I hear about the QFI Cadre scheme - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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I hear about the QFI Cadre scheme

One of my great early disappointments as the Red Arrows PRO was that I was not invited to King's Cross railway station on 7 November 1989 when the Red Arrows travelled to London by high speed train to meet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother who was about to name one of British Rail's East Coast Main Line brand-new HS125 locos, number 91004, The Red Arrows. The event had been set up long before my appointment but I knew absolutely nothing about it until the day before the ceremony when I found out about it by accident. It also highlighted the problem of having an office at the far end of the airfield from the Red Arrows. No-one had thought of inviting me and that just shows how unimportant the Team thought it was to have their own PRO!

In December 1989 I received my first 'holding officer'. The RAF's flying training machine never seemed to get the sequencing of pilot and navigator training sorted out properly. Even going as far back as 1957 in my case, during my own signaller and pilot training, there had always been weeks, and sometimes months, between courses. This was very frustrating for the aircrew concerned whose main wish, naturally, was to get all their training completed and out of the way so that they could be posted to their first operational squadron. Throughout the rest of my time at Scampton I always had the services of one or more holding officers and without them my job, as I wanted to do it, would have been impossible. At one stage I had eight on my books at the same time and they labelled themselves CRO Flight – although they, mostly (see below), looked quite normal to me!

Above: This used to be my notice-board until CRO Flight took it over. Clearly their attention was not always concentrated on the job in hand!

Even at the end of 1989 the Red Arrows officers still did not accept me as a member of the Team. There was still no funding available for me to travel anywhere with the Team. I had no wish to travel to every display the Team gave but I did see it as an essential part of my job to go on overseas tours and organise press conferences and other PR appearances before the Red Arrows arrived in country. I made it clear to the Commandant, politely of corse, that if I was to do my job properly, whether in UK or on overseas tours, funds would have to be found. He was sympathetic and agreed to do what he could.

Early in January 1990, when I was sitting in the CFS HQ coffee bar feeling rather sorry for myself, one of the staff flying instructors asked me why I was looking so glum. I told him that my job as CRO for RAF Scampton was not what I had wanted and that I was getting little co-operation either from the station or, especially, from the Red Arrows.

"Typical," said one of the others in the coffee bar. "The Red Arrows have always been a law unto themselves and they don't like outsiders. You're an outsider! You're not one of them."

Someone else then joined in the conversation. "You're an A2 QFI aren't you? Why don't you volunteer for the QFI Cadre scheme?"

In fact I had not volunteered for the scheme because I had not heard of it. It seems the RAF was going through a phase when there were not enough Qualified Flying Instructors to meet the requirements of the flying training schools. The shortage was brought about by the on-going operational commitments in the Middle East and eastern Europe. Operational pilots could not be spared to be trained as flying instructors and, indeed, some current QFIs were being recalled to operational duties. I was intrigued but rather dubious. I had not piloted an aircraft for 14 years.

"Don't worry about that," someone else in the said helpfully. "Once a QFI, always a QFI - you don't forget how to instruct. All you'll need is a refresher course. Quite a few former QFIs are being taken on and you're wasted at Scampton whatever your title is."

"Well," I thought to myself, "at least someone has noticed." The very next day, as I was once again having a coffee break with CFS, I bumped into Tony Ryle, a former flight commander and flying instructor of mine from Leeming who was about to retire as a group captain but had accepted a Retired Officer (RO) appointment as a flight lieutenant in the QFI Cadre. That day he was wearing the uniform of a group captain but the following day he would appear to be a flight lieutenant! We had a long chat.

"I wish you luck, Tony," he said. "Let me tell you though, it will not be as easy as you think to get back into the groove. I found it more difficult than I expected to re-learn all the instructional sequences - and the actual flying is surprisingly very tiring."

I thought it would do no harm to test the waters about the QFI Cadre scheme so I wrote to the RAF Personnel Management Centre at Barnwood in Gloucester to find out more about the QFI Cadre. The final paragraph of my 'informal' letter, which I still have in my archives, was: "It is surprising how quickly one loses track of what is going on in the real Air Force, especially at a place like Sealand which I have recently left after two years. I now have an office in CFS HQ at Scampton and I understand from coffee bar talk that there is an urgent need for QFIs, even 54 year olds like me. Are my services likely to be of use?"

Barely a week later I received a formal reply from an official writing on behalf of the Air Secretary. The letter stated that: "We would be interested in accepting an invitation from you for further service. I will arrange for you to be interviewed at Barnwood; perhaps you would let me know of any dates when you would be unable to attend." I went for the interview without telling anyone at Scampton. There was good news and bad. The good news was that the RAF was certainly interested in taking me on as a flying instructor. I was even asked where I would like to serve. That was novel! There were two options that particularly interested me: teaching on Chipmunks at the Elementary Flying Training School at Swinderby, and on Bulldogs at the University Air Squadron based at Finningley. The less good news was that because I had been out of the RAF for more than five years and had not been employed on duties directly related to flying for much longer, I would not necessarily be re-employed in the rank of squadron leader. I told the interviewer that I would give the matter some thought.

A week or two later I wrote again to Barnwood saying that, after consulting several senior officers at Scampton, I had decided that I would not accept an appointment as a flight lieutenant. The final sentence of my letter was: "As I explained at the interview, I do not aspire to any executive role but the rank of squadron leader still retains certain Service and social privileges which I value and have pride in." I deliberately did not turn down their offer but I wanted to see what response I would get.

I then went with the Red Arrows to the Soviet Union and Hungary and awaited developments.

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