Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 18, No. 10. July 15, 1954
University Students Qualify as Aircrew After Two Years Training
University Students Qualify as Aircrew After Two Years Training
When the powerful German Luftwaffe began its merciless onslaught of Britain soon after the start of the Second World War, a small band of R.A.F. pilots, knowing full well that they might be outnumbered by as many as five to one, flew their aircraft into the skies to meet the enemy. That these pilots held, then mastered and finally conquered such a strong opponent speaks volumes for their character and courage. More important still, their Herculean efforts ensured our way of life.
A large proportion of those pilots who served in the early days with R.A.F. Fighter Command were university students. In peace they had Joined a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron which was usually identified with their university. When war was declared, university squadrons were mobilised almost immediately. Students who had trained as pilots in the balmy days of peace became part of Britain's first line of defense.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force is perpetuating the spirit of those university students, for it now has its own university pilot training scheme. The first products of this scheme. 13 students (8 full-time, 5 part-time) from New Zealand's universities, were recently awarded their flying badges after a course occupying vacation breaks over two years.
Needless to say, the purpose of this article is to explain and to interest students in this scheme. The proper use of modern aircraft and their equipment requires a high standard of intelligence, and the university should be among the best, if not the best, source of supply for the pilots and officers the nation needs.
Professor H. J. Hopkins, Professor of Civil Engineering at Canterbury University College, who presented "wings" to the 13 students, made some pertinent comment when he told the successful students how they could play their part as pilots and officers of the R.N.Z.A.F. "The Air Force relies on team work which requires good leadership and good discipline," he said. "In this respect I believe the university man can play an important part. At the university you have learned lo exercise your minds; in the Air Force you have learned to discipline them. Cheerful obedience of orders can only be attained by unquestioning acceptance of them. This in turn demands that those issuing the orders should make sure that they are reasonable and sound. You have therefore the qualities of mind which will make you good officers, and it is as officers as well as pilots that you graduate today."
Selection and Training
Each year university students are chosen from the ranks of those undergoing compulsory military training—normally students are chosen from the January intake or from students who have already completed this training. Once accepted for the university scheme students are commissioned as acting pilot officers, For the first two short-term breaks after selection students are occupied mainly with ground subjects. The next stage occupies the 12 weeks of the first long vacation when flying training begins in earnest. Each trainee does up to 85 hours' flying in this stage. In the short vacations flying training (up to 20 hours) is continued with territorial squadrons. The final stage is a flying training course of 12 weeks in the second long vacation after the commencement of training. Each student does about 85 hours flying in this period. Except for the initial stage, all training is carried out at Wigram.
On completion of his training, a student is confirmed in the rank of pilot officer and is posted to one of the four territorial fighter squadrons which are located in the four main centers of New Zealand. Because the training of a pilot is so expensive, priority for this scheme is naturally given to students who, after completion of their course, intend to live in one of the four main centers.
Briefly that is what the course entails. But what did the successful students think of it". The writer interviewed six of them before the graduation ceremony and in the following paragraphs has tried to give a reasonable crystallisation of their views.
On the credit side the students were unanimous that the course was a good one. Of the six interview not one had a complaint about the syllabus. Amenities, living quarters and opportunities for sport and recreation came in for some enthusiastic support. Most agreed that the course did nothing to interfere with their university work. Perhaps Professor Hopkins summed up the feelings of the students when he told them: "The Air Force has given you something for which you may have looked in vain from the university. You have lived together, you have felt the community of spirit of men striving towards a common goal, and you have partaken of its inevitable comradeship."
Pay was the major complaint of the students. "Take-home" pay, depending on age, is between £11 and £12 a fortnight. This might at first sight appear to be meagre payment; but when one considers the standard of living quarters and daily rations, the fact_ that many thousands of pounds are spent to train a pilot while he himself gets paid when training the "take-home" is by no means niggardly. But one can sympathies with them to a degree. During vacations their friends have worked in factories, on the wharves or in other Jobs and on return to university doubtless quote £16 or £17 as their reward for a week's work. On the other hand the university student who becomes an R.N.Z.A.K. pilot has flown about 200 hours while training for his "wings" and once graduated, he continues to serve with a territorial squadron at a much higher wage rate. In other words he has gained a most useful qualification.
There were some other minor complaints: but I'm sure that the students will put them in their proper perspective in years to come. In case the reader may think that I am looking at the scheme through biased eyes, I would suggest that he seeks the views of a student who has completed the course. For the record book here are the names of the first pilots to graduate under this scheme from V.U.C.: P. B. Ward law and R. A. N. Manthel.
University students also have their own navigator training scheme. Like the pilot scheme, students are selected from the January C.M.T. intake and training is carried out at vacation periods over two years. This scheme would especially suit students who, after graduation, intend to live in the Auckland district. They would be trained for service in No. 6 (Maritime) Squadron which, equipped with Sunderland flying-boats, is based at Hobsonville some 20 miles from Auckland city. Incidentally, this squadron is thought to be the only territorial flying-boat squadron in the world. Navigators are subject to the same conditions of service as pilots.
In peace the R.N.Z.A.F. is striving to become an efficient nucleus on which a wartime force could be readily trained and expanded. Because, for economic reasons, the peace-time R.N.Z.A.F. cannot be a large force, much of its support is consent rated on the territorial squadrons which would be mobilised soon after the outbreak of a war The R.N.Z.A.F. wants only the best pilots and navigators for these squadrons; it is confident that a large proportion of New Zealand university students like those from the English universities in the Second World War, would be among "the few" if and when the occasion arises.