Working as a RAF Weapons systems operator

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Sergeant Gail Kelly is a weapons systems operator in the RAF. She flies around the world in a maritime surveillance aircraft, locating and tracking targets underwater and on the surface of the sea.

Did you always want to fly?

Yes and that's why I decided to join the RAF. We usually fly three or four missions a week, and we go all over the world.

Who's in the aircraft with you?

We're a crew of 12, including the pilot and navigator. Crews tend to stay together for a long time so we get to know each others' personalities and how best to work as a team. There's a lot of banter and we all get on really well.

What does a typical day involve?

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It's not a nine to five job. Flights can be scheduled to start at any time of the day or night. But on a typical mission, I could be doing anything from tracking a submarine, to taking photographs of the surface of the sea, to acting as a lookout on a search and rescue operation.

What's it like when you find something?

I get a real buzz. It's incredibly exciting to locate a submarine and then start tracking it. And there's nothing more satisfying than being on search and rescue duty, chucking out the dinghy and picking up an injured sailor.

How often do you go abroad?

I probably spend about three months of each year overseas. I've recently been on exercise in the United States, where we were practising tracking submarines around the ocean. I've also been to Cyprus, Tenerife, Malaysia, the Middle East and Japan.

What's the best thing about your job?

I love the fact that I can come into work in the morning and be told that I'm flying off to Puerto Rico or the Canary Islands the next day. There's no routine whatsoever, which makes life incredibly exciting.

Gail's tips

  • The more you put into life in the RAF, the more you'll get out.
  • You have to get used to the fact that sometimes you need to cancel your social life because of your job.

Becoming a Weapons systems operator

  • To join as a weapons systems operator, you need at least five GCSEs at Grade C or above, including English language, maths and a physics-based science subject.
  • The training course lasts for about 18 months and you'll study aircraft systems, survival skills, submarines, acoustics and electronic warfare.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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