It is with some trepidation that I now set pen to paper for my first major news update from the Squadron. I have some large shoes to fill in taking over from Neil and building on the excellent foundation that he laid over the previous two and a half years. Nine very busy months have already sped by since I took over and I am still trying to get my “hands around the jelly and nail it to the wall". My first impressions were that l had been very fortunate to inherit a Squadron in fine shape; the organisation was first class and all the staff and students were extremely focused on the job in hand and working very hard. I was also enormously impressed by the high quality work and can-do attitude of the Squadron engineers who were obviously very much part of the team. During my work up training I was very well looked after by Neil and his team and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him, publicly, for making me so welcome and ensuring that the handover was trouble free.
In the months since August what I have seen and experienced on the Squadron has reinforced and confirmed those first impressions. We have pushed on with the core task of training our ab-initio student pilots and the weather has, overall, been very kind to us: as I write it is another cloudless day and summer appears to have arrived early. In the nine months to May we have flown over 8000 hours and graduated 8 more ab-initio pilot courses, new QFIs have been trained and some have returned to Front Line Squadrons. Resources have continued to be an issue and over Christmas we found ourselves very stretched with more than 40 student pilots on the long course and struggling to keep up with the task. We were forced to cancel one course in order to keep things under control but after that fair weather and hard work allowed us to keep our heads above water and the cycle continued.
However, in the last few months there have been some significant changes, both here at Valley and in the wider RAF that will profoundly affect us on the Squadron. The first major change occurred when the engineering support contract came up for renewal. The contract was subject to competition and BRAMA, the original contractor lost out to Babcocks with the changeover taking place on 01 April. The initial announcement led, inevitably, to some doubts and uncertainties over whether things would change but much work was done to ensure a smooth transition, with all parties keen to ensure a seamless handover with no interruption to any of the flying activities. On the Squadron we have seen little change and we continue to enjoy excellent support from the engineering staff.
On the wider front, it had been rumoured for some time that our student numbers would reduce as the Front Line struggled to absorb the large numbers of pilots that we were producing.