First up, there’s an old copy of Janes’ Aircraft Recognition Guide which has some excellent ideas about delivering aircraft recce in it - it’s from around 1994-1996 and the cover shot is of an F117A on it. It’s first chapter is all about delivering recce to noobies and gives some good practical ideas… unfortunately, my copy got robbed, but, if you can get a copy, it makes a good starting point!
My advice would be to start simple. Really simple. Don’t go comparing Squirels & Griffins yet. Compare Squirels and Typhoons and Hercules. Make them all really obvious differences to start with. It will give you the interest to start building knowledge when they get more confident - no “i’m no good at this” but more “these differences are quite easy”.
Start with a syllabus of 10 aircraft. Easy ones which they are likely to come across regularly. What flies from your local station or AEF? What’s was at the last airshow you went to? Do you have a local airport? Include a Lancaster in your mix. And a hawk (red arrow or otherwise). Include a Chinook and a Squirrel. Then start to drip feed additional aircraft in over time. Don’t let their knowledge of your original 10 fade, just top it up. Some will pick it up quicker than others - but they do all still pick it up following this method.
I quite often run an idiots guide to aircraft recognition over one parade night. The first half of the night we don’t even talk about aircraft at all. I talk about the principles behind marketting, recognition and how/why things are familiar. I use some marketting gimmicks to reinforce the point - if you take a tesco’s carrier bag, a box from a BigMac, a twix and some other well known brands in the kids will pick up straight away that they recognise this stuff because they recognise the brand/logo etc. Use car recognition as a tool to get them to understand and realise that they already know the principles behind recce - they just need a new subject! We talk about the left and right side of the brain - bringing words and pictures together and use a couple of exercises to bring together this thinking. The second half we look at all the differences which can occur with aircraft - which is loosely based around this website. And talk about breaking down aircraft into WEFT components.
Also talk about naming conventions - whilst it’s less straight forward with no soviet block, I still refer to F’s, H’s, B’s, M’s for Russian aircraft. And getting them used to understanding how the RAF & US name their aircraft is useful in bringing the pictures and words together.
One evening (which sounds quite lame, but the cadets loved it!) we just looked at roundells and got them learning why they are used, spending some time researching them, then identifying aircraft nationalities. It helped support and promote interest in aviation, has proved very useful for poorly labelled static displays at airshows, it also helps them home in on certain aircraft based on where they are from. Again, it’s a useful tool which helps them eleminate things from the syllabus.
If you can, use events like airshows to try and drive home recce skills.
Run an “aircraft of the week” thing on final parade. Get the cadets to try and memorise different facts about an aircraft and/or recognise photos of it.
I’ve seen a few squadrons use their Facebook pages to promote aircraft recognition - giving flight points or prizes to the first person who guesses the aircraft. Interflight competitions are an excellent motivator.
Use the Leading syllabuses Airmanship II as a starting point too - it’s always worthwhile getting them used to seeing RAF aircraft.
Embed things around the squadron - have you got a noticeboard? If so, write to aircraft manufacturers as they are generally quite good at sending Air Cadet squadrons a poster tube packed full of prints, posters & publicity material. Squadron prints and aviation art also helps jazz up the squadron and make it more “aircrafty” and is a much more softly softly approach. If you can, get the cadets to make a poster themselves… although generally the results are a bit poorer than a bought one, it does aid learning.
If you go down an aviation art route, get them to do research into the painting/aircraft - even aeromodelling can be used as it gets the cadets up close and personal with some of the aircraft’s attributes.
An excellent - and often underused - resource for aircraft recognition is the caricature. There’s a brilliant poster done by Skytoons.co.uk which features lots of RAF aircraft. The exaggerations of various features of the aircraft can really help the cadets learn them.
Beg the Squadron CivCom for a subscription to an aviation periodical or two - Air Forces Monthly is a good starting point. Alternative, jump on ebay and buy a second hand copy of somethign like “Take Off” which was one of those “collect in a trillion parts over the next 3 years” magazines. It’s slightly dated now, but gives you quick and ready access to lots of aircraft information, cutaways, different shots of aircraft.
Beg CivCom for some copies of Jane’s Aircraft Recognition guide. Don’t buy them new; amazon marketplace and ebay generally have 1 year out of date ones for around £3 each. Even ones that are three or four years old will be current with regards the ACO syllabus (which takes 10-15 years to change the actual content of the aircraft on it!).
Vary how you deliver the training - don’t always use photos. Some times use cutaways. Some times silohettes. Some times models. Some times posters. Get the cadets to justify there answers. They might recognise an aircraft for a different reason you do - and may be able to relate this to the cadets in a different way than you can vocalise it.
If you run it as a project, get each cadet to rn a specific night - one night focus on helos, one night fast jets, one night RAF aircraft, another night the French. By delivering the training themselves, they will learn.
Once they get more confident, use powerpoints but, rather than hunt of pictures of aircraft at certain angles, just turn the pictures upside down, or up end them. Shrink the picture size. Crop the picture so it only shows the front/back/side/key features. It confuses the brain a little - but helps reinforce their learning. Just the tail of a Boeing 707 is a give away. Likewise, the clamshell tail of a BAe 146 is often enough to identify it.
Again, once they are confident, start throwing in red herrings. I often use old pictures of Snoopy, some F16/FA18’s from “Top Gun” schools in the USA to remind them to go with their instincts, not what it’s painted up like.
Setup an inter squadron competition with your neighbouring unit. Enter a team for a Wing competition. Embed some aircraft recognition into a fieldcraft exercise (we regularly have a “go to this location and recce the airfield” - when they get there there’s a simulated airfield made up of airfix kits or laminated photos laid out on the ground.
Once they get really good, use google earth images and start IDing the aircraft from overhead shots. There are some great places around the world to do this.
Steve’s quizzes are also a great idea. We have a couple where the cadets link aircraft to RAF stations and similar things. Again, these need not be standalone evenings, but sit embedded within other things like interflight quizzes or general service knowledge.
There are some great web resources you can use:
airliners.net - a massive picture gallery of loads and loads of aircraft (inc a recce test)
- youtube clips & channels
- there’s an Air Forces Monthly forum somewhere
- there’s probably more!
Hopefully that’s enough to get you started! Sorry for the lengthly post… and I’m not a true recce geek… I’m married*.
Any questions, please feel free to ask!
- although my wife describes me as a “reformed geek”