Senior Aircraftman (SAC) Russell Collins volunteers some of his spare time to the Royal Air Force Reserves. He explains his role and experiences to Turn ‘n’ Burn’s Alan Kenny. All images by SAC Collins.
– What is your role within the RAF Reserves and what does it entail?
I’m a Reserve Logistics Mover on 4624 (County of Oxford) Movements Squadron based at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. Reservists work alongside Regular RAF personnel, routinely handling passengers and freight at airfields throughout the world. Movers are responsible for accepting, preparing, loading and securing cargo and passengers for travel on RAF Air Transport, coalition and charter aircraft. This can involve obtaining qualifications to operate a multitude of specialist ground vehicles.
– How long does it take to qualify as a mover?
I joined in the early summer of 2014, so I’m still relatively new to the trade. You begin by starting a Basic Recruit Training Course (BRTC) over four weekends across four months, one weekend a month. After this you attend a two week residential course at RAF Halton, after successfully completing this, you start your trade training. As a mover this is known as Basic Movements Training (BMT), it lasts approximately eleven months, at one weekend a month and finishes with another two week residential course, this time at RAF Brize Norton, where you graduate at the end. BMT is the longest course in the RAF Reserves due to its complexity and the nature of the movement’s trade.
After you graduate from BMT, you are promoted to Leading Aircraftman/woman (LAC) and are assigned to one of the squadrons operational Flights. Around six months after this you should be eligible for another promotion to Senior Aircraftman/woman (SAC).
– Do you have a minimum commitment you need to give a month/year?
Twenty seven days per year. Each year includes a fifteen day block for general RAF training, which is taken over a two week period and twelve days for additional/trade training or training exercises. Furthermore, you can volunteer for extra activities – such as Tasking where you will work with the regulars Movers from 1 Air Mobility Wing at Brize Norton and support their operations across the world.
Additionally there are plenty of “Through Life Development” opportunities, such as outdoor pursuits, sports, heritage/history visits for example. So it really depends on you as an individual and your own personal circumstances.
– How does it work with your day job?
Surprisingly well. Although it depends who your employer is. In my case I’m lucky that my employer is part of DRM (Defence Relationship Management). I therefore get the two week annual training period in addition to my annual leave allowance. If you have an understanding and supportive manager in your day job, that helps too. In addition any Tasks I go on with the RAF come out of my day jobs annual leave allocation – but these are very much voluntary and entirely my decision to do them.
– Have you always wanted to join the RAF?
I went to my first airshow when I was only four months old. When I was growing up I would’ve loved to be a pilot. It became apparent I’d never make the grade and my eyesight wasn’t good enough either. Naively I never really thought of any other roles in the RAF.
About six or seven years ago I started to look into the possibility of joining as a regular, for various reasons it didn’t materialise. A change in my personal circumstances enabled me to look into what I could do as a Reservist. There are a variety of different trades to choose from in the Reserves. The only one that stood out for me was a logistics mover, as I’d regularly work on the aircraft. I can honestly say it’s been the best career move I’ve ever made.
– What is your favourite aspect of your role?
It has got to be the travel and working on the aircraft. Simply because you could go anywhere and dependent on the Task you might have some downtime to explore and sightsee, many tasks are to places you wouldn’t ordinarily go to. The normal Flight weekends are fun too, there’s always plenty of banter and a good social life. They are varied, but you can regularly reinforce the regular Movers on shift at Brize Norton.
– Where have you been?
At the time of writing I’ve been qualified to go on Tasks with the RAF for the last twelve months.
It’s been a phenomenal experience, which has exceeded my expectations when I joined; certainly I’ve travelled more than I expected to do. I’ve visited places I never would have in civilian life. These have included Norway, Minneapolis (US), Yuma (US), Norfolk (US), Bahrain, Jordan, Kenya, Austria, Germany, Calgary (Canada), Halifax (Canada), Malta, Crete and Cyprus. Some of these locations more than once too.
– How challenging is it juggling the Reserves with your full time job and personal life?
This is the hardest bit for me; it is definitely a juggling act. For me having a one year old child as well as a full time job doesn’t make it easy. But if you have a supportive family and work colleagues it certainly does help.
That said it’s almost like living two lives, you could for instance go away to North America for the weekend and be back in the day job on Monday morning – the latter is quite depressing in comparison (but don’t tell my boss!) and it’s quite surreal back in the office thinking “Did that really happen?”
– Which aircraft were you most looking forward to working on when you first joined?
I joined a bit too late to work on the VC10 and Tristar. So it has to be the C-17. I first saw a C-17 at Air Fete 1994 at RAF Mildenhall, which was the type’s UK debut. Back then it was the brand new air transport aircraft on the block. It was being displayed by the USAF; the pilot was really throwing it around the sky, quite incredible for such a large and heavy aircraft. It’s been one of my favourite aircraft since then, I never thought I’d get the chance to regularly work and fly on them. It hasn’t disappointed!
– What are the differences, to work on, between the aircraft?
They’re all great in their own ways. I’m lucky enough to have flown on all four types. The Voyager is probably the easiest to work on and from a Mover’s point of view it’s nearly identical to the civilian A330, there is little difference. Like its Civilian counterpart the aircraft has a semi-automatic cargo loading system, which makes it easy to load and then manually lock the cargo in. It’s also really comfortable to fly in. Its performance is very impressive and the crew I’ve spoken to love flying it. It’s certainly powerful, on one particular task I was amazed when flying direct to Yuma, Arizona that we rotated at the 5,000ft Runway marker at Brize Norton.
I’ve already mentioned my fondness for the C-17. The big difference with the C-17 is unlike the other three types it works in pounds (lbs), the other types work in kilograms (kgs). It’s great to work on, everything is laid out well and it’s really easy to re-role the aircraft for different loads. For example, the rollers for pallets can easily be flipped up from under the aircraft floor. It only takes a few minutes to re-role the entire aircraft floor for palletised loads or back to a flat floor.
Then of course there’s the sheer amount of payload the aircraft can carry. I’ve been lucky enough to load/unload a few helicopters, such as Wildcats, Pumas and Apaches on the C-17. It’s remarkable what it can carry. One such example; we picked up two Apaches, support equipment, some pallets and about twenty passengers, there was still room to move about and lie down. That wasn’t the biggest load I’ve worked with on a C-17 however, once we had 15 pallets on-board – most of those would have exceeded the height restrictions for carriage on a C-130. It was cosy!
I haven’t worked on the Hercules much so far. It is a legend having been the backbone of the RAF transport fleet for so long. It’s fairly straightforward to work on and a favourite of many Movers I’ve worked with. I was lucky enough to have an “air experience flight” in the 47 Squadron 100th Anniversary colour schemed Hercules last year, it encompassed some low level flying near the Brecon Beacons with the ramp lowered, which was a lot of fun.
Lastly of course the newest addition to the Air Transport fleet, the Airbus A400M Atlas. The flight deck is quite stunning, space-age with so many Multi-Function Displays (MFD), which makes the C-17 and Hercules flight decks look somewhat antiquated. It borrows some of the best attributes from both the C-17 and Hercules. It was an experience to work on although it is still working up to its full capability.
– What are your most memorable experiences so far?
There’s already quite a few. One Sunday afternoon when I was still in BMT I was asked “Do you want to go Air-to-Air Refuelling next week?” A bit of a no brainer. It was a big tick off the bucket list. We headed out over the North Sea from Brize Norton and refuelled fourteen RAF Typhoon’s FGR4 and T3s over the course of the six hour sortie. It all happens quite quickly, as soon as we were over the refuelling track the Voyager pilot announced “There will be three Typhoon’s off our port side in two minutes.”
Other than that it has to be tasking. I’ve been to some incredible places, although I absolutely loved Canada, the first time I’d ever been there, particularly Calgary. Also flying over the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon and spotting the Suez Canal, then shortly after the great Pyramids of Giza from 36,000ft over Cairo. All of these experiences that really stand out, especially given these have all happened in only the past twelve months.
– What would you say to someone who is thinking about joining the RAF Reserves as a Logistics Mover?
Do it! Seriously, it is not easy, not least juggling your existing commitments. But if you want a new completely different challenge, it’s so rewarding and well worth doing. It isn’t just about the Movement’s trade either; there are plenty of opportunities to do sports and outdoor pursuits through the squadron. In addition you do get a salary, although nobody really does this for the money. Even if you aren’t 100% convinced on joining the Reserves as a Mover, it’s worth finding out more information and taking it from there.
I can’t speak for the other Reserve Trades, but what I can say with certainty is that 4624 Squadron is full of tremendous people; there’s plenty of camaraderie, I’ve made so many new great friends and had an awful lot of fun, long may it continue. It’s genuinely a career I’m surprised more people do not do – I’ve never looked back.
If you are interested in becoming an RAF Reserves Logistics Mover, you can contact 4624 Squadron’s recruiting team on 01993 897712 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org