Royal Air Force College Cranwell

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Royal Air Force College, Cranwell
RAF College Cranwell CoA.svg
Coat of arms of the College
Former name
RAF (Cadet) College (1 November 1919)
MottoSuperna Petimus [1]
Motto in English
We seek higher things
Type Military academy
Established1 November 1919;103 years ago (1919-11-01)
Parent institution
No. 22 Group
Affiliation Royal Air Force
Commandant Air Commodore Andrew Dickens
March The Lincolnshire Poacher

The Royal Air Force College (RAFC) is the Royal Air Force military academy which provides initial training to all RAF personnel who are preparing to become commissioned officers. The College also provides initial training to aircrew cadets and is responsible for all RAF recruiting along with officer and aircrew selection. Originally established as a naval aviation training centre during World War I, the College was established as the world's first air academy in 1919. During World War II, the College was closed and its facilities were used as a flying training school. Reopening after the War, the College absorbed the Royal Air Force Technical College in 1966.


The Royal Air Force College is based at RAF Cranwell near Sleaford in Lincolnshire, and is sometimes titled as the Royal Air Force College Cranwell.


Early years

The Lord Trenchard inspecting cadets Trenchard inspects Cranwell cadets.jpg
The Lord Trenchard inspecting cadets

In December 1915, after the Royal Naval Air Service had broken away from the Royal Flying Corps, Commodore Godfrey Paine was sent to Cranwell to start a naval flying training school [2] in order that the Royal Navy would no longer need to make use of the Central Flying School. The Royal Naval Air Service Training Establishment, Cranwell opened on 1 April 1916 at Cranwell under Paine's leadership. [3]

In 1917 Paine was succeeded by Commodore John Luce and in 1918 following the foundation of the Royal Air Force in April, Brigadier-General Harold Briggs took over. [4] As the naval personnel were held on the books of HMS Daedalus, a hulk that was moored on the River Medway, this gave rise to a misconception that Cranwell was first established as HMS Daedalus. [5]

The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918 and, as a Royal Air Force establishment, Cranwell became the headquarters of No. 12 Group for the last few months of the war. After the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard, was determined to maintain the Royal Air Force as an independent service rather than let the Army and Navy control air operations again. The establishment of an air academy, which would provide basic flying training, provide intellectual education and give a sense of purpose to the future leaders of the service was therefore a priority. Trenchard chose Cranwell as the College's location because, as he told his biographer:

"Marooned in the wilderness, cut off from pastimes they could not organise for themselves, the cadets would find life cheaper, healthier and more wholesome." [6]

The Royal Air Force College was formed on 1 November 1919 as the RAF (Cadet) College under the authority of its first commandant Air Commodore Charles Longcroft. [7] Prior to this, RAF cadets had been trained by the RAF Cadet Brigade based at Hastings under the command of Brigadier-General Alfred Critchley. [8]

On 20 June 1929, an aeroplane piloted by Flight Cadet C J Giles crashed on landing at the College and burst into flames. A fellow flight cadet, William McKechnie, pulled Giles, who was incapable of moving himself, from the burning wreckage. McKechnie was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal for his actions. [9]

The Royal Air Force tended to recruit its officers from the public schools and just 14 per cent of officer cadets at Cranwell between 1934 and 1939 came from grammar or state schools. [10]

The building of College Hall

The dignitaries present for the founding ceremony for the new College Hall building in 1929. At the foundation ceremony for College Hall, Cranwell.jpg
The dignitaries present for the founding ceremony for the new College Hall building in 1929.
College hall College Hall Officers' Mess crop.jpg
College hall

Prior to the construction of the neo-classical College Hall, training took place in old naval huts. In the 1920s Sir Samuel Hoare battled for a substantial College building. Architect's plans were drawn up in 1929 for the present-day College. After some disagreement between Hoare and architect James West, the building plans incorporated design aspects of Christopher Wren's Royal Hospital at Chelsea. Lady Maud Hoare laid the foundation stone in 1929. [11]

In September 1933 the building was completed; it was built of rustic and moulded brick. Its frontage was 800 feet (240 m). [12] In front of the Hall, orange gravel paths lead around a roughly circular grass area ("The Orange") toward the parade ground. [13] The building, which has Grade II listed status, became the main location for RAF officer training when the Prince of Wales officially opened it in October 1934. [12]

In 1936 the College was reduced from command to group status within Training Command [14] and the commandant ceased to hold the title of Air Officer Commanding RAF Cranwell. [15]

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Air Ministry closed the College as an initial officer training establishment. With the need to train aircrew in large numbers it was redesignated the RAF College Flying Training School and it did not return to its former function until 1947. It was also in 1947 that the Equipment and Secretarial Branch cadets were admitted to the College alongside the traditional flight cadets. [16]

Post war

The postwar restoration of the College was a period of change and uncertainty. Recruiting often failed to find enough qualified candidates to fill each entry (50 pilots, two or three times a year, with 10 to 20 navigator and non-flying officers as well.) The pilot washout rate approached 50 per cent, so RAF authorities debated whether flying training to professional levels (pilot wings standard) should be separated from a (shorter) officer training course. Cranwell cadets were in 1950 equipped and treated as airmen, i.e. had to clean their own quarters and uniforms impeccably, while undergoing both flying training and college-level courses in engineering. By 1960 they lived and were dressed as officers, served by batmen. In the same period the 1957 Defence White Paper suggested the RAF would replace human pilots by guided missiles, at least for home defence of the UK. These vicissitudes are documented in Haslam's narrative [17] and the personal memoir of a New Zealand cadet who attended the college from 1951 to 1953. [18]

In 1952 a College Memorial Chapel was established within College Hall. [19] Ten years later it was relocated to the then new College Church, St Michael and All Angels, which is situated nearby to the south-east of College Hall. [20]

Cranwell became the entry point for all those who wished to become permanent officers in the RAF. Initially the course took two years, but by the 1950s this had expanded to three. Basic training was provided on Percival Provosts. However, with the arrival of No. 81 Entry in September 1959, the college gave students the option of taking a degree and allowed them to fly Jet Provosts. [21]

A new academic building, now known as Whittle Hall, was built to support the expanded syllabus. It was opened in 1962 by Sir Frank Whittle, who had attended Cranwell as a young officer and had subsequently invented the turbojet engine. [22]

In 1966 the Royal Air Force Technical College at RAF Henlow, a similar cadet college for engineering officers, was merged with the College at Cranwell. [23]

Current training and organisation

The College is the RAF equivalent of the Royal Navy's Britannia Royal Naval College and the British Army's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. At present, most RAF officer cadets complete a 24-week course within the RAF Officer Training Academy (RAFOTA), [24] Cranwell intakes usually take place at six week intervals throughout the year. [25]

Omani officer cadet saluting British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cranwell sword presentation.jpg
Omani officer cadet saluting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In addition to the many British officer cadets who have passed through Cranwell, graduating cadets have come from many countries around the world, including Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago and Paraguay. [26] [27] [28] [29] RAFOTA also provides Specialist Officer Initial Training (SOIT) courses for medical and dental officers, chaplains, legal officers and nursing officers, and for officers rejoining the Service or transferring from the sister services. [24] A small number of short induction courses cater for warrant officers selected for commissioning, university cadets, bursars and Volunteer Reserve officers. In addition, RAFOTA delivers a 2-week Reserve Officer Initial Training course for Full Time Reservists, Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF), Mobile Meteorological Unit and Reserve Officers. [24] The College awards the Sword of Honour to the most outstanding student officer of the year. [30]

Current organisation is as follows; [31]

Band of the Royal Air Force College

The band prepares for a graduation parade at College Hall Band of the Royal Air Force College.jpg
The band prepares for a graduation parade at College Hall

Based at RAF Cranwell, the Band of the Royal Air Force College is one of three established Bands in the RAF. Originally formed to support the Royal Air Force College, the band is now administered by RAF Music Services. In addition to its duties at Cranwell, the Band takes part in major events such as the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and the Edinburgh Tattoo as well as a busy schedule of services and charity engagements. [32]


The Commandant is the air officer in charge of the College. Under the present organisation of the RAF, the Commandant reports to Air Officer Commanding No. 22 Group [33] who has Service-wide responsibility for training. From 1920 to 1936 the College Commandant was double-hatted as the Air Officer Commanding RAF Cranwell.


Graduated officers and families in the afternoon after a passing out parade Graduates front of College Hall.jpg
Graduated officers and families in the afternoon after a passing out parade

Cranwell has had many famous graduates. As there have been many notable RAF officers who were commissioned from Cranwell, a fair and representative list would be impractical. Therefore, only those who are notable in other ways are listed below:





Coat of arms of Royal Air Force College Cranwell
RAF College Cranwell CoA.svg
December 1929, May 1972 (supporters)
On a wreath of the colours a figure representing Daedalus proper.
Azure on a Chevron between three Cranes Volant all Argent as many torteaux each charged with a Lion’s face Or.
On either side an Eagle wings addorsed and inverted Argent beaked and legged Gules langued and armed Azure gorged with an Astral Crown Or charged with a Fleur-de-Lys Or the dexter fimbriated Vert the sinister fimbriated Gules.


  1. Pine, L G (1983). A Dictionary of mottoes. London: Routledge & K. Paul. p.  126. ISBN   0-7100-9339-X.
  2. Barass, Malcolm. "Sir Godfrey Paine". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  3. Halpenny (1981), p.74
  4. Haslam, E B (1982). The history of Royal Air Force Cranwell. London: HMSO. p. 10. ISBN   0-11-772359-2.
  5. "College History". Royal Air Force. 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
  6. Goodall, Philip (2015). My Target Was Leningrad: V Force: Preserving Our Democracy. Fontill. ISBN   978-1781551813.
  7. Phillips-Evans, J. The Longcrofts: 500 Years of a British Family (Amazon, 2012)
  8. Jefford, C. G. (2014). Observers and Navigators And Other Non-Pilot Aircrew in the RFC, RNAS and RAF. pp. 60, 228. ISBN   9781909808409.
  9. Commonwealth War Graves Commission - McKECHNIE, WILLIAM NEIL. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  10. O'Connor, Steven (2014). Irish Officers in the British Forces, 1922–45. Houndmills, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 16. ISBN   978-1-137-35086-2.
  11. "Aerodrome Foundation Stone Laid By Lady Hoare 1929". British Pathe News. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  12. 1 2 Good Stuff IT Services. "College Hall at Royal Air Force Cranwell - Cranwell, Brauncewell and Byard's Leap - Lincolnshire - England | British Listed Buildings". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  13. "RAF Cranwell - College History". 2009. Archived from the original on 25 May 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  14. "RAF Commands formed between 1918–1919". Archived from the original on 8 January 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  15. "Other Establishments - Schools and Staff Colleges". Archived from the original on 15 June 2002. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  16. Downes, Cathy (1991). Special trust and confidence: the making of an officer. Routledge. p. 23. ISBN   0-7146-3354-2 . Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  17. Haslam, E.B., History of RAF Cranwell (HMSO 1982)
  18. Hancock, Rutherford M., Flight Cadet: Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, (Pentland Press, 1996.)
  19. Haslam, p. 83
  20. Haslam, p. 96
  21. "The Passing out of No. 81 Entry". Old Cranwellians. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  22. "New Academic Building At Cranwell (1962)". British Pathe. Retrieved 7 July 2019.
  23. "RAF Cranwell - College Coat Of Arms". 2009. Archived from the original on 11 June 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2009.
  24. 1 2 3 RAF College Cranwell. OACTU
  25. "RAF IOT". the Student Room. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  26. "Officer Cadet Kithsiri Honored From Cranwell Royal Air Force Academy | Sri Lanka Air Force". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  27. "RAF College Cranwell - People - News - The Independent". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  28. "Officer cadets mark their graduation at RAF College Cranwell - Grantham Journal". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  29. "Officer Cadet Ramírez Honored From Cranwell Royal Air Force Academy | Paraguayan Air Force".
  30. Hudson-Knight, Paul (1 November 2013). "Pilots of the Caribbean - The Sword of Honour". RAF Museum . Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  31. "RAF College Cranwell". Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  32. "Royal Air Force Music Services - The Band of The Royal Air Force College". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  33. "Search Results". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  34. "D Harries_P". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  35. Air Commodore W E G Bryant
  36. "Air Rank and Air Appointments List 02/2010". Archived from the original on 5 April 2011. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
  37. "It's all change for top brass at RAF College Cranwell - Sleaford Standard". Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  38. "Senior Appointments". Royal Air Force. Retrieved 8 October 2021.
  39. "70th Anniversary Of Jet Engine Flight Commemorated At RAF Cranwell".
  40. "'RAF College Cranwell'". Archived from the original on 29 April 2021. Retrieved 11 November 2022.

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