Aircraft Apprentice

Aircraft Apprentice

The Aircraft Apprentice Scheme (1920-1993) was a training program for British ground crew personnel.


World War I saw the beginning of aerial combat. By 1 April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had amalgamated into the Royal Air Force. Hugh Trenchard had been appointed Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) and quickly discovered that specialist groundcrew were in very short supply.

Wartime use of aircraft accelerated the development of new technologies. Aircraft power plants were vastly different from those that powered buses and lorries. Airframes, with their need to reduce drag and provide control in the air, were a totally new challenge. Armourers were asked to develop new fusing methods for equally new explosive devices like air-dropped bombs. Aircraft electrical systems included bomb release mechanisms and synchronised gun firing through the propeller via the use of an interrupter mechanism. The addition of a third dimension to navigation meant aircraft instrument makers had to produce new indicators for such things as turn and bank, air speed and an artificial horizon.

For these reasons and others, Trenchard instituted the aircraft apprentice scheme based on No 1 School of Technical Training. This was originally located at RAF Cranwell but later more permanently at RAF Halton, in 1920. RAF Cranwell and RAF Locking later switched exclusively to training aircraft apprentices in the ground and air radio trades.


Entrance to the scheme involved a competitive exam, intelligence and aptitude tests, medical examinations. Admittance was limited exclusively to males between the ages of 15 and 17½ when the Royal Air Force assumed legal guardianship of the lads as "in loco parentis".

Training was a three year course. Five and a half days a week, consisting academic and practical training. In addition basic military training was given. Apprentices were accepted from Commonwealth and other countries. Originally they were required to be British subjects and of "pure European descent" (and were required to prove this if there was any doubt). [Air Ministry, "Royal Air Force Aircraft Apprentices: Conditions of Entry and Service", 12th edition, 1938]


Prominent graduates of this scheme include: Sir Frank Whittle (father of the jet engine) and Olympian Donald Finlay who also fought as a pilot in the Battle of Britain.

Ex-members of the scheme (colloquially known as "Trenchard's Brats" - or just Brats) have their own association the RAFHAAA and their own website. They may be contacted through RAF Halton airfield.

RAF Halton also has its own memorial to the brats very close to St. George's C of E church which is resplendent with very many stained glass windows commemorating the 155 Entries of apprentices who were trained there.


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