RAF pilot career path

I am extremely keen on becoming an RAF pilot however, I have been wondering what path to take and whether I go to university and get a degree then join the RAF or join into the RAF straight after my A levels. On one hand, I’ve seen that most sqdrn leaders went to university. However, on the other hand i know it is a very competitive on its selection and along with the truckload of student debt I would likely pick up, I’m really not sure.
Any advice would be appreciated :+1::+1:

Note that the RAF offers a degree scheme for aircrew, however consider that most selected for the role of pilot (only around 40-50 per year!) went to uni. They are selected chiefly because of the amount of money spent on them for flying training in UAS.

On the same note, you wouldn’t be able to go to a UAS if you chose the scholarship scheme.

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Don’t let the ‘debt’ be a factor in your decisions regarding university. Think of it as you’ll end up paying slightly more tax once you start earning decent money. If it all goes pear-shaped, it’s not a debt you have to pay back.

As you the rest; If you’re super focused on going in as a pilot then you’ve got the most chance with a degree, from what I’ve been told before. Plus going to uni will give you more chance to develop as a person, which may well help when it comes to interviews etc. Also, go to a uni with a UAS, then you sort of get a head-start too!


This old chestnut :relieved:
I have colleagues who have masters degrees in aeronautical engineering, and on the other end of the scale I have others who barely had enough ucas points to apply for pilot in the first place. I decided to go to uni and study engineering as I wanted to spend more time in air cadets. To be honest I think when it came to officer selection they were more interested in the fact I spent 3 years as an OC of an ATC Sqn over my degree.
The thing is, being selected is really hard. I’m not saying that to put you off, but you have to have that fact in the back of your mind. The other thing is would stress is that the RAF aren’t the only service who fly. I was gently indoctrinated into the RAF way of things through 10 years in the ATC, but now I’m a pilot in the RN. In general I think the RAF tend to recruit UAS folk, the army will recruit anyone as long as they’re willing to live in a ditch, and the RN tend to recruit people who have maybe had a slightly different or interesting path through their lives.
If you want to go to uni because you’re worried the military will think you don’t have enough life experience, then I thoroughly recommend you go for it anyway. Recruitment streams are paused regularly so I would grab the opportunity with both hands when you can. If they tell you that they’d like to see you with a bit more life under your belt and you should go back in a year, then that’s good for you! Many many people never go back; be one who does and they will see a determined and confident person with focus.
Any questions, ask.


Also, in reference to the degree scheme, it was the RN who created it and the RAF are trying to follow suit but haven’t quite got there yet. In the RN on receipt of wings you will get a foundation degree, and on completion of your Certificate of Competence (in RAF speak that’s Combat Ready) you’ll get a Bachelors Degree with Honours in Aviation Systems Management.

If nothing else, it’s another certificate to hang in the downstairs toilet :wink:


:rofl: :rofl:
I used to work on the doors of pubs and nightclubs in Oxford and the students back then were absolute lady-parts! We invented ‘slap-a-student-night’ and they soon calmed down!

@CplRoberts - I’m not suggesting that you’d be the same as my experience was years ago; and there’s been some good advice offered by the guys on here.


I guess you’re proving my point then, as they would have left a better person if that’s how they were as students :wink:


Go to uni. 100%

Yes, all the other points raised here are valid and no, a degree is not a requirement for the role.

However. Recent recruitment patterns need to be taken into account.

Yes, it’s possible to join the RAF as a pilot at age 18. But nobody’s done this for the past 3 or 4 years. There’s been a recruitment freeze for the last 18 months / 2 years, and prior to that the only people going through Cranwell’s MIOT doors were those who had been on a UAS.

What is definitely true is that the degree you do doesn’t matter. My UAS had people who later joined up as Pilots studying (a non-exhaustive list); Aeronautical Engineering, Aviation Studies, Geography, Portuguese, History, Architecture, Maths, Theology, Business, etc. Some of these people gained high Firsts. Some gained average Seconds. One or two scored Thirds. One guy scored “Pass” on his degree.

They’ve all been very successful.

Go to uni. Do your best to join a UAS. Get some flying hours in. Then try to join up.

Hard work, and a bit of luck.


These have all been really helpful thank you.
Feeling more motivated than ever :saluting_face::saluting_face:

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The above responses are fantastic, but make sure you have a back-up plan/other options in mind incase things dont go to plan.

I fly civilian and didn’t go to Uni


Do keep in mind that each service has a different career path for pilots/aircrew.

In the Army NCOs can be pilots and you can transfer from other arms to the AAC. You do need to be a soldier first, pilot next.

The RN has a pretty interesting range of flying roles too, a contact went in as an Observer on helicopters and absolutely loves it.

Some are saying the RAF will in the not too distant future have more RPAS operators than pilots.

Even if you decide on the RAF, knowing what else is out there could be useful in an interview.

Just a bit of a sensible head on…aircrew is mega competitive and reducing roles so even more competitive.

Have a back up plan just incase


Role is currently closed

Qualification requirements:

  • Have GCSEs at Grade C/4 or SNE at Grade 5 or SCE Standard Grades at Grade 2/SNE 5 in English and Maths and at least three other subjects.
    Have at least 2 A2 Levels/3 Highers at Grade C or above (excluding General Studies, Critical Thinking or Citizenship Studies) which must total a minimum of 64 UCAS points.

University + UAS = probably the best route. Pay is negligible (max 35 days @ £35 / day) with small trg bounty, up to £150. However, there are bursaries depending on the branch but currently not many branches at all!

I always say this to anyone who says they want to be a pilot in the RAF.

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Always been that way - the good old days of 1500+ people through OASC every year are well & truly gone down the Swanee! I think that the last recruitment period for pilot through OASC was less than 300!!

RPAS is a maybe option?

Or, go for NCO aircrew & look at possible move onwards when slots become available? That’s how I started (as AEOp, now called WSOp), commissioned to be pilot.

Degree - try to maximise your career options - not an “underwater basket weaving” course! :wink:


Interestingly though the odds aren’t that bad in raw numbers. I was staggered reading the stats in one of the Sky News articles about the current recruitment woes, only 2/3000 or so applications a year for pilot. I’d expected 10x that number. That’s maybe 40 or 50 to 1. Sounds extreme but they’re much better than the sponsored airline schemes that pop up, and better than some of the top city grad jobs. Remember Virgin’s scheme back in 2015 when they started sponsoring people? That was about 500:1.

Having done the UAS route, personally I would go for a degree you’re passionate about, regardless of whether it’s seen as less academically worthwhile. If you can’t become an RAF pilot then you’ll be using your degree for grad schemes, usually. A 2.1 in 18th century Central European pottery studies walks a 2.2 in petro-chemical engineering. Despite the latter being far harder won, despite the lower grade.

Get on a UAS, and you’re 90% of the way there. If you put a lot of time into the UAS it’s lined up for you, but that’s where a savage degree suffers. And given you’re after being a pilot, you’re unlikely to have a burning passion for engineering. You might do, but it’s unlikely, so don’t put yourself through just because that seems to be the trodden path. I did it, loved uni, hated the degree.

Differences to consider between RAF flying (my plan A) and commercial flying (my resultant plan B as the RAF didn’t work out…)

  • You’ve got to get funding for the commercial licence, you don’t for the RAF. This is the biggie. I was lucky timing wise I popped out when there were still some sponsored schemes kicking around. The UAS, I feel, is what got me a spot. You absolutely can fly commercially without backing. The modular route is exactly that, it just takes an awful lot of work, and a fair bit of time doing it that way. It IS achievable though, don’t listen to anyone that says it isn’t.

  • Pay. You will be more cash rich in your 20s in the RAF. You’ll have less debt and massively subsidised living costs. After that though you’re so far behind it’s laughable. Get into an airline by 25 and you’ll be a captain by 30 most likely. Any major carrier, EasyJet, Ryanair, BA etc and you’ll be the right side of £100K in the left hand seat. Jet2, for example, pay their captains c.£150K a year. You can be in that seat by 30 having been to uni. To put that into RAF perspective, that’s getting into the realms of Air Marshal money before doing any overtime, to do shift work without any outside pressures or deadlines, by 30.

  • Hours. Plenty leave the RAF to join the airlines. You’ll need 3000 hours to be a captain usually if it’s a jet (320, 737 etc). That’s 4 years of airline flying, could be 20 years post IOT depending on RAF stream. You also don’t get licences in the RAF (Voyager caveats apply).

  • Job Security. Well this is awkward… RAF you have stability, albeit can get mucked about. 3 or 4 years holding to get to the front line for example. However, airline land they ditch the hold and just make you redundant if they need to. It always bounces back though, post-Covid is a prime example.

  • ‘Fun’. This is another biggie, and you can’t price it. Airline flying is rewarding and enjoyable. It is not, by design, ‘exciting’. You’re not pulling 8G at 250’ with passengers on board. You’re not flying on operations seeing very spicy stuff. You aren’t exposed to danger. You also lack the camaraderie of the military, no skiing expeds at easyJet, for example.

What would my ideal path be? Probably military, live the young Officer life in the mess for a few years, throw a Typhoon/Chinook about until my early 30s, then join an airline to cash in. Albeit I’d have to join as a co-pilot due to the reasons mentioned above. But you play the hand you’re dealt.

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I’m not. AFCOs are VERY good at filtering out and screening the pilots, giving them a healthy reality check and signposting them to places there are vacancies with ITT targets to meet!

I think that’s terrible advice. If you are looking at Uni, do something you are passionate about. You’re committing a lot of finances, time and energy into your education - you need something which will work for you whilst you are there writing essays or reports at 4am; something which is personally engaging - but also something which will give you a credible return on investment for your future.


£36kish’s worth of bad advice


I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying. I’ve changed my post though to use the longform, politically correct™️ expression.

What it boils down to is why does the person in this example (RAF pilot wannabe) go to uni, since you don’t need to go to apply?

It’s probably to get onto a UAS, kick the behind out of it, get 100 hours in the Grob, become an APO and spend each summer sailing around the Red Sea getting more AT quals than most PEdOs in the regular service.

If they wanted to be an engineer, they’d be doing engineering, and be wanting to put their heart and soul into that as that’s what you need to do to become an engineer. But they don’t. They do, however, need a backup.

The backup will undoubtedly be a grad scheme, or miscellaneous other branch of the military. To get into the grad schemes there is a box to tick of a 1st or 2.1, and then the CV. That’s why I said do any degree. If you’re a basket weaver, do basket weaving. You’ll excel as it’s a passion. That’s despite it being a degree devoid of practical application other than academia or further study. You’ll get your 2.1 having done 3 hours of lectures a week, with a few weeks bunked off to go skiing. This would fall squarely into the traditional ‘joke’ degree category. But it’s opened far more doors than a 2.2 in engineering, which needs 5x as many hours spent in lecture theatres and gives far less opportunity for personal development.

Same goes for history, geography, arty ‘stuff’, all scoffed at by the establishment as not being ‘STEM’. PWC don’t care, neither does the civil service, or the military in fact. It’s the grade that counts. Why make it difficult if you don’t need to?

What an unfortunate acronym! :rofl: