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Royal Air Force College Cranwell Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Coat of arms of the Royal Air Force College
Active 1919-Present
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Type Training
Role Initial officer training
Part of No. 22 Group
Based at RAF Cranwell
Motto(s) Superna Petimus (Latin: We seek higher things)
March The Lincolnshire Poacher
Commandant Air Commodore D Stubbs
Ceremonial chief HM Queen Elizabeth II

The Royal Air Force College (RAFC) styled as RAF College Cranwell is the Royal Air Force training and education academy which provides initial training to all RAF personnel who are preparing to be 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. In recent years it has incorporated the Air Power Studies Division of King's College London. 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.


The Lord Trenchard inspecting cadets

Cranwell was first established in 1916 as the Navy air training centre and airships were operational there until the end of World War I.

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[1] in order that the navy would no longer need to make use of the Central Flying School. The Royal Navy's Central Depot and Training Establishment opened on 1 April 1916 at Cranwell under Paine's leadership. In 1917 Paine was succeeded by Commodore Luce and in 1918 following the foundation of the RAF in April, Brigadier-General Briggs took over[2] and Cranwell became the headquarters of No. 12 Group. After the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard felt determined to maintain the Air Force as an independent service rather than let the Army and Royal 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."

In practice this meant that (unlike RMC Sandhurst cadets) Cranwell cadets could not reach the temptations of London in their free time. When first occupied, the site was largely empty fields: it is now ornamented by several avenues of mature trees, many commemoratively marked with plaques naming the distinguished guests who planted them 1920-1970.

College Hall

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 Alexander Holcombe Longcroft.[3] On 5 February 1920 the College was raised to command status. It is the oldest military air academy in the world.

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.

In 1936 the College was reduced from command to group status within Training Command[4] and the commandant ceased to hold the title of Air Officer Commanding RAF Cranwell.[5]

Just before the outbreak of World War II, the Air Ministry closed the College as an initial officer training establishment. With the need to generate 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 the Equipment and Secretarial Branch cadets were admitted to the College alongside the traditional flight cadets.[6]

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.[7] The College functioned 1919-71 as a cadet college (like RMC Sandhurst) graduates receiving permanent RAF commissions after a residential course of two to three years. These trainees now include women, and the Royal Air Force College Cranwell is today the RAF's only initial officer training establishment.

College Hall

The dignitaries present for the founding ceremony for the new College Hall building in 1929.

Prior to the construction of the neo-classical College Hall, training took place in old naval huts. In the 1920s Sir Samuel Hoare (later Lord Templewood) 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. In September 1933 the building was completed; it was built of rustic and moulded brick. Its frontage was 800 feet (240 m).

In front of the Hall, orange gravel paths lead around a roughly circular grass area ("The Orange") toward the parade ground.[8] The building has been used for RAF officer training since HRH the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) officially opened it in October 1934. In 1987 the building was given Grade II listed status.[9]

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 32-week course within the College's Officer and Aircrew Cadet Training Unit (OACTU),[10] commanded since 2010 by Group Captain Peter Jones, before they are commissioned. Within OACTU the officer cadets undertake transformational leadership tuition, academic air power studies (including ethics and strategic thinking) delivered under contract by Kings College London, military skills, essential service knowledge, drill and physical training.

Omani officer cadet saluting British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In addition to the many British officer cadets which have passed through Cranwell, the College has graduated cadets from Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago.[11][12][13] OACTU also provides Special Entrant and Re-entrant (SERE) courses for medical and dental officers, chaplains, legal officers and nursing officers, and for officers rejoining the Service or transferring from the sister services.[10] There are also a small number of short induction courses for warrant officers selected for commissioning, university cadets, bursars and Volunteer Reserve officers. In addition, OACTU delivers a 2 week Reserve Officer Initial Training course for Full Time Reservists, Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF), Mobile Meteorological Unit and Aviation Officers.[10]

The Band of the Royal Air Force College

The band prepare 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. 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.[14]


The Commandant is the air officer in charge of the College. The current incumbent is Air Commodore D Stubbs. Under the present organization of the RAF, the Commandant reports to Air Officer Commanding No. 22 Group[15] who has Service-wide responsibility for training. From 1920 to 1936 the College Commandant was double-hatted as the Air Officer Commanding RAF Cranwell.

  • 1 November 1919 Air Commodore C A H Longcroft (5 February 1920 appointed AOC RAF Cranwell)
  • 15 August 1923 Air Commodore A E Borton
  • 1 November 1926 Air Vice-Marshal F C Halahan
  • 16 December 1929 Air Vice-Marshal A M Longmore
  • 30 January 1933 Air Vice-Marshal W G S Mitchell
  • 3 December 1934 Air Vice-Marshal H M Cave-Browne-Cave
  • 21 December 1936 Air Vice-Marshal J E A Baldwin
  • 15 August 1939 Air Commodore D Harries (the reference raises doubt about this appointment)
  • Dates unknown Air Commodore R Halley (the reference raises significant doubt about this appointment)
  • July 1945 Air Commodore W E G Bryant (died while holding the post of Commandant)[16]
  • 12 October 1946 Air Commodore R L R Atcherley
  • 1 January 1949 Air Commodore G R Beamish
  • 31 July 1950 Air Commodore L F Sinclair
  • 25 August 1952 Air Commodore H Eeles
  • 16 April 1956 Air Commodore T A B Parselle
  • 26 August 1958 Air Commodore D F Spotswood
  • 16 April 1961 Air Commodore E D McK Nelson
  • 21 August 1963 Air Commodore M D Lyne
  • 28 December 1964 Air Commodore, later Air Vice-Marshal I D N Lawson
  • 1 February 1967 Air Vice-Marshal T N Stack
  • 9 March 1970 Air Vice-Marshal F D Hughes
  • 23 September 1972 Air Vice-Marshal R D Austen-Smith
  • 9 July 1975 Air Vice-Marshal W E Colahan
  • 28 January 1978 Air Vice-Marshal D Harcourt-Smith
  • 9 January 1980 Air Vice-Marshal B Brownlow
  • 31 January 1982 Air Vice-Marshal R C F Peirse
  • 18 January 1985 Air Vice-Marshal E H Macey
  • 17 July 1987 Air Vice-Marshal R H Wood
  • 8 December 1989 Air Vice-Marshal R M Austin
  • 21 February 1992 Air Vice-Marshal D Cousins
  • 7 October 1994 Air Vice-Marshal A J Stables
  • 22 January 1997 Air Vice-Marshal J H Thompson
  • 30 July 1998 Air Vice-Marshal T W Rimmer
  • 21 July 2000 Air Vice-Marshal H G MacKay
  • 27 June 2002 Air Vice-Marshal A J Smith
  • Month unknown 2003 Air Commodore M C Barter
  • 24 November 2005 Air Commodore R B Cunningham
  • 4 April 2008 Air Commodore A D Stevenson
  • 3 June 2010 Air Commodore P N Oborn CBE[17]
  • March 2012 Air Commodore D Stubbs[18]


Graduated officers and families in the afternoon after a passing out parade

For more information, see the category: Graduates of the Royal Air Force College Cranwell.

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:


  • Prince Bandar bin Sultan
  • Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
  • Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein
  • Prince Charles (underwent training as a jet pilot at Cranwell but did not complete the full course)
  • Prince William (gained his RAF wings on 11 April 2008 but did not complete officer training at Cranwell, rather with the Army at Sandhurst)
  • Prince Muhammad bin Saad



See also

  • Cranwell


  1. Barass, Malcolm. Air of Authority "Sir Godfrey Paine". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Air of Authority. Retrieved 15 November 2011. 
  2. Haslam, E B (1982). The history of Royal Air Force Cranwell. London: HMSO. p. 10. ISBN 0-11-772359-2. 
  3. Phillips-Evans, J. The Longcrofts: 500 Years of a British Family (Amazon, 2012)
  4. RAF Commands formed between 1918 - 1919
  5. Other Establishments - Schools and Staff Colleges
  6. Downes, Cathy (1991). Special trust and confidence: the making of an officer. Routledge. p. 23. ISBN 0-7146-3354-2. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  7. "RAF Cranwell - College Coat Of Arms". 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  8. "RAF Cranwell - College History". 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  9. College Hall at Royal Air Force Cranwell, Cranwell And Byards Leap
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 RAF College Cranwell. OACTU. RAF Cranwell. Retrieved on 2007-06-26.
  14. Band website
  16. Air Commodore W E G Bryant
  17. "Air Rank and Air Appointments List 02/2010". Retrieved 5 April 2011. 


External links

Coordinates: 53°02′12″N 0°30′38″W / 53.0368°N 0.5105°W / 53.0368; -0.5105

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