On the 14th of July, Flt Sgt McCormack, Cdt Cizek and I began a 6-hour coach journey, with 25 other cadets from Dorset and Wilts Wing and a number of staff, including Flt Lt Williamson, to RAF Shawbury. This camp would be my first, so I was extremely excited for the seven days ahead.
Our accommodation was surprising: a hangar containing a football and basketball pitch, showers, irons and gazebo-like-tents for sleeping in. Each day we had a delicious breakfast fry up at the Junior Ranks Mess and dinner there as well. Lunch was usually packed lunch.
Upon arrival camp in the ATC, we were split into two flights, A and B, who would be doing different things each day. Throughout the week, we did activities, such as Ex. Wrekin Havok, which was a walk up the Wrekin in teams, whilst answering questions and trying to reach the top in the time we had said it would take us. We also visited sections of RAF Shawbury, like the ATC tower, as well as a visit to RAF Cosford for a look around the museum and to go on air experience flights. By the end of the week, most of us had also achieved either our Basic or Intermediate Swimming Competence Certificate and passed our Weapons Handling Test on the L144A. In the evenings, we did uniform upkeep, sport, swimming and bowling, which were all enjoyable.
On the penultimate full day, we had an inter-flight drill competition, which we had been practising for during the week. The competition was marked by one of the Warrant Officers on the base, who was also one of the drill instructors. The results were very close as both teams performed exquisitely, however, fortunately for me, it was B flight that won! As we had won, we were then treated to a flight in the Juno, which is a training helicopter used at RAF Shawbury!
On the final full day, the whole camp travelled to an indoor waterpark called Waterworld for a day out. That evening was very relaxing as there was no pressure to have a perfectly ironed uniform or bulled shoes for the next day. After a game of Staff vs Cadets football, we had a formal presentation and awards were given out, followed by paper-plate awards. The next day we would be travelling back home.
On the 1st November 2016 I walked into Tayside aviation in Scotland for the first time. I was about to embark on the two week Air Cadet Pilot Scheme with the hope of going solo in a powered aircraft. Two weeks later, I achieved my dream of going solo, before I could even drive! My two weeks at Tayside had come to an end, it truly was the pinnacle of my cadet career and I took away memories that I will remember forever.
FS Makin’s first Solo flight (courtesy Andy Eccles)
After my two weeks in Scotland, I returned back to the reality of normal life and enjoyed sharing my experience with younger cadets on my Squadron along with friends and family. However, I soon realised that I had caught the flying bug and I was addicted to being up in the air. I went to my Squadron staff and enquired about applying for another flying scholarship. I then discovered that I had been invited to apply for the Sir Michael Knight Pilot Scholarship Award which included a further 33 hours of flying training and all ground school exams to achieve a Private Pilot’s License. There were only 9 MKSPA scholarships to be awarded and the prospect of being funded to get a PPL was life changing for me; it has never been financially viable for me to fund my own flying training so this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Highland views, near Oban
A few months later, I opened up an email to say that I had been awarded a MKPSA. The thought of what my summer was going to include was extremely exciting and I knew I had to make the most of the opportunity I had been given. During the six week course I spent hours of work on the ground to ensure I passed all of my exams first time. I was rewarded for my hard work with 100% in 7 out of 9 exams and only dropping 3 marks over the other two exams. I was incredibly proud of what I had achieved so far, and on the 24th August 2017, I passed my PPL skills test, before I turned 18. I taxied back to the flying school after the flight, shut down the engine and paused for a minute. I had a second to briefly reflect on all the ups and downs I’ve been through to reach that point, my dreams had finally become reality. I turned to my examiner, shook his hand and thanked him for making my lifelong dream come true. It then took me a few days to stop smiling and get my head back from the clouds after one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life so far.
After a few weeks of being back at home again, I was notified that I, along with the other 8 cadets who completed the MKPSA were being considered for the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Flying Excellence Award 2017. It was unbelievable to think that there was a chance for me to be awarded another flying scholarship after gaining a PPL. There was no application so all I could do was wait and hope that everything I had done up to that point was enough. A week later I received a phone call from the director of the RAFCT telling me that I had been awarded the Flying Excellence Award for 2017.
RAFCT Director Justine Morton said: “Ben had not only demonstrated great flying ability but also possessed the highest personal qualities. Ben’s an outstanding cadet with an infectious enthusiasm for flying. His approach to flying training was exemplary, setting the benchmark for other cadets to follow and he combined this with a willingness to help others. He was selected from an already impressive group of young people but his excellent personal and leadership qualities won through.”
To be awarded the highest individual flying award one can in the Air Cadets was truly staggering and humbling. I attended the Royal Festival Hall in London to receive my award from HRH the Duke of Kent and enjoy a top-class concert by the RAF band. Having a conversation with HRH the Duke of Kent, the Chief of Air Staff ACM Sir Stephen Hillier and RAFCT Chairman Sir Kevin Leeson was a very surreal moment and another from the last couple of years that I will never forget.
(From Left) Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Steven Hillier, HRH the Duke of Kent, FS Makin, Air Marshal Sir Kevin Leeson (Retd.) at the presentation of his RAFCT Flying Excellence Award.
It is hard for me to explain how grateful I am to everyone who has supported and helped me to achieve my dreams. I owe a huge amount to the RAFAC and RAFCT and the people involved as they have supported me throughout and helped me to get to where I am today. 2018 is going to be an amazing year: my award includes the opportunity for me to be a young ambassador for the RAFCT which I am so glad to have as I can give back to an amazing charity which has given me so much. I will also get to attend the RIAT and Scampton airshows and celebrate the RAF 100. This summer I will return to Tayside Aviation to further my piloting skills and hopefully achieve an IMC rating, allowing me to fly using Instrument flight rules and expand my PPL license. As well as this, I have been awarded a place on the QAIC 10 course to further expand my aerospace knowledge and learn how to instruct cadets of all ages and abilities. I will also be starting my application to the RAF this year in the hope of taking another step towards the career that I have always dreamt of.
A lot of this goes back to when I joined the Air Cadets in 2014 as a 14-year-old. I was your typical hyperactive and excitable cadet and I was inspired very early on in my cadet career to go out and take every opportunity out there and that’s exactly what I did. I fixed my sights on what I wanted to do and did everything I could to help me get to where I wanted to go. As a young cadet, I dreamt about doing ACPS and it seemed out of reach. However, as I grew up and continued my journey through cadets I realised it was a lot more achievable than I originally thought. Getting to where I am today has not been easy but, there are a couple of things that have really helped me along the way which you can apply to yourself. The first is breaking down your dreams. Whatever your dream is you need to think about how you’re going to achieve it, what small steps can you take to get there? What do you need to do to achieve it? Having a dream and just hoping that it will happen is not going to get you very far, you need to be proactive and go out and do everything you can to make it happen. The other big thing is self-belief. Above the entrance hallway at Tayside aviation are the words ‘Dream, Believe, Achieve,’ which sums it up perfectly. Having self-belief is the most difficult part and without it you will always struggle to achieve what you want, you need to back yourself and your own ability. You can apply the three words to a lot of things and it is surprising how much easier things get if you believe in yourself.
One of my biggest aims is to get as many people as I can to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. The jobs and opportunities are out there for the taking and there is no reason why it can’t be you that takes them. Just remember, you will get out as much as you put in. Life isn’t easy; if you had told me two years ago I’d be fully funded to get PPL and receive one of the top flying awards you can get in the Air Cadets, I would never have believed you. However, after learning to believe in myself and a lot of hard work, I have achieved my main childhood dream of becoming a pilot. Achieving your dreams is not easy but, it is not impossible. Your future is in your hands, if you believe in yourself, you can achieve your dreams. Good luck!
On February 26th, CWO Forrest and I attended a BEM (British Empire Medal) Ceremony, at Great Chalfield Manor. One of our duties was to assist the Lord Lieutenant with the presentation of the medals during the ceremony. This was a very enjoyable day and it was great to hear about all things the recipients had achieved.