Welling Air Cadet Tim LAWSON was celebrating the launch of the Royal Air Forces Associations new youth organisation rafaYOUTH [sic] having being selected to attend RAF Brize Norton with four other young people from across the country. 

Air Marshall Sir Graham Anthony 'Dusty' Miller KBE, the national President of the Royal Air Forces Association formally launched rafaYOUTH in the Vickers Room of the officers mess, RAF Brize Norton in front of a distinguished gathering of senior RAFA Officers, including Air Marshal Baz North OBE, Deputy Commander Capability and Air Member for Personnel & Capability and Station Commander, Group Captain Stephen Lushington ADC, local dignitaries including the Mayor of Carterton, Mrs Lynn Little and local & national RAFA members and executive. He explained the need to formalise the links between the air minded youth of the cadet organisations, the Air Cadet Organisation, the Air Training Corps, Combined Cadet Force (Royal Air Force) section, the Girls Venture Corps, Air Cadets and the Air Scouts and Air Explorer Scouts.

With rafaYOUTH aimed at young people aged 13-17 years of age, who love adventure, aircraft and aviation, and who wish to support the RAF Association, enjoy great benefits and win some amazing prizes, Dusty also highlighted the youngsters overwhelming desire that any such organisation should be formed around the social network Facebook. 

Preceding the formal launch of rafaYOUTH, a Facebook page was established by RAFA youth community manager Helen Gibson, herself a Cadet Forces Adult Volunteer. Within three weeks over 2000 'likes' were received showing the immense popularity of the scheme. From these likes  six were chosen to attend the day (although illness prevented one attendee). 

Arriving early on Friday morning, the five lucky winners were first taken to RAF Brize Norton's multimillion pound VC10 flight simulator to try there hand at landing the VC10 into Kai Tak, Hong Kong's former airport renowned for the unnerving dog-leg descent through the sky scrapers of Hong Kong. Fortunately, Flt Lt's Ian McNicholas and Phil Webb of 101 Squadron were on hand to guide the cadets in aviation skills and reset any 'mishaps'.

Next the cadets joined Dusty Miller, and the VIPs to witness the formal launch of rafaYOUTH and each was awarded a certificate of achievement by Air Marshal North. The entourage were then taken to the flight line to have a VIP tour of 10 Squadron's brand new Voyager aircraft, and then on 99 Squadron’s new C-17 transport aircraft. The C-17 is so big that the whole entourage were able to have a comfortable buffet lunch in its hold. ISS Facility Services kindly coordinated and funded luncheon and refreshments, and provide a very large cake. Stewards from 216 & 10 Squadrons were on hand to ensure that all were well catered for. All were then transported back to to the officers mess for tea, coffee and farewells.

The whole concept of a 'Young RAFA' group was conceived in April 2011 by Kris Cottier, unit commander of 358 Welling Squadron ATC. Having received an email about the opportunities available for cadets within the Women's Royal Voluntary Service (WRVS), he recognised that a cadet-link with RAFA was more appropriate to the needs of Air Cadets. 358 Welling Squadron and RAFA Bexleyheath & District branch already has fantastic links with each other, as a number of the unit's staff also hold office within the RAFA branch. Bob Hounslow, RAFA Director of Membership at RAFA Headquarters instantly saw the potential in the proposal to formalise the bonds that already existed between the two groups.

'Project Pathfinder' was established with Brian Ramsey leading focus groups and speaking to Air Cadets, ACO staff and RAFA branches, slowly the concept took shape. Nicky Loveday then led the due process, bringing all the stake holders together. Finally, Helen Gibson took over the reigns of the  rafa-YOUTH Facebook page in September 2013. rafaYOUTH was formally launched 2 August 2013.

rafaYOUTH formalises those strong links between the RAF Association and the Air Cadets, as Kris Cottier, recalls “When I first mentioned the whole concept to my most senior cadet on the squadron, [Cadet Warrant Officer Sarah Wilmott] about the cadets becoming part of RAFA she replied - “But I thought we already were?””, he went on “rafaYOUTH is a fantastic and exciting development for aviation minded youth. Vickers, the armament manufacturer founded 74 Crayford Squadron Air Defence Cadet Corps (ADCC, later 74 Squadron ATC) for the children of their factory workers. Crayford was a huge squadron with four detached flights within The London Borough of Bexley, one of which became 358 Welling Squadron. It is therefore aptly appropriate in the 70th  Anniversary Year of RAFA that rafaYOUTH was launched within the Vickers room of RAF Brize Norton, and that Welling Air Cadet Tim Lawson was there to be a part of it”. 

Welling Air Cadets offers fantastic opportunities for young adults aged 13 onwards. Not only is the Air Cadets good fun but it's all good stuff on a CV. Employers and universities find that Air Cadets have considerable transferable life skills e.g. leadership, commitment, self discipline, diligence and dedication. In short, cadets are the kind of people they want in their organisation. There is nothing to lose, and a world of adventure to gain. Further details, www.358atc.btck.co.uk or via the group leader Kris Cottier, oc.358@aircadets.org