Flying High with the Honary Ambassador

Recently Cadet Warrant Officer James Eardley got a chance along with the Wing Cadet Warrant Officer Hope Millar to visit RAF Shawbury with a special VIP; Air Cadets ambassador, Honary Group Captain Carol Vorderman.

"On Wednesday the 6th of April 2016, in the middle of the Easter holidays, I was to accompany the Air Cadets Honorary Group Captain Carol Vorderman on an invited visit to RAF Shawbury. The plan was to take a Griffin helicopter for a flight over the Shropshire countryside and visit the world class training facilities available at RAF Shawbury. I did not realise however, just how much I would get to experience at the home of the Defence Helicopter Flying School.

I arrived at 0830, and along with the Wing Cadet Warrant Officer, Hope Millar. She was also there to escort Grp Capt Vorderman. We both then met the officers who would be accompanying us, our Regional Commandant, Grp Capt Allen and the Station Commander of RAF Shawbury, Grp Capt Jason Appleton. First on the agenda was a trip to the uniform stores to get kitted out with our very own flying suits and helmets. With myself and CWO Millar suited up we returned to the fitting room where we met Grp Capt Vorderman, herself getting fully equipped.

Now that CWO Millar and I were in suitable clothing we were taken away from the fitting room and taken to our first simulator of the day. It was a Griffin helicopter simulator and we had a chance at flying it here before we experienced the real one just half an hour later. The controls were complicated and they were very sensitive, but once I got the hang of it I could confidently fly the aircraft around the simulated Shropshire scenery. It was the first time I had ever seen the controls of a helicopter and I enjoyed my chance to fly one.

After the simulation I was taken a short distance to the airfield where the helicopter was waiting for us. We re-joined Carol Vorderman and met our pilot and crew member who would take us into the sky. After all the relevant safety briefs were done we walked out to the helicopter and recieved the signal from the crewman that it was safe to get on board. I climbed on, located my seat on the side of the aircraft and plugged in my helmet so that I could hear what was being said in the aircraft. With all pre-flight checks complete, we took off and began the 45 minute flight. Flying out from RAF Shawbury past Shrewsbury (I couldn’t see my house or the squadron) we went on towards ‘Marsh Manor’ where the pilot showed off his landing skills. We were stationary there for a minute as we waved at the owners of the house, then took off again and flew some more. The pilot did some ‘quick stops’ which involved a hard right turn which quickly brought the helicopter to a hover. Over the intercom we could hear Carol Vorderman cheering every time the pilot did this as she was clearly enjoying herself. We landed again in Nesscliffe training area before eventually heading back to RAF Shawbury. The flight was an incredible experience, made better by the clear skies we had while airborne. After we climbed out of the aircraft we paused to take photos in front of the helicopter and then got back inside to talk about the flight; along with a little confusion over our landing in ‘Marshmallow’ (Marsh Manor).

The flight had built up an appetite for everyone and so lunch in the Officers Mess was well timed. I was lucky to be sat next to Carol Vorderman and also an ex Air Cadet, now an RAF Officer based at RAF Shawbury. After fantastic food and conversation I was left prepared for the busy afternoon.

Our first stop after lunch was the renaming event for the Air Traffic School building. Renamed the SAOC ‘School of Air Operations Control’, the new sign was neatly unveiled by curtains operated by Carol Vorderman. The honorary Group Captain, CWO Millar and I were greeted there by a guard of honour which made us all feel very special and it was an honour to be there at the renaming. It didn’t stop there though as I was sat at a computer screen and got a chance to learn the basics of air traffic control including how to guide an aircraft in to land. It was difficult as there was a lot to think about all at once but I enjoyed it.

We were next shown the state of the art Air Traffic Control simulator with huge screens covering the walls. The whole room simulated an air traffic tower and the experience in there was my personal favourite of the day. I was assigned to be the ground controller while Carol Vorderman would control the air traffic. I was taught how to deal with the scenarios that were played out on the screens and how to communicate with pilots and the air traffic controller. The equipment was so realistic and I felt very lucky to have a chance to use it. The role play finished when an emergency was simulated and we had to act in the way real air traffic controllers would had it been a real plane crash. I learnt so much in there and enjoyed myself a lot. After the scenario was complete we waited for Carol Vorderman to finish a long interview with the Shropshire Star and then moved on to our final simulation. I learnt even more about the jobs taught at RAF Shawbury from this simulation and once again enjoyed myself at the same time. The RAF personnel who accompanied us throughout the visit were all very friendly and the people who taught us the basics of the simulators were really helpful and had a great sense of humour.

The last activity of the day involved myself and CWO Millar being involved in an initiative exercise, carried out by the trainees on the base. The task was to get across a room stepping on only the mats, blindfolded. Our experience of similar exercises with the ATC meant we were both keen to get involved. It showed us the teamwork and taught us about communication and leadership which the RAF were teaching the trainees at RAF Shawbury.

Finally, all that was left to do was to visit the Aries club café for tea and biscuits. We had a chance there to look back on the day and relax after a busy, non-stop day. All that was left was to give some quotes for the newspaper write up. I said ‘…a brilliant day at RAF Shawbury which marks the end of my time as Shawbury’s Station Commander’s’ Cadet perfectly. This is another experience that the Air Cadets has given me that I wouldn’t have had anywhere else’. I still stand by these words because it was one of the best things I’ve done with the cadets. It gave me a real insight into the work done at RAF Shawbury and I was able to try out the world class facilities that no-one, other than the trainees, would be able to use."

CWO James Eardley
RAF Shawbury Station Commanders Cadet
West Mercian Wing
Posted on 13 May 2016 by FS Lyons
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