How Long to Train an RAF Pilot?

From a recent FOI request, regularly published by the MoD

RAF Flight Training

How does this compare to say, a helicopter pilot, a Fleet Air Arm pilot, a Belgian or French jet pilot?

The perennial question of why no non-commissioned pilots and how much of this will change with the new military flying training system might also be raised, or how does the Tornado compare to the Typhoon or F35?

Comparisons and benchmarking are always interesting.

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July 14, 2015 6:43 am

AS in fast jet RAf pilot? But the Fleet Air Arm will also have some fast-jet pilots. Or is this standard RAF training, regardless of aircraft type?

July 14, 2015 9:56 am

Given that both basic fixed wing and advanced jet training are both outsourced and common to both the RAF and FAA, I’m sure the times are much the same. A more relevant benchmark will be other airforces who train their pilots in places with perennially good weather (eg USAF, USN, Luftwaffe). USAF basic training seems to be 22 weeks basic flying, followed by 24 weeks advanced, and then further weapons and fighter training which is usually covered by the RAF advanced jet training. Even so, it would seem that the USAF graduate pilots to an OCU in about 60% of the pilot training time that the RAF do, and I suspect most of that is down to the weather.

One advantage of NCO pilots is that the requirement for staff tours disappears for this class of pilot, who would logically form at least half the RAF pilot pool. Better utilisation!

July 14, 2015 4:06 pm

How come the British don’t have Warrant officers fly Helicopters

July 14, 2015 4:19 pm

The British have WOs (and Sergeants) flying helicopters in the Army Air Corps:

July 14, 2015 4:25 pm

Isn’t one of the differences between US and UK fast jet training that a UK FJ pilot leaves the OCU qualified if necessary to act as a flight leader whilst the US uses further continuation training at a the operational squadron for this? Not that this accounts for the difference before the OCU stage.

Secondly the really interesting question would be for NATO air forces who send pilots to Canada for the Nato Air Training Plan (or whatever it is called).

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
July 14, 2015 4:34 pm

Is it right that in the US Army you can enter directly as a WO pilot, where as in the UK you can’t you would have to work up to it.

July 14, 2015 11:21 pm
Reply to  wf

A location for good weather training is Perth Western Australia. Singapore uses it too.

July 14, 2015 11:24 pm
Reply to  Dunservin

Would they change the rules in the officers mess to allow NCOs with wings ?

El Sid
El Sid
July 15, 2015 12:14 am

There’s lots of detail in a recent NAO report on the new training system, which is looking to cut the time taken for FJ training by a third. Part of it involves a lot more simulator work, which is obviously less dependent on weather, but the NAO notes that the FAA and Army have much shorter training times (to different syllabi) than the crabs :

This follows up on a 2000 report on training :

On types from 2010 :

The training hours for initial flying training for each aircraft type are:

Squirrel: 84 hours, 45 minutes;

Griffin: 77 hours.

The training hours for operational conversion unit training for each aircraft type are:

Merlin: 29 hours;

Puma: 55 hours;

Chinook: 125 hours;

Sea King: 70 hours;

Augusta Western: 28 hours.

I assume that last one is a (horribly mangled) Lynx?

July 15, 2015 1:13 am

A very interesting question TD. One that should also be examined in the context of ongoing training as well. The answers to these questions will have direct correlation on the number of FJ squadrons we can afford to operate. Lessons that were hard one in the Battle of Britain about pilot training may no longer be valid when combat jets costs £100 million + each and simulators become ever more capable.

Would a reduction in all forms of training by say 20% allow us to increase numbers of fast jets by 20%?

July 15, 2015 7:49 pm

Four year till you have an operational rookie pilot is a long time. The aviation industry could ramp up Typhoon mass production quicker than that in an emergency.

Accelerated emergency training could cut down to three years at most, though. 8 months can be cut by choosing existing officers or NCOs, for example.

Casual Observer
Casual Observer
July 16, 2015 8:39 am

Whilst those timings represent the time spent on the various training sqns/OCUs they don’t account for the monumentally long holds between courses pilots are having to put up with at the moment.

It is not uncommon in the last few years for it to have taken 6 years from IOT start to operational sqn.

July 17, 2015 1:45 pm
Reply to  duker


If you get the chance, may I recommend “Chickenhawk” by Robert Mason. He was a ‘Warrant Officer’ who flew helicopters in Vietnam – he describes the training and selection process in very good detail and the thinking behind the programme – to create specialists who had the skills required by the modern military.