particularly those associated with the projected TSR2, with ground crew who had the ability to diagnose faults in systems which cut across the traditional trade boundaries.37 The RAF’s previous reliance on maintenance by repair was being superseded by a new concept of repair by component change. As a result, the single-skill Aircraft Apprentice was replaced by a new breed, the Technician Apprentice (TA), who trained in the four trades of airframe, propulsion, electrical and weapons.38 Technician apprentices were recruited with a minimum of four GCE O-levels and more emphasis was placed on their academic training to ensure that most graduated with a National Certificate in Engineering.
The first TA intake (the 107th Entry) started training in October 1964 but, along with many others in the Service, they were disappointed to learn in April 1965 that the Wilson government had scrapped the TSR2 programme.39 Although the government took options on the purchase of the American F-111 this never came about. The members of Halton’s 107th entry were offered a free discharge or re-mustering to another trade. However, most volunteered to remain on the TA course as the high quality of the training they were receiving was very marketable. Equally attractive was the opportunity to graduate in the rank of corporal with early promotion to substantive sergeant after just two year’s satisfactory productive service.40 With no TSR2 or F111 on which to employ these highly skilled graduates, on graduation they were initially utilised in single-skill posts but their multitrade capabilities made them particularly useful as trade supervisors, and in the rectification of the more intractable faults in the complex aircraft systems then coming into service. There were also more openings for TAs to be commissioned in the engineering branch as many of them eventually were. The TA scheme ended in 1972.
Whilst the TA scheme took care of engineering support for future aircraft and equipment coming into service, there was a continuing need for single-skill fitters. To meet this requirement a two-year Craft Apprentice (CA) Scheme, with a new numbering series starting with the 201st Entry had been introduced concurrently with the start of the TA scheme. The CA scheme was, in effect, a direct replacement for AA training, but required lower academic qualifications on entry. Craft Apprentices graduated as junior technicians but without formal academic qualifications, unless taken ex-curriculum. However, this did not prevent CAs from being commissioned, with some attaining air rank and others filling senior appointments in industry as we shall see later. The Craft Apprentice Scheme lasted ten years, ending with the 231st entry in 1974.41
In 1969 a one-year Mechanic Apprentice course was introduced starting with the 401st Entry. Its trainees graduated as LAC with many of them still less than 17½ years of age. This was short-lived and the scheme was terminated after ten intakes.42 Another short-lived course training medical admin apprentices for one year starting with the 301st Entry in 1964 ended in 1969.43
By the early 1970s, apprentice training had reached a crossroads and after considerable debate in the upper echelons of the Engineer Branch it was decided to continue apprentice training with the introduction of the Apprentice Engineering Technician (AET) scheme.44 The January 1973 Entry, the 123rd, was the first to undertake AET training. The winds of change were now well and truly blowing through Halton. The maximum age of recruitment of apprentices was raised to 18½ and, exceptionally, 21. With many apprentices now older than direct entry airmen, there was no need for any of the ‘rules’ which governed the lives of their predecessors. Indeed some AETs were married during training, had children and lived in MQs. The standards of behaviour expected of AETs when off duty was similar to that required from all RAF personnel. Their adult status was recognised by the discontinuance of the NCO ranks and the removal of all apprentice insignia from uniforms.45 However, certain aspects of the original scheme were retained such as the apprentice entry numbering system and AETs were accommodated separately from airmen. However, following a concerted campaign led by the RAF Halton and RAF Cranwell Apprentices Associations, supported by some prominent ex-apprentices serving at air rank,46 NCO apprentice ranks and the wearing of the iconic ‘wheel’ badge were reinstated in 1982. Ironically, many of the apprentices serving at this time were keen to see these symbols of their past heritage restored. ‘After the reintroduction of the “wheel” it was paraded for the first time at the Graduation of the 134th Entry on 29th September 1982. AET Prevett, the Parade Commander, was so chuffed, he wore a ‘wheel” on both arms. We did not charge him with being improperly dressed,’ recalled Air Cdre M J Evans, one of four former Halton apprentices who returned to command the station.47
AETs were trained as dual-trade airframe and propulsion technicians and initially followed the National Certificate curriculum in their academic training as their predecessors had done. This element of the course was replaced in 1977 by the Ordinary Diploma and for most the Higher Certificate awarded by the newly formed Business and Technician Education Council (BTEC). These certificates were awarded for achievement in all aspects of trade and academic training.48 The AET scheme ended in June 1993 with the graduation of the 155th Entry, which also marked the end of apprentice training in the RAF.49 AETs enjoyed the highest level of aircraft engineering training during the life of the various apprentice schemes and, unsurprisingly, produced the highest number of commissioning candidates. At the end of 2015, only 65 ex-AETs were still serving, of whom twenty-six were holding commissions, with several at senior officer level and six at air rank.