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RAF chief opens state-of-the-art helicopter training facilities in Shawbury

By Rory Smith | Shawbury | News | Published:

A Royal Air Force chief returned to Shropshire to mark the opening of state-of-the-art training facilities and continue the legacy of the service's oldest flight school.

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston visited RAF Shawbury to open the Duke of Cambridge Building (DOCB) and formally re-name the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS), to No 1 Flying Training School (FTS).

The move is a momentous one, which sees technology at the forefront of helicopter training and simulation throughout the world based in Shropshire.

The rebadging of DHFS to FTS, attended by Shropshire's Lord Lieutenant Anna Turner, also ensures that the RAF's oldest training school, formed in 1919, is retained in service.

First constructed in 2017 by the Ministry of Defence's contracted flight-training company Ascent, the purpose-built DOCB now has dozens of simulation cockpits which vary in their use of virtual reality, motion sensors and 180-degree screen projections to train pilots before they take to the sky, using virtual mapping of the UK and beyond.

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston opens the Duke of Cambridge Building and marks the rebadging of the Defence Helicopter Flying School to No 1 Flying Training School at RAF Shawbury

On a day that saw one of the first phases of student-pilots graduate from the base, Air Chief Marshal Wigston said: "I'm absolutely delighted to officially open the nerve centre of this world-class military flying system that we now have.

"We are now in a position to train the future generations of Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, and RAF helicopter aircrew and we're able to do it with cutting-edge technology.

"The students that come out of here for generations to come will be trained to an entirely different level to what they were previously.

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"People of my generation just didn't have the advantage of this digital technology we can really harness.

Graduated

"When you look around the DOCB, I have absolute confidence that the young airmen and airwomen will be far better prepared for the front line."

The facility, which has already graduated over 100 pilots, has more than 150 students in training, with plans to expand its schools further.

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Air Chief Marshal Wigston was accompanied by Tim James, the managing director of Ascent, who guided him around the facility.

"I'm delighted that Ascent and our other industry partners are here and part of this," added Air Chief Marshal Wigston.

"This partnership is almost unique in the world and we're finding the success between the UK MOD and industry partners, led by Ascent, is attracting the rest of the world to come and have a look, learn from what we're doing here and see what can be done in other countries."

Shropshire's Lord Lieutenant, Anna Turner, attends the opening of the Duke of Cambridge Building

Mr James, a former RAF pilot who trained using previous systems, said: "We're very proud of what we've achieved in partnership with the UK MOD.

"We have over 150 students under training and more than 100 instructors, a mixture of Royal Navy, Royal Marine, Army Air Corps and RAF instructors working alongside Ascent instructors. It's a true partnership.

"We're taking students that come out of higher education that are used to modern learning with modern technology and finding they are really enjoying getting their hands on the latest technology here.

"Their performances are amazing and they are so much better prepared."

FTS, the RAF's oldest training school, formed in 1919.

Following the announcement that RAF Linton-on-Ouse was to close and the transfer of 72 Squadron to RAF Valley, the FTS name was stood down in 2019.

But in order to retain the school, the three RAF services agreed that the historic name should be transferred to RAF Shawbury and that DHFS should be rebadged to FTS.

Rory Smith

By Rory Smith
Reporter - @rorysmith_star

Senior reporter based at the Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley, Telford.

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