• Name
  • Job Title and Employer
    Weapons Technician
  • Employer
  • Levels
    Level 3 (Advanced) Apprenticeship
  • Training Provider and Qualification
    Level 3 qualification in Aviation Engineering
  • Occupations
    Engineering and maintenance
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Hello, I Am Matthew

I’m a Weapons Technician, we maintain and manage all weapon systems and their ancillaries, both on and off aircraft, as well as managing the safe storage and handling of explosives. We are a varied trade ranging from managing armouries and ESAs, to loading and off-loading bombs and stores, to fitting and removing Ejection seats. We fit into the wider picture by providing the ‘Armament’ element to the RAF.

Tell us more about your experience

What encouraged you to join the RAF?

I had a grandparent who served in the RAF, which piqued my interest in the Armed Forces. I then joined the ATC at 13, which solidified my aspirations of joining the RAF.

**Do you come from a military background or have inspirational family members who spoke about previous military service?**

My parents were not military, though both granddads served (RAF and Army). My grandad who served in the RAF often relived stories of his 2-year tour in the Suez Conflict.

What fears and anxieties did you have about joining the RAF?

I worried mostly about the fitness aspect, as I wasn’t sure how strenuous the training programme would be. I also worried about the medical aspect as I was unsure if there was anything that would prevent me from joining.

What is your current role in the RAF?

I’m currently part of the RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.

Talk through an average day in the RAF

As a display team, the Hawk aircraft are not fitted with any weapon systems. Our job mostly revolves around the fitment and removal of ejection seats, as well as associated items. We are also heavily involved with the day-to-day management of the flight line. RAFAT is an extremely busy squadron with 3 sorties a day, often going up to 9 aircraft per wave. We all have to get involved to maintain the output required for the aircrew to meet their required standard. I am often assigned to an aircraft, carrying out servicing's, and going through ‘see-off’ and ‘see-in’ procedures.

What responsibilities do you have? How do you think this compares to if you had an equivalent civilian job?

The fitment of ejection seats bears massive responsibility. We must make sure every step is followed carefully and no corners are cut. The seat is a last lifeline for a pilot in an emergency, and it must operate without failure. It sounds like a high-pressure role, but we have processes and practices in place to prevent any mistakes. We also constantly reassess methods and documentation through quality assurance to ensure there is no room for error.

What’s the best part about your current job/role?

I always feel privileged to be able to travel to various locations, seeing some amazing parts of the world. In my first year with the Red Arrows, I travelled to Croatia, Greece, and Malta. In my previous role, I also went to Cyprus, Luxembourg, Morocco, Gibraltar, and Mali. The RAF has provided opportunities to travel to places I have never been to and likely wouldn't have gone to as a civilian. I love the sport and development opportunities, and it’s worth noting that anyone can make the most of these activities, whether it’s going skiing, playing football, karting, or fishing. There is a club for everything, and you can get time off work to represent your station/force. There is no limit to opportunity.

Briefly list your postings and significant detachments to date.

- Phase 1 – RAF Halton (Oct 2017-Jan 2018)

- Phase 2 – RAF Cosford (Jan 2018 – March 2019)

- First Posting – RAF Odiham, Armoury/Sqn (March 2019-Jan 2023)

- First Tour – Op Newcombe, Mali (Mar- Apr 2020)

- Second Tour – Op Shader (Jan-Apr 2021)

- Third Tour – Op Shader (May-Oct 2022)

- Second Posting – RAF Red Arrows (Jan 2023 onwards)

- Reds 2023 Season – Croatia, Greece, Malta + several UK locations.

How did you find the transition from civilian to military lifestyle?

I found the transition quite easy as I didn’t mind being away from home. I also enjoyed meeting new people, so I quickly adapted to my surroundings. You must remember that everyone else is in the same position as you, so reach out to each other.

What further educational opportunities have you had that relate to your role?

As part of my trade training, I was on an apprenticeship scheme which allowed me to gain qualifications in Aviation Engineering. There is also the opportunity to continue further education such as a Level 4 foundation degree. You’ll even be allowed time out of work to attend university if needed.

What developmental opportunities have you had that are not trade-specific? (E.g. Leadership and Managerial, Instructor Qualifications)

I’ve been involved with a wide range of in-house courses, such as the Mountain Biking Foundation Course, which was a week in Wales fully funded by the RAF. I’ve also attended audit courses, which are beneficial to both my workplace as they bolster quality assurance.

What civilian qualifications have you earned, if any?

I’ve earned my Level 3 qualification in Aviation Engineering.

What do you enjoy most about your job/the RAF?

I’ve always enjoyed the travel aspect of the job. My time on the UK Chinook force took me to areas of the world that I would never have visited as a civilian. They were not always ‘tourist locations’ and this was evident with Mali as it was an economically deprived area. However, it provides an opportunity to have influence and improve the local community. Since joining RAFAT, I’ve enjoyed the travel even more. When travelling abroad, we always find time to visit local tourist areas and explore the world around us. For example, when we visited Malta, we had plenty of time to explore Valetta, which is rich with history.

What are some of the most memorable experiences from your time within the RAF?

During the 2018 RAF100 parade, I was extremely lucky to be the Queen’s Colour bearer for No.1 School of Technical Training, which is the only Colour in the RAF that is traditionally carried by a trainee. I was the only Non-Commissioned Officer to carry a Queen’s Colour/Standard that day, which took around 2 weeks of practice to achieve. I was stood only a few feet away from the whole royal family; it was an incredible honour to be entrusted with such a monumental responsibility.

Some of my most memorable moments have been during my time on the UK Chinook force at RAF Odiham. I completed 3 operational tours, including Op Shader (twice) and Op Newcombe in West Africa. This tour involved working with the French Air Force, providing logistical support for troops across Mali in a busy working environment under arduous conditions. I also got involved with exercises in the UK such as Ex Chameleon in Leuchars with 7 Sqn, and I particularly enjoyed being Armourer support, flying with aircrew to the Air Weapons Ranges at Donna Nook and Holbeach, supporting crews as they operated the M134 Miniguns and M60 Machine Guns on board the aircraft. I’ve flown down the London Heli lanes at night, seeing the city lit up under Christmas lights, as well as across the African deserts during the summer. There really is no way to compare this to any level of civilian employment.

Since joining the Red Arrows, I’ve been involved with PR, travelling to air shows across the UK to meet members of the public, to show our thankfulness for their support. Combining this with my time spent abroad in Croatia and Greece, it’s created some incredible memories in the short time that I’ve been on the squadron.

How much do you keep in contact with friends/colleagues from previous postings?

The RAF encourages you to move around every 3-5 years, so I have many friends based all over the UK and overseas. I still keep in touch with many of them, even years down the line, and often bump into people when visiting other stations.

What is your next goal in the RAF?

After being successful on the 2023 promotion selection board, I am awaiting a decision on my future role as a JNCO. I would like to remain with the Red Arrows. I would eventually like to progress to a management position on a fast jet squadron or as an instructor at RAF Cosford, as I would like to use my experiences to teach the next generation of weapons technicians joining the RAF. If I stay with the Reds, I will be a member of the 2024 dye team, where we will be travelling across Canada for ‘Western Hawk,’ displaying across North America.

What is the work-life balance like in the RAF?

I’ve always found the work-life balance to be greatly beneficial. I often get time during my workday to go to the gym or attend any medical/dental appointments. We also get time allocated for any secondary duties or further education requirements. This massively reduces the burden of the workload when going home, providing more time with your family.

What accommodation/messing facilities do you/have you used?

I’ve lived in the barrack block and used the mess facilities. The cost for both is extremely cheap and provides everything you need for life in the RAF.

How helpful is the RAF Benefits Package (e.g. Medical, Dental, Disturbance/Relocation Allowances, Continuity of Education Allowance etc.) to you/your family?

The RAF has some great benefits. It’s always worth looking into what allowances you are eligible for, as this could help you get home at the weekend or cover the cost of your fuel if you commute daily. The FHTB can help to fund your deposit if you are looking to buy your first house, an interest-free loan which is paid back monthly from your wages. You can even claim legal fees back for solicitors if you use the FHTB Scheme. The dental and medical package is extremely convenient as it’s located on your base and easy to get an appointment; you can pop out of work for an hour as required.

What kind of community facilities do you have on your station that you use?

During my time at Odiham, I made the most out of the Station’s swimming pool and the karting track, and at Waddington I’ve used the Station Gym. Each station has a well-established gym with experienced PTIs who can run circuits and other fitness sessions.

What sports or AT have you taken part in?

I’ve been given a week off work to go mountain biking in Wales. It was all paid for by the RAF, including transport, food, and accommodation. There are always opportunities to take part in the enormous variety of clubs across the RAF, such as motorsport, deep-sea diving, cycling, rugby, archery, powerlifting, and many more.

What opportunities have you had to travel overseas with the RAF?

I’ve had the privilege of travelling to some amazing locations, starting early on in my career. During Phase 2 training I visited Luxembourg to attend memorial services for RAF Personnel who were lost during WWII. I then deployed to Mali in Africa as part of Op Newcombe on the Chinook Force, spending time in both Morocco and Gibraltar as part of the transit to/from theatre. I then went to Cyprus before travelling onwards for Op Shader.

I’ve also worked out of Zadar Air Base in Croatia, following straight onto Tanagra in Greece. This was part of Exercise Spring Hawk on the Red Arrows, to gain their PDA. I also travelled to Malta for an air show, as part of the 2023 RAFAT display season.

What parts of the recruitment process do you remember the most? Why?

The medical process stands out a lot as it is often based on factors out of a person’s control (allergies, conditions etc.) which can delay or cancel somebody’s application. I also remember the fantastic feeling of passing both the fitness test and PRTC, as this meant I had achieved another step closer to basic training.

If you could go back, what advice would you give yourself about the recruitment process?

I would provide an insight into the type of physical training required, as going on a run a few times a week is not enough. You need to train early mornings from 7 am as you can have PT sessions at any time of day during Phase 1. I would also say to follow instructions exactly how they are given. Do not try to cut corners to save time. It’s better to be late but done properly than to be on time but with bad results.

What elements of initial training do you remember the most? Why?

I distinctly remember the ‘Greens’ element to Phase 1. This is because it was based around fieldcraft, weapons handling, first aid etc. I preferred this style of learning as it was very hands-on. Joining as an Armourer, it was interesting to start understanding the operation of weapon systems. I also had a fantastic group of individuals which I shared a room with, so the support from others was always there. On the opposite hand, I remember extremely cold, early morning phys sessions. This is where I wish I had prepared more as I was not as effective at PT during this time.

If you could go back to dispel one myth/preconception about initial training, what would it be?

I would dispel the myth that if you are not good enough then you will be kicked out. This is untrue; you can just re-do the training again until the instructing staff are satisfied that you meet the required standard. So don’t worry if you’re not as good as others at a certain aspect of Phase 1; as long as you show a willingness to improve and a positive mindset, you will get through the training.

Briefly describe what you learnt in your Specialist Trade Training.

Specialist training had various segments. We started with functional skills for courses such as Maths and IT, whilst also studying Aerodynamics and Electrical Skills. 

We then moved on to mechanical and electrical hand skills, conducting tasks such as soldering, wiring, metal work, and lockwiring. These were general skills we would need for aircraft work.

We then attended 238 Squadron to learn flight line tasks such as aircraft marshalling, towing, and servicing. Once complete, we then moved on to building 500lb Paveway IV bombs as well as loading the Mauser 27mm cannon. This was all compiled into the management of an explosive storage area, being heavily based around health and safety whilst learning the roles.

We then progressed onto areas such as the loading and off-loading of aircraft stores such as missiles, fuel tanks etc. This also encompassed the fitment and removal of ejection seats. We often worked on aircraft that had previously been in service, such as the Tornado and the Jaguar.

How well did your training prepare you for your first posting?

The training provided essential skills that were required for my first posting as I had a suitable level of general engineering knowledge to be able to jump straight in, getting involved with the armament systems at RAF Odiham.

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