That Is Not Your Seat

I was pretty average at school but I distinctly remember the moment my future changed.

I was 16 years old and excitedly showing my Dad a magazine advert emblazoned with the bold headline “JOIN THE RAF, BECOME A NAVIGATOR!” Enthused, I pointed to the rear seat of the depicted Tornado ‘…and this is where I’ll sit!’.

My Dad just looked at me, raised his hand…and pointed to the front seat.

That single moment did two things: it set me on a successful path to become a Fast Jet pilot in the RAF, but more importantly showed me that affecting others in a positive and lasting sense is an art form.

After 23 years flying and instructing in large scale missions around the world in the Harrier and Typhoon, I felt I had mastered the flying.  The art form however was as still as intriguing as the first day.

As part of Inzpire’s team at 29 Squadron I get to be part of the team that trains the RAF’s future Weapons Instructors (QWIs).  Together, my colleague Mark and I design and execute scenarios that have up to fifty aircraft at a time conducting simulated operations over thousands of square miles of airspace over land and sea.  By careful control of the enemy forces I endeavour to emulate my father’s example and provide powerful learning points that affect the QWI candidates in a lasting way.

Me (left) and my colleague Mark ‘Donks’ Doney at RAF Coningsby

The work is challenging and rewarding and results in QWIs that will have been pushed to think differently in order to be successful.  As an example, in some of the missions we create success is deliberately elusive, forcing the candidates to learn how to ‘successfully fail’.  In these circumstances the ‘art’ is particularly difficult; balancing learning objectives without negatively affecting the students. However, mine and Mark’s input in designing and executing scenarios has freed up more time for the Green Team of RAF QWI Instructors, meaning they can apply more of their time to ensuring these learning objectives have been absorbed.  A better output all round.

The trust placed on us by the RAF has allowed us to shape the course, bringing it up to date in terms of threats and advancing the way in which we teach.  The 7 week air exercise TRIPLEX WARRIOR is the largest and longest in the UK and now incorporates a continuous scenario that flows through simulation and live flying, allowing us to use the advantages of each environment to stretch the candidates.  Just like real thing, failures in one mission will increase the challenges in the next.

What I have learnt of this art form is that one moment of learning is built on years of experience; of your own mistakes and others.  It happens through hard work and a constant desire to do better.  It is only as good as the team around you and the understanding of the individuals you’re training.

Now at the age of 43, with 25 years in the business and a brand new PhD to my name I can tell you… I’m still not as good as my Dad.

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