of balanced judgment, of good education, with a high sense of responsibility, power of leadership, and pride of Service; to provide a body of men from which future N.C.Os. and Officers may be selected."
Period of Service
On joining the Royal Air Force, the Apprentice is attested for a period of regular Service terminating on the expiration of 12 years reckoned from the date of attaining 18 years of age. Under its new Trade Structure, the Royal Air Force in fact offers pensionable employment up to the age of 55 to all airmen who are up to the required standard. Airmen who complete 22 years' Regular Service also qualify for a pension.
Aircraft apprentices march in shirt-sleeve order from their living quarters to the workshops at No. 1 School of Technical Training, Halton, Buckinghamshire, to begin their day's work, circa 1945. Source: IWM © IWM (CH 1018)
Period of Training
The period of training for a Royal Air Force Apprentice is normally three years. The training includes a progressive and carefully designed course in General Education with emphasis on those subjects which are essential to the Apprentice's future career. Depending on his record of progress and results in the final examination, the Apprentice may qualify for the Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical or Electrical Engineering.
Rank and Promotion
On successful completion of their Apprenticeship, Apprentices are posted in the rank of Junior Technician to selected units. As Junior Technicians, they are eligible for promotion to non-commissioned and then to Warrant Officer rank. Alternatively, they may take up the new technician career in which they may be promoted up to the rank of Chief Technician, according to their skill and experience as tradesmen. Those who have completed Royal Air Force Apprenticeship are expected to reach the higher ranks in the Royal Air Force including commissioned rank.
The trade groups at present open to Apprentices are: 1. Aircraft Engineering. 2. Radio Engineering. 3. Armament Engineering. 4. Electrical and Instrument Engineering.
Apprentice candidates must have received a good general education and be in good health and of sound constitution. They must normally be between 15 and 17 years of age on the first day of the month of entry.
Other opportunities for Royal Air Force Apprentices
- Commissioning - At the end of their Apprenticeship training, selected Apprentices are offered cadetships at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, leading to permanent commissions in the General Duties Branch. Selected Apprentices may also be offered permanent commissions in the Technical or Secretarial Branches of the Royal Air Force or in the Royal Air Force Regiment. All ex-Apprentices, after passing out and after completing a period of satisfactory service, are eligible to be considered by their Commanding Officers for recommendation for permanent commissions.
- Aircrew Employment - Airmen who have received Apprentice training and who volunteer may be selected for training as pilots or navigators. After selection all receive officer training and will be eligible for commissions. Opportunities are also available for selection for non-commissioned aircrew duites as air signallers and air engineers.
- RAF Halton and the Brats
- The RAF Aircraft Apprentices Scheme
- The 69th's Graduation Review, 1954
- The Senior Entry - a graduate's letter, 1954
- A full list of 69th Graduates
- Summer Camp, RAF Formby, 1953
- The 69th and the Queen's Coronation, 1953
- The Burmese Brats
- Halton days: stories from the Brats
- Clubs, Societies and Sports at Halton
- Dispersal: into the RAF
- Tributes to Halton and the Brats
- The 69th's commemorative windows
- 69th Entry Reunions