James Wilkinson won an RAF Association Flying Scholarship in May 2013. By September 2018 he had completed his basic fast jet training with the RAF. The Association spoke to him about his ambitions and his journey.
Where are you stationed and what do you do in the RAF now?
I am currently stationed at RAF Linton-on-Ouse where I have just completed Basic Fast Jet Training on the Tucano. I started here in October 2017 having streamed fast jets post elementary flying training on the Grob Tutor back in June 2017. I’ll receive my wings in September this year having successfully completed the course. I am due to hold now before advanced flying training on the Hawk T2 at RAF Valley.
How long have you been in the RAF? Have you always had the same trade? What were your earlier trades, if any?
I started initial officer training in October 2015 and joined as a direct entrant for pilot.
When did you win your RAF Association flying scholarship?
I initially applied for a scholarship in 2012. I successfully got to the final stage of selection but was actually awarded an Air League 12 Hour flying scholarship that year with the help of the RAF Association. The following year in 2013, I reapplied for the RAF Association scholarship and was lucky enough to receive a 12 hour scholarship that year. Both the Air League and the RAF Association scholarship were undertaken at South Warwickshire Flying School. The year after I completed the air cadet pilot scheme which gave me a further 12 hours at Tayside Aviation, Dundee.
Did you win 12 hours or 35 hours flying scholarship?
What did you go on to do after the scholarship (university/apprenticeship/paid work/etc? Did you top up the training with any further flying lessons – for example to get your private pilot’s licence?
I received the RAF Association scholarship in the second year of my sixth form so went on to study Aviation Technology with Pilot Studies at Leeds University the September after my RAF Association scholarship. I always knew my end goal was to be a pilot so thought that would be the most sensible route. The university course also gave me 10 free hours of flying tuition at advanced flight training at Sherburn in Elmet. This, combined with the three flying scholarships I had already completed gave me enough hours and experience to successfully achieve my private pilot’s licence by only having to pay for a couple of lessons and the test.
Were you an air cadet or in the CCF (or other similar) when you applied for the scholarship?
I was an air cadet with 250 Halifax Squadron. At university I was a member of Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron (YUAS) where I had further opportunities to fly.
Did you have to apply more than once for the scholarship? How many times?
Yes, in my first year I was passed onto the Air League who awarded me a 12 hour scholarship. In my second year, I reapplied for the RAF Association scholarship and was awarded a further 12 hours.
Were you ambitious to fly before you applied – or did it just seem like fun?
Yes. I always wanted to be an RAF pilot and had a well thought out plan as to the best way to make it there with back up options in case some routes did not work out. The scholarships and subsequently the course at University and joining YUAS were a part of my plan to gain as much experience about flying and aviation before applying to join the RAF full time. Now I am in the RAF I use the pilot’s licence to take my family and friends flying between periods of training and I am hoping to add an aerobatics rating to it soon, post basic fast jet training.
Did your flying scholarship help you join the RAF?
I believe it had a part to play. For me it kick started a journey to where I am now. I think the RAF is looking for individuals with a wide range of abilities and experience, not just in flying, but having some additional knowledge in that area certainly helped me with the application process. I applied to the RAF for a bursary to fund my third year at university, but they offered me direct entry instead. So I left uni after two years, with a diploma. I am now planning to finish my degree part time before moving on to Hawks training.
Does the scholarship still help you in your working or personal life?
The experience and airmanship developed during the scholarships has certainly helped in understanding how civilians operate in UK airspace. This is a useful skill to have going through military flying training. In my personal life, the scholarships helped me achieve my pilot’s licence with relatively no cost. I can take my family and friends flying now and it’s rewarding to show them what it’s like to fly.
What would you say to any air cadets or others who are thinking about applying for a scholarship?
Be proactive! I had undertaken a lot research trying to find out about all the scholarships I could and there are lots out there if you look hard enough. I’d say the reason I was successful in achieving the scholarships is because I had a plan, and I knew how the scholarships would help me in the future. I don’t think the screening process is looking for one particular type of person but I’d say ambition was a key attribute of those who got through. Also, get involved in as much as you can, be it sport or music or part time work to show off that you’re an all rounded individual.
How did you find the flying scholarships application and screening process?
I remember being nervous at the time but in hindsight it was quite an enjoyable experience and I made some great friends along the way.
Are you still in touch with any of the other flying scholars you trained with? Do you know what they are up to?
The RAF and the aviation industry as a whole is a small world so I run into people all the time that I’ve previously trained with. I know that some from the scholarships I undertook are now also training to be pilots in the RAF and others have gone on to complete civilian airline scholarships with companies such as British Airways.
I see you are a member of the RAF Association. Are you involved in your local branch, as a fundraiser, befriender or in any other way?
I am a member of the Halifax branch. My parents joined the local branch through me and have since taken on a heavy involvement in fundraising. They regularly volunteer at the RAF Association stands and most recently organised a large RAF100 dinner to celebrate former and currently serving RAF personnel.