Youngsters attending a Falkirk group have their heads in the clouds – literally – thanks to a generous Lottery grant and a hard-working fundraising committee.
Members of 470 (Falkirk) Squadron of the Air Training Corps were delighted when they heard of the £9500 award which allowed a room in the Bellsmeadow cadet hall to be transformed into a high specification computer lab, complete with flight simulator.
Almost 74 years to the day since the Air Training Corps received its Royal Warrant from King George VI, these teenagers now have state-of-the-art facilities to complete their ATC syllabus and projects, using equipment their predecessors could never have imagined.
As well as learning more about aviation, the aim of the organisation is to give cadets skills which they can put to good use in later life: whether it is flying and gliding, Duke of Edinburgh Awards, first aid or leadership.
Although it is sponsored by the Royal Air Force, the ATC is not seen as a ‘feeder school’ for the service. However, a handful of those who attend are firmly bitten by the flying bug and go on to sign up with the RAF or one of the other Armed Forces.
The benefits to be gained from this uniformed organisation are widely recognised by employers but also by those who have themselves been in the cadets. Many return as either officers or civilian instructors, with others encouraging their own children to join.
One of those is Marc Esson (29), who used to be a 470 Squadron member in his schooldays and is now an enthusiastic civilian instructor, putting his skills as an IT manager with JP Morgan to good use in the new computer suite.
He said: “I really enjoyed my time as a cadet and left about 10 years ago. However, a couple of years ago I was living in the flats overlooking Bellsmeadow and saw the cadets doing their drill. I made it my New Year’s resolution to get involved again and I’ve been here ever since.”
Tuesdays are uniformed evenings where the cadets are put through their paces and spend time in the various classrooms doing the more studious aspects of the training, while Fridays tend to be more relaxed where sporting activities are given priority.
Target shooting is also a popular pastime and around the 1960s, 470 Squadron won the top UK competition 12 years in a row, lifting the Punch Trophy.
There is also an opportunity to take part in a host of outdoor events through the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, while they can experience flying at RAF Leuchars, or gliding at Arbroath or Kirknewton.
Flying Officer Jeff Bailey said: “They can go up with a trained pilot, take direction and eventually there is an opportunity to fly solo. There are cadets who can fly before they can drive.”
Cadet camps are held giving youngsters a chance to visit RAF stations across the country and get a taste of life for the full-time service personnel. There is also opportunities to visit bases abroad and one of the cadets with 470 (Falkirk) Squadron is looking forward to going to Cyprus later this year.
But what do the cadets themselves enjoy most about being part of the organisation?
Fourteen-year-old Morgan Hardy of Falkirk is a corporal who has been with the cadet squadron for the last 16 nonths. The Graeme High pupil has always had an interest in aviation and when she heard about the air cadets thought she would give them a try.
She said: “I’d heard of the range of activities and when I came along discovered the opportunity to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, flying and learn first aid. I want to be a pilot and it all seemed really interesting. I’ve been here ever since.”
Fellow corporal Andrew MacLeod, also 14, has family connections with the air cadets and is enjoying it so much he aims to make flying his future career.
The Braes High pupil said: “My dad and step-mum are both staff with different cadet squardrons and my brother was also involved in the cadets. They all told me how good it was and I decided to join.
“I really enjoy it and I’ve now thought about my career path. Once I’ve sat my exams, I want to attend the Welbeck Defence College before going on to the RAF.”
Over the years hundreds of young men – and women since the 1980s – have been enrolled with the Falkirk squadron, now under the command of Flying Officer Aubin Bryce. However, it’s actual formation is still being researched.
Marc said: “There was a newspaper report in February 1941 where a local meeting was called to discuss forming squadrons in Falkirk and Stirling, so the end of 1941 seems likely as they were rushing to deploy Squadrons countrywide.
“We certainly aren’t a founder Squadron as we don’t have an ‘F’ after our Squadron number like the first 50 do.
“We have also been in continuous operation since our formation where other local Squadrons have come and gone or been reformed after standing down like 1333 Grangemouth Squaadron.”
Although there is a central fund to run the organisation, every squadron, which is a registered charity, has its own fundraising committee to bring in cash for many of the activities cadets are involved in.
Around 18 months ago a new committee, made up of relatives, people with ATC connections and others, was formed for the 470 Squadron and in the short period has brought in around £16,500, including the Lottery grant.
Flying Officer Bailey said: “The work they do is very, very important.”
To find out more about the cadets, visit www.470aircadets.org.uk or go along on Tuesday or Friday evenings to the cadet hall where parades take place from 7-9.30 p.m.