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There are many opportunities for boys between 15 and 17¼ to be taught skilled trades


STARTING THE ENGINE OF A HAWKER HART at Halton (Buckinghamshire), where many aircraft apprentices and boy entrants are trained. In this photograph an apprentice is shown turning the starting handle on the side of the nose of the aircraft. The removal of the covering from the wings makes visible the method of construction and assembly used for them.

THERE are two ways in which boys interested in aviation may join the Royal Air Force. The first is as apprentices and the second as boy entrants. In both classes a thorough training in a skilled trade is given, although the trades taught to aircraft apprentices are more skilled than those taught to boy entrants. Because of this, the training given to aircraft apprentices covers a longer period; moreover, candidates for this class are required to show a higher standard of general education.

Both classes offer considerable attractions to boys leaving school or who may already have left school. There is free training of a nature which would be expensive if received at a technical training college. Assured employment up to the age of 27 or 30 years is offered in congenial surroundings. After this age there are opportunities to continue in various ways in the Service until a pension becomes payable. Those who leave on the completion of their original period of engagement are well equipped to obtain good employment in civil life. For instance, those who have been trained as fitters of engines or airframes should, after but little experience on civil aircraft, be able to obtain Air Ministry ground engineers’ licences.

Boys or their parents considering careers would be well advised to give careful thought to the opportunities available in the R.A.F. When the pay during training in the R.A.F. is compared with the emolument offered in some civil post, it must be remembered that in the R.A.F. free board, clothing and other services are received. Further, aircraft apprentices and boy entrants do not face the possibility of entering a “dead end’’ job which may leave them unemployed after two or three years.

Apprentice clerks are accepted in the R.A.F. on similar lines to aircraft apprentices. Their training is concerned with clerical work rather than with work directly connected with aircraft flying. In the same way as aircraft apprentices and boy entrants, they have an opportunity of training as airmen pilots after a certain period of service. Those who are selected from any one of the three branches for training as airmen pilots will be from among those who pass their examinations at the end of their training with sufficient marks. No guarantee of training as pilots is given to those who volunteer, but with the increasing expansion of the Royal Air Force, the number of airmen pilots is being increased to a greater proportion than hitherto.

In certain trades, such as that of wireless operator, considerable flying may be done as a member of the crew of an aeroplane. There are also opportunities for some to become air observers. Those who become airmen pilots do not lose touch with their trade while on flying duties. After a period of active flying they return to full employment in their particular trade.

Those who feel they would like to enter the R.A.F. in the ways described should not be deterred by the large number of others that they know will be applying for entry. The expansion of the R.A.F. makes thousands of entrants necessary. Between April 1935 and March 1938 about 6,300 apprentices were accepted and approximately 2,100 boy entrants. After training, during the course of his career the airman may have to serve in any part of the world. Thus he has many opportunities of seeing gratis the famous and romantic countries of the world — the Sudan, Egypt, Palestine, India, Malaya and China — countries which many people pay heavily to visit. The airman’s life carries many responsibilities, for on his work depends to a large extent the safety of the pilots. This produces a link of comradeship between pilots and those who maintain the aircraft, and gives an added interest to the life.


IN THE ENGINEERING WORKSHOP at Halton is to be found the most up-to-date machinery. Apprentices are working on a tensile strength testing machine. On the right of the machine is an autographic recorder which shows the amount of elongation of the specimen of material under test. The apprentice in the foreground is observing the elongation visually.

An airman is not confined to any one branch of the Service. It is possible that during his career he may be attached to several of the following branches: fighter squadrons, bomber squadrons, flying boat squadrons or Army co-operation squadrons.

During the whole of the boy’s training, and throughout his later life in the Service, his welfare, physical fitness and social interests receive careful attention. Dental and medical attention is free, and regular inspection is assured. Thus is maintained the high standard of physical fitness required on joining.

Physical training occupies a regular proportion of the boy’s time. Some organized games are compulsory; facilities are available for optional games at other times. Boys are not allowed to drink any intoxicating liquor, but permission may be given to those over eighteen to smoke when off duty.

Every type of sport is provided, including cricket, football (Rugby and Association), hockey, baseball, swimming, tennis, athletics, boxing and fencing. Every boy is encouraged to become proficient in the sports he likes best.

Various societies are run by committees of boys assisted by officers. These include debating and dramatic societies. Then there are clubs dealing with all kinds of hobbies such as stamp collecting, model engineering, photography and wireless. Reference libraries and libraries of recreational books, including fiction, are provided.

Apprentices receive six weeks’ leave each year at fixed times. In exceptional circumstances additional leave may be granted. Leave for boy entrants, whose course of training is less than that of apprentices, is granted when training permits. Apprentices receive eight hours a week of general education and nine hours each week are spent in physical training, organized games and drill. Thus it is clear that from all aspects life during and after training is as worthwhile and interesting as any manly boy could wish. To explain the methods and conditions of entry and the training, it is necessary to consider aircraft apprentices and boy entrants separately.

There are five distinct trades for which aircraft apprentices may be trained. When apprentices are accepted they are asked to state the order of preference they have for these trades. No guarantee can be given that an apprentice will follow the trade that he prefers, because the requirements of the Service have to be met. As far as possible, however, consideration is given to the apprentice’s preferences. A competitive entrance examination has to be passed by aircraft apprentices and those who obtain the most marks are considered first when allotment to the different trades is being arranged.

Three of the trades are for fitters. Fitters are required for engines, for airframes and for armaments. The other two trades are those of wireless operator mechanic and instrument maker.

The courses for engine fitters and for airframe fitters are the same with the exception that one is concerned with engines and the other with airframes. The first period of the course is devoted to acquiring a basic knowledge of the subject and to the attainment of a certain skill in the use of tools.

ENGINE FITTING is one of the trades taught to RAF apprentices

ENGINE FITTING is one of the trades taught to apprentices. The tuition covers the principles involved in engines; the use of tools and the application of this knowledge to the running and maintenance of engines. After they have left the Service, R.A.F. engine fitters should have no difficulty in obtaining Air Ministry civil engineers’ licences which allow them to practise as ground engineers.

The second part of the course is concerned with the practical application of the knowledge obtained to the running and maintenance of engines used in aircraft and mechanical transport, or to the rigging and maintenance of metal airframes. On completion of his training, the apprentice exercises his trade at an R.A.F. unit under skilled supervision for a few years. Then, after an advanced course, he undertakes supervisory work himself and performs more advanced duties in his trade. The course for the armourer fitter enables him to undertake the care, maintenance, overhaul, repair and testing of all rifles, machine-guns, gun gears, bomb armament and their equipment which are used in the Royal Air Force.

The trade of wireless operator mechanic must not be confused with that of wireless operator, which is one of the trades of boy entrants. Wireless operator mechanics receive the same training as wireless operators, but in addition they are taught to perform all the work necessary for the installation, maintenance and repair of electrical and wireless apparatus used in the Service. They are instructed also in fitting and turning in so far as this is necessary for their trade.

The instruction of an instrument maker covers the maintenance and repair of all instruments (electrical and mechanical), cameras, bombsights and the like, which are used in the Royal Air Force. After having been posted to a unit, the boys work under supervision for a time until they are qualified to undertake all the duties of their trade.

Boys between the ages of 15 and 17 are eligible to sit for the competitive examination, provided they have been nominated. All candidates must be nominated by one of the approved bodies, which are mostly educational bodies. The governors of approved schools and the Boy Scouts Association are among those able to make nominations. Candidates must have received a good general education such as will enable them to undertake with profit the course of technical and general education included in the apprenticeship training.

Passing the Doctor

Candidates who have already obtained an approved first school certificate may be excused from the competitive examinations. If, however, they are not selected after nomination they will be given an opportunity to sit for the competitive examination. The sons of present and past officers and of airmen of the Royal Air Force are given preference in that they are merely required to reach a qualifying standard in the competitive examination, which lasts one day. Some of those who sit but are not eventually selected are given the opportunity to become boy entrants instead of aircraft apprentices.

The medical examination does not take place until the first week or two after candidates have arrived at their training centre. For this reason it is wise for boys to be examined by their own doctor beforehand to find out whether they have any physical disabilities which would obviously debar them from the Royal Air Force.

Defective sight such as that involving the wearing of glasses does not necessarily bar a boy from entry. But it may prevent him from being passed for certain trades and will restrict his opportunities of advancement to airman pilot or air observer. Considerable emphasis is placed on the condition of the candidate’s teeth. If nine are missing, or if nine cannot be rendered serviceable by treatment, it is unlikely that he will be passed by the doctors.

ELEMENTARY TRAINING IN RUNNING-UP is illustrated by this photograph

ELEMENTARY TRAINING IN RUNNING-UP is illustrated by this photograph. To test an engine before flight, it is run for a short period with the throttle at the normal maximum. Because the front wheels are held by chocks, the airscrew tries to lift the tail, which has to be held down. To ensure safety the tail is fixed to screw pickets for this initial instruction.

An aircraft apprentice is attested for twelve years’ regular air force service from the age of eighteen, in addition to the period before he reaches that age. The usual period of training is three years and it will be given at Halton, near Wendover, Buckinghamshire; at Cosford, near Wolverhampton; or at Cranwell, Lincolnshire. Those who are to be trained as wireless operator mechanics or as instrument makers are sent to Cranwell; the other trades are taught at Halton and at Cosford. The rates of pay during apprenticeship are 7s. a week for the first two years and 10s. 6d. Thereafter.

Near the end of the third year of training apprentices are given the opportunity to volunteer to be trained as airmen pilots. Those considered fit for such training will be notified. The final selection, however, will not take place until after three years’ service with a unit. Then, only those who come up to the desired physical standard and who have reached the highest classification (leading aircraftman) below non-commissioned officer rank can be selected.

In the examination at the completion of apprenticeship boys may be given initial classifications of leading aircraftman, aircraftman first class or aircraftman second class. The initial pay for these three ranks respectively is £1 18s. 6d., £1 9s. 9d. and £1 4s. 6d. a week.

A certain number of apprentices at the end of their training are awarded a cadetship at Cranwell, where they are taught to fly and are given permanent commissions in the R.A.F. A certain number of ex-apprentices are selected at the age of 25 to be air observers. This includes promotion to corporal, if that rank has not already been reached. Airmen pilots, after the completion of

their course in flying training, are given the rank of sergeant.

Airmen at the age of 27 may be given the opportunity of extending their period of service from twelve years to twenty-four, thus qualifying for a pension on discharge. Others are given the opportunity of joining the reserve and, if they do so, will receive a gratuity of £100. Those selected for re-engagement, but not desirous of doing so, may join the reserve also.

Permanent Commissions

Special arrangements in connexion with boys resident abroad are made to assist them in becoming aircraft apprentices. In all instances where a boy has followed a trade similar to his first choice for the Royal Air Force for not less than a year before entry, special endeavours will be made to enable him to be trained in that trade. A few airmen pilots may be granted permanent commissions in the General Duties Branch of the R.A.F.; a limited number of permanent commissions may also be granted annually to airmen who have attained the rank of warrant officer. All airmen who are medically fit are liable to be called on to carry out duties in the air in any type of aircraft and they may be ordered to serve at home or abroad.

A description of the radio and electrical school at Cranwell will serve to illustrate the extent of the knowledge taught in the various trades and the thoroughness with which it is imparted. This school at Cranwell is typical of the other training centres where aircraft apprentices and boy entrants receive their instruction.

The wireless operator mechanic has to understand all the electrical equipment used on aircraft as well as that used for wireless. Thus, apart from practical work, the wireless operator mechanic must have a good knowledge of the principles of electricity. In view of this, the term “mechanic”, as applied to wireless operator mechanics, has a considerably wider meaning than it has in many applications in civil life.

To graduate the assimilation of knowledge, a highly complicated system has had to be organized, but the smoothness with which an apprentice finds he passes from one section to another illustrates the efficiency of the system and of the instructors.


INSTRUCTION IN MAGNETO ASSEMBLY. The practice and theory of magnetos are taught concurrently. First the various parts are dealt with individually; then follow their relationship as a whole and assembly, and finally fault-finding and maintenance. Maintenance includes the installation of the magneto and the high-tension cables which connect with the sparking plugs.

There are sections dealing with radio, electricity, instruments, communications, aircraft wiring, air operating and ground radio installations. There are also workshops, laboratories and a series of wireless “out-stations”. The electrical and wireless school occupies a space of several acres.

Everything is laid out in such a way that the complicated gear with which the apprentice has to deal can be studied step by step in a simple manner. The gear is similar to that in Service use and all the controls operate in the same way as on normal Service gear. Thus the apprentice, while he is learning, becomes familiar with apparatus on which he will have to work.

As new electrical gear is added to the equipment of the Royal Air Force, such as that used to control retractable undercarriages, samples are sent to the school. Apprentices thus keep abreast of the latest practice. The training, however, is such that the apprentice will be at home even if he has to work on gear of a design and type of installation which he has never seen before.

In one department are bays in which the entire electrical apparatus of aircraft is arranged on vertical boards. Apprentices pass to these bays after having learnt about the theory and operation of the units individually. Faults are introduced by the instructors into the complete equipment and the apprentice’s task is to find and correct these faults. The next step taken by the apprentice is to complete aircraft fully equipped except for engines. At this stage he is enabled to become conversant with the methods of installation of the apparatus with which he has been dealing, and he learns to correct faults in normal conditions.

A similar procedure, stage by stage, is followed in connexion with wireless gear. The apprentice eventually reaches a stage where he is taken into the air in a “flying classroom”—  a large aircraft in which a number of complete radio installations are fitted. In this aircraft he carries out communication with ground stations operated by other apprentices.

General Education

Fault-finding in the apparatus, although an important part of training, is but one aspect. Maintenance is an equally important section of the training. The object behind maintenance is to conduct regular overhauls of apparatus which is in proper working order, in such a way as to prevent faults from developing. The ideal at which the work aims is to prevent a fault from occurring in the electrical or radio gear, or in the instruments of an aeroplane while in flight. It is an ideal that is, for all practical purposes, achieved.

In the workshops where instrument making is taught some of the most modern apparatus and tools are to be found. The work carried out by apprentices in the instrument making trade is of the highest order of precision work.

Running concurrently with all this practical work are lectures in the theory of the various subjects, and in science in general. General education includes mathematics, drawing and similar subjects. With such a complete training it is obvious why aircraft apprentices have little trouble in finding employment in civil life when they have completed their period of service in the Royal Air Force.

The conditions concerning boy entrants to the Royal Air Force are in many ways somewhat similar to those concerning aircraft apprentices. Boy entrants are accepted between the ages of 15 and 17¼ for the trades of armourer or wireless operator. Other trades they may follow are those of electrician and instrument repairer. For these the age limits are 15¾ and 17¼. A short while ago boy entrants had the trade of photographer open to them. Requirements of the R.A.F., however, have caused this to be replaced by the trade of electrician.

FITTING PARACHUTES on RAF apprentices before their first flight

FITTING PARACHUTES on apprentices before their first flight. Every airman in the Royal Air Force has to be prepared to fly. In some trades more flying has to be carried out than in others. A boy entrant, for instance, who becomes a wireless operator may spend much time in the air as a member of the crew of an aeroplane.

Candidates have to be nominated by bodies similar to those which may nominate aircraft apprentices. This does not apply to those who have sat for an examination to become apprentices and have been invited to apply for election as boy entrants. Those nominated must have received a good general education, including instruction in mathematics and science to the standard normally reached after having attended a secondary, junior technical or central school to the age of 15. Candidates over 16½ who have left school for more than eighteen months at the time of application will not normally be accepted unless they have continued their education sufficiently to enable them to follow the course of training with benefit to themselves. Candidates whose applications are approved will be asked to attend for an interview and medical examination. The medical examination is of a similar standard to that for aircraft apprentices, except with regard to teeth and eyesight. For teeth and eyesight a slightly higher standard is required of boy entrants.

Boy entrants are attested for a period of nine years from the age of 18 in addition to the period of service before they reach that age. On completion of his training, which is normally from twelve to sixteen months, according to trade, the boy entrant has to take an examination. He is then given one of three grades similar to those given to aircraft apprentices, according to the number of marks obtained in the examination.

The trades in which boy entrants may qualify are known as Group II trades and those of aircraft apprentices as Group I trades. The initial pay in the trades of Group If are a little lower than those in Group I. First and second class aircraftmen of Group II receive 3d. a day less than those in Group I; leading aircraftmen in Group II receive fid. a day less than those in Group I. During training a boy entrant receives 5s. 3d. a week. If he is posted to a unit before attaining the age of 18 he receives 10s. 6d. a week until that age is reached.

On completion of their nine years of service some of the airmen who joined the R.A.F. as boy entrants are reengaged to complete a term of twenty-four years’ service. They then become eligible for a pension.

Boy entrants eventually have similar opportunities to aircraft apprentices of becoming airmen pilots and, in a few instances, of promotion to commissioned ranks.

Air Observers

Boy entrants may be recommended for training as observers, and it is largely from the ranks of those who enter the R.A.F. as boy entrants that observers will be chosen. Selection will normally be made in the seventh year of service from among those who are willing to be re-engaged to complete twenty-four years’ service. Air observers are given a short course of training and are then employed on observers’ duties. These duties vary with the type of unit, but normally include gunnery, signalling, navigation and look-out.

Observers may qualify for the Observer’s Badge, which is somewhat similar to the Pilot’s Badge. It has only one wing, however, and the wing is joined to a letter O. This badge was introduced by the Royal Flying Corps during the war of 1914-18, but its use was discontinued after the war. It was reintroduced by the Royal Air Force in 1937.

To qualify for the badge, airmen must have passed the air observer’s course, have served in a squadron for at least six months, have completed at least fifty hours’ flying as an air observer, and have been recommended by their commanding officer.

Boy entrants are trained as armourers at Eastchurch, Kent, and as electricians, instrument repairers and wireless operators at the school at Cranwell. Armourers are concerned with the care, maintenance and overhaul of all rifles, machine-guns, gun gears, bomb armament and their equipment used in the Service. Wireless operators are required to operate the various types of wireless apparatus in use in the Service and to carry out minor repairs. The duties of an electrician are similar to those of a wireless operator but relate to electrical equipment at aerodromes and in aircraft. The instrument repairer’s duties relate to the care and maintenance of instruments in aircraft.

A SEAPLANE FLOAT BEING RE-COVERED by apprentices at Halton

A SEAPLANE FLOAT BEING RE-COVERED by apprentices at Halton. The bulkheads and cross members of the float are fitted into a jig which holds them in their correct positions during the covering process, and thus ensures that the finished float will be true. This provides an illustration of the type of work taught to apprentices who are to be airframe fitters.

You can read more on “The Royal Air Force Reserve”,  “The Royal Air Force Reserve” and “Training RAF Pilots” on this website.

Training Boys in the R.A.F.