Trip of a Life-Time for Air Cadets
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By Flt lt J H Elliott - 861 (Wideopen) Squadron
On Saturday 12th July 2014, 41 excited Air Cadets from Durham/Northumberland Wing ATC swapped their school uniforms for RAF No.3 Field Dress and made their way to RAF Odiham in Hampshire for a week-long action-packed summer camp.
Every year, cadets from around Durham and Northumberland have the opportunity to visit an active RAF Station to find out what life in HM Armed Forces is like and experience a huge range of exciting activities including competitive sports, visits to sections at the Station, Air Experience Flying in the Grob Tutor training aircraft and on this camp, the chance to fly in a Chinook heavy lift transport helicopter!
Day one on camp was all about making sure the cadets knew where everything is on the Station including the Junior Ranks Mess where they would take their meals and the various sections they would be visiting throughout the week.
The cadets visited the RAF Museum at Hendon to find out more about the history of aviation and the Royal Air Force. Each group of cadets were required to gather information about the history of aviation which they would then turn into a presentation to deliver to the entire camp the next day. After a brilliant visit to the museum, the group visited the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede which lists all of the aircrew lost during World War Two – including four cadets of the Air Training Corps who tragically lost their lives whilst on duty during the war.
The cadets had the chance to take part in a range of social activities during the week including a highly competitive game of ten-pin bowling – which the Adult Staff obviously won!
Tuesday saw the cadets visiting a range of different sections around the Station. First stop was 18 Sqn, home to half of the station’s Chinook helicopters. Next was a visit to the Stations Joint Helicopter Support Squadron where the cadets were taught how to tie up loads to hook to the bottom of the Chinooks. The Survival Equipment Squadron demonstrated an array of equipment, from 10 man life rafts (which we discovered you can fit around 20 cadets into), to the body armour currently being used in Afghanistan. The last visit of the day was to the Station Armoury, where the cadets learnt about different types of weapon systems used by the RAF, how they work and what they are used for.
Wednesday was an exciting day for all of the staff and cadets. In the morning, cadets who weren’t L98A2 Cadet General Purpose Rifle qualified were given Weapons Handling Training, whilst the others prepared for a very important visitor. Air Commodore Dawn McCafferty (Commandant Air Cadets) was visiting the station, and, after a Tweet from a cadet, came to visit the camp in the Junior Ranks Mess to have lunch with the cadets and talk to them about the future of the Air Cadet Organisation. After lunch, the cadets laid a wreath at the Station memorial in the presence of the Commandant. The Station memorial is dedicated to those regular and reserve serving personnel who have lost their lives during recent conflicts who were based at RAF Odiham.
Following the wreath laying, the Commandant had the chance to speak to the cadets about the future of the organisation and she updated the group on recent changes to the organisation including the lowering of the cadet joining age. After that she watched Flight Lieutenant James Elliott, Camp Commandant, delivering an L98A2 Cadet General Purpose Rifle lesson to a group of cadets and then left the camp to meet with Odiham’s Station Commander. Flight Lieutenant Elliott said: “Having Commandant Air Cadets visit the camp was a treat for all of us and it was fantastic to see her engaging with cadets and staff alike. Although that was possibly the most pressured weapon handling training lesson I have delivered in a long time!”
Every single cadet on the camp was given the chance to take to the skies in a Chinook heavy lift transport helicopter! Helmets were fitted, sleeves were rolled down and safety briefings were given before the cadets climbed aboard the aircraft. Two 861 cadets were given the amazing opportunity to sit in the jump seats right behind the pilot and co-pilot and four cadets had the exhilarating experience of sitting on the edge of the ramp whilst in flight. This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that none of the cadets will ever forget. Cadet Sergeant Josh McAree, 16 from Ponteland, said: “I had the chance to sit in the jump seat behind the pilots for our Chinook flight which was absolutely amazing and one of the best things I have done with the cadets”.
At 5:30 am on Thursday morning, 24 cadets and 2 members of staff awoke to travel to MOD Boscombe Down for some Air Experience Flying in the Grob Tutor training aircraft. The weather was perfect and every cadet flew during the day – learning about the effects of the controls and how to fly a light aircraft.
On Friday, after passing their Weapon Handling Tests, the cadets had the opportunity to live fire the L98A2 Cadet General Purpose Rifle to develop their target shooting skills. Cadet Georgia Weller achieved her Corps Marksman qualification after completing a challenging shoot, she said: “I really enjoyed firing the L98 and I was really pleased to achieve a Corps Marksman which I can now wear on my uniform!”
The summer camp finished with an end of camp party where the cadets had the chance to let their hair down, eat pizza, socialise and enjoy a spectacular lightning storm!
After clearing the camp in preparation for the next weeks worth of cadets, the group had a swim in the Stations swimming pool and then headed back to Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
It is tradition at summer camps that a number of awards are presented to the best flight and best cadet. ‘D Flight’ (the female cadet flight) won the ‘Best Flight’ award and Cadet Anthony Shanley from 733 (Newcastle Airport) Squadron won the ‘Best Cadet’ award. Cadet Shanley said: “I have had a brilliant time on camp this year and it was easily the best summer camp I have done with the Air Cadets”.
It is amazing how much the cadets managed to do in a week and many of the activities can only be dreamed of by anyone outside of the Air Cadets.
By way of thanks, the cadets presented the RAF Odiham Station Commander Group Captain Richard Maddison, a former cadet of 473 (Hartlepool) Squadron, with an engraved statue as a memento of Durham/Northumberland’s Wings visit.
Flight Lieutenant James Elliott, the Camp Commandant, said: “This has been a fantastic camp at RAF Odiham for the 49 cadets and Adult Staff from around Durham/Northumberland Wing. The cadets had the chance to find out more about what life in the RAF is like and take part in some exclusive activities that are not open to the public such as flying on the Chinook helicopters and visiting the various sections around the Station. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Flight Lieutenant Tim Andrews who acted as the Stations Air Cadet Liaison Officer throughout our stay and Group Captain Maddison for his Stations excellent support to the Air Training Corps”.
861 (Wideopen) Squadron is one of 35 Squadrons across Durham/Northumberland Wing and is recruiting now! If you are aged 13-17 years and would like to join one of the premier Air Cadet Squadrons in the UK, take a look at the Squadrons website at www.861sqn.org and find out how to join us! We meet every Monday and Thursday, 7.00-9.30pm at our HQ in Wideopen – we look forward to welcoming you!