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RAF non-commissioned aircrew

RAF non-commissioned aircrew fly aircraft and helicopters to carry out air patrols over UK.
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What does a RAF non-commissioned aircrew do?

Working as non-commissioned aircrew or WSOp, you’ll specialise in a particular role, such as:

  • aircrew
  • linguist
  • acoustics operator
  • electronic warfare systems operator

If you’re part of aircrew, you’ll be responsible for loading and unloading aircraft payloads. This could include weapons, supplies and troops. You’ll also take on extra duties according to the aircraft type and its operational role. For example, you may load and dispatch parachutists and air-dropped loads from transport aircraft. On Sea King helicopters, you might train as a winch operator for search-and-rescue operations.

As a linguist, you’ll work on Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft. You’ll monitor electronic surveillance equipment and translate radio and telecommunications traffic. If you’re an acoustics operator working on reconnaissance aircraft, you’ll use radar and sonar to search for and monitor submarine and surface shipping movements. As well as tracking sea craft, you could take part in search-and-rescue operations.

If you specialise in electronic warfare systems, you’ll track friendly and enemy movements on land, sea and in the air. You’ll relay information to commanders about the position of units, so they can coordinate operations. You might also work on early warning defence systems.​


What do I need to do to become a RAF non-commissioned aircrew?

To apply to become a WSOp, you must:

  • be between 17½ and 32 years old
  • have 5 GCSEs (A-C) including English language, and grade B maths
  • be a citizen of the UK, Republic of Ire​land or the Commonwealth, or have dual nationality with Britain and another country.

Age limits may change, so check entry requirements (Opens new window) with the RAF recruitment website. The RAF advises that all candidates for NCO aircrew should apply at least a year before the age limit.

As part of the selection process, you’ll also need to pass:

  • a practical initiative test
  • a fitness test
  • an interview
  • a medical

The qualifications you’ll need depend on which role you want to apply for.

To specialise as a linguist, you’ll need ability in foreign languages. If you're fluent in two or more languages, a qualification is not always essential.

Scholarships and bursaries

You may be able to get an RAF sixth-form scholarship if you’re still at school. If you’re preparing for university, you may be able to get a medical, dental or engineering sponsorship.

Apprenticeships

You may also be able to get into the RAF through an apprenticeship scheme. There are apprenticeships available in areas such as aviation operations, engineering, IT and hospitality and catering.

You’ll also need to have a series of background checks.

The RAF recruits new officers every year. Many applicants are graduates and there is a lot of competition for places. If you are under 17, you may find it useful to join the Air Cadets. You’ll visit RAF bases and develop some of the key skills that the RAF will be looking for in the selection process.

It’s normal to sign up to the RAF for a minimum of between 6 and 12 years but you could extend your service beyond this.


Related skills

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Physical fitness
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A-C) including English language, and grade B maths.
  • The qualifications you’ll need depend on which role you want to apply for. To specialise as a linguist, you’ll need ability in foreign languages. If you're fluent in two or more languages, a qualification is not always essential.

Where to find out more

RAF Careers 

RAF Altitude (for young people between 13 and 18 years old)


Where could I be working?

As a WSOp, you could be posted to RAF bases in the UK or overseas. This could be for many months at a time. You’ll be expected to work in combat operations which may be difficult, dangerous and sometimes life-threatening.​

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0


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