This year is the 80th anniversary of the Air Training Corps. We spoke to Flight Lieutenant Chris Wilce, Officer Commanding, the RAF Falcon Parachute Display Team, about his time as an RAF Air Cadet.
As a youngster, I wanted to be a pilot, but my eyesight meant that wouldn't be possible. However, as my three uncles served in the RAF, I had a broad awareness of military life and knew that the service was about more than being a pilot – so I persevered undeterred.
I joined 225 (Brighton No. 1) Squadron at the age of 13. I still remember that first evening – it was a little daunting! But I needn’t have worried – it was new, but it was also exciting. As I settled in over the weeks, I uncovered more about myself and my interests. The opportunities to get into sport were fantastic; I enjoyed the competition, the camaraderie and the challenge. Like many other air cadets, I learnt to fly before I could drive – something I will always be delighted by! Flying a Tutor at RAF Benson remains one of my fondest memories.
Coincidentally, I had the chance to help Brighton AFCO at an event the RAF Falcons were displaying at when I was 16 and remember thinking how cool it would be to be a part of a team like that. When I left the air cadets I travelled and worked elsewhere, but in the back of my mind the interest in the service remained. Before too long I had spoken to individuals from the RAF careers office and the rest is almost history! I was so proud to enlist in 2008 and even prouder to receive my commission in 2013.
Now I'm honoured to be the Officer Commanding of the RAF Falcons. This year we’re celebrating 60 years since our formation and I’m immensely proud to be leading such a dedicated team, who have achieved so much over the past few months.
I remember being a young air cadet and looking at the RAF Officers with respect thinking, ‘that will never be me’ yet here I am! Being a cadet is great at coaxing that confidence out of you. I look back with nothing but good memories and feel quite lucky to have had the chance to experience so much, around such great people.
The adult volunteers were fantastic, always encouraging us and imparting advice. And what I learnt was more than just practical skills; I learnt about teamwork, communication and above all the importance of pushing your own boundaries - if you apply yourself, you really can reach enormous heights. It’s natural to be nervous when you do something for the first time, but I am so glad I walked through those squadron doors all those years ago.
Being an air cadet doesn't mean you have to go on to have a career in the RAF – I learnt so many things that you could apply to any role, whatever your passion and your path. But it's fair to say I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren’t for my time in the air cadets – I will forever look back fondly.
The Falcons are proud supporters of the RAF Benevolent Fund. To share your memories of being an air cadet, head to rafbf.org/aircadets.