In celebration of the RAF Air Cadet's 80th anniversary, we spoke to Air Vice-Marshal Paul Godfrey, the inaugural commander of the United Kingdom's new Space Command.
Working alongside strategic global partners, Air Vice-Marshal Godfrey will help lead the fight in combating threats from other nations and ramp up efforts to counter space-based weapons.
I grew up near Kenley, a former Battle of Britain airfield south of London. I remember being a six-year-old, watching aircraft display during the air show season and knowing even at that young age that I wanted to be a pilot.
I joined the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) when I was at Trinity School in Croydon, and it cemented my love for aviation. Although I had my sights set on flying, when I went for officer and air crew selection, I failed navigator for mental arithmetic and was graded 'marginal' for a pilot.
The best decision I ever made was to stay and continue pilot selection. I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship in sixth form, gaining my private pilot's licence at 17 (before I could drive!), heading to RAF College Cranwell and eventually joining the RAF at 18.
From a pure flying perspective, my career in the RAF has been nothing short of fantastic, flying an array of aircraft from the Jet Provost and the Hawk, to the Harrier, F16 and Typhoon. It was also an incredible honour to fly the Spitfire and Hurricane with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
There have been some truly testing times – flying on operations in the Balkans and Iraq and deploying to Italy and Cyprus in response to conflicts – and some equally motivating opportunities, including my appointment as Station Commander at RAF Lossiemouth, managing the new aircraft carrier project and most recently serving as Combined Air and Space Operations Centre Director based in Qatar. It was in this role that I learned I'd been appointed Space Commander.
Growing up, I never thought Space Command would be an entity, let alone one I would be leading. I remember when I got that phone call: I was surprised, as you never expect it to be you – it's a massive honour but also a huge responsibility to stand up a command. Even though I'm only a few weeks in, whilst it's been busy, it's been fascinating.
Space is the ultimate high ground. In military terms, the exploration and understanding of space gives you the intelligence you need to succeed. And as a nation, we need to focus on it more, as it improves our ability to operate in the other domains - land, sea, air and cyber. The chance to collaborate with other nations is exciting too - there are so many capabilities that that can be deployed in the future.
It's not just a military focus either; our day-to-day lives are full of space-related activity. It's important to explore on the civil side what can be done in the right conditions, to protect ourselves and discover opportunities for the future.
Looking back, I always had an interest in science and STEM subjects at school and although I had no desire to be an astronaut, I loved science fiction when I was younger – from Flash Gordon to Star Wars. I think it’s vitally important to open the conversation about space and why it's significant to everyday life, not just for adults but young people too.
I try not to get ahead of myself, but I am really excited about this next step and feel immensely proud to be appointed to lead UK Space Command. I've always said that I just want to enjoy my job, and I have been incredibly fortunate to have done that over the past 30 years. It's been a hell of a ride and I wouldn't be here if the cadets had not given me the confidence to stay and complete the pilot selection all those years ago.
Air Vice-Marshal Godfrey is Chairman of RAF Rugby Union, proud supporters of the RAF Benevolent Fund. To share your memories of being a cadet, head to rafbf.org/aircadets.