Happy 75th birthday, Air Cadets: Glider fleet still grounded after 2 YEARS

Today marks the 75th birthday of the Air Training Corps. Yet amongst today’s formal celebrations is an elephant in the room: the corps’ 150-strong glider fleet has been grounded since 2014 – and may stay there for another two or three years.

In 2014 concerns were raised over airworthiness of the Grob G.109B Vigilant and G.103 Viking fleets, which are owned by the RAF and on the military register, after aircraft repair logs were found not to reflect the true state of the airframes. Sensibly, the RAF grounded them all while it investigated.

However, this left cadets without any gliding training at all. Although ATC and CCF(RAF) cadets are able to take part in air experience flights in the RAF’s Grob Tutor powered aircraft alongside a qualified instructor, they do not receive any formal, structured flying training.

The Vigilant and Viking fleets were used to teach cadets the basics of flying and gliding up to first solo standard. Staff cadets took on more advanced gliding training and could even become qualified gliding instructors themselves. Although RAF-owned, the gliders are maintained by Serco under an outsourcing contract.

Meanwhile the RAF’s No.2 Flying Training School, commanded by Group Captain John Middleton, a former regional commandant with the ATC, has continued to dither about the process of “recovering” the two glider fleets (which it is responsible for) back to flying status. While a tiny handful of gliders are now in flying condition and based at RAF Syerston, 2 FTS’s Nottinghamshire home, this is cold comfort for teenagers in Cornwall, Scotland or Northern Ireland who joined the ATC to fly.

The ATC has consistently refused to allow cadet units to organise flying or gliding training opportunities with local civilian clubs, instead insisting that cadets must wait for 2 FTS to pull its finger out. After two years of total inactivity, however, the instructors of the ATC’s Volunteer Gliding Squadrons (VGSs), volunteers who give up their free time to teach cadets to glide, will need to refresh skills that have significantly degraded through lack of practice. Many, it is feared, will have walked away from the ATC altogether and found something else to do with their free time.

Cadets and their volunteer staff have been given no official confirmation of when gliding will resume, despite many vague promises from the ATC and 2 FTS. However, Babcock International, a defence contractor, is currently advertising for a Viking Recovery Contract Manager on a two year basis. This would mean by the time the contract ends, cadet gliding will have taken almost five years to resume.

Venture Adventure indeed.

RFA Wave Knight. Crown copyright

Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker cannot put to sea after £14m refit

RFA Wave Knight is reportedly unable to put to sea after a £14m refit. The fast fleet tanker is currently alongside in Birkenhead, having not deployed since Exercise Cougar 14 a year ago.

The Plymouth Herald reports sketchy details about the auxiliary “not meeting the requirements for Royal Navy military training”. Taken in hand by Cammell Laird late last year, the 16-yr-old tanker has spent about twelve months alongside.

An RN spokesman told the Herald that Wave Knight “is safe”, adding: “Assessment of the required rectification is currently ongoing. It is therefore too early to provide an estimate [for how much more money will have to be spent on the refit].”

It appears that despite the £14m spent so far, something mechanical – and pretty fundamental – has gone wrong with Wave Knight. Further details are not immediately obvious, though from what is available so far it may be the case that the ship has failed some part of her post-refit working up.

Wave Knight has had a varied career with the RFA, visiting ports around the world in support of RN and allied naval operations. A number of operational deployments culminated in 15 months spent on Atlantic Patrol Task North in 2013-14, where her 77 RFA crew were joined by three RN sailors and a detachment from the US Coast Guard. The tanker was employed on anti-drug-running operations, with her American guests carrying out the law enforcement function.

She returned to Portland Naval Base in April 2014 and was briefly deployed on Ex Cougar 14 in September that year.

In April 2015, during Wave Knight’s refit, about 200 personnel working aboard the ship had to be evacuated after an oxy-acetylene gas canister caught fire on the quayside. It is not thought that fire is related to today’s mechanical woes.

Last year the BBC reported that two RFAs were stuck alongside due to a shortage of engineers in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary service.