Aspiring young airmen and airwomen are celebrating the arrival of a fleet of aircraft at the RAF’s Flying Station Aldergrove.
Having previously had to travel to Great Britain to hone their flying skills, or make do with short-term loans, the Northern Ireland Universities Air Squadron (NIUAS) now has three Tutor Grob aircraft to call its own.
In between commercial flights on the Belfast International Airport runway, the squadron’s 40 students from Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University will be taking off in the small two-seat single-engine aircraft.
Younger people, including members of the RAF Air Cadets and the Combined Cadet Force (Air), will also have the chance of up to two flights every year.
NIUAS member Jamie McDowell, 20, from Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, who is studying mechanical engineering at Ulster University, said he loved to fly.
“The flying has been the highlight for me, and flying upside-down specifically, doing loop-the-loops and everything,” he said.
“Being a pilot has always been an aspiration but I didn’t think I’d be flying at this stage of my life.”
Childhood friends Matthew McClune, 22, an aerospace engineering student at Queens, and Cameron Caughey, 20, a biological sciences student at Queen’s, from Newtownards, Co Down, said they had always wanted to be pilots.
Mr McClune said the new planes give them more opportunities to fly.
“Before we had airplanes come over for two weeks and that was hit or miss because if there was bad weather one week, you lost out on a week of flying,” he said.
“Having our own planes means we can fly all year round and you can work it around your schedule – if you have lectures on a Monday and Tuesday, then you can come fly on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. It allows you to progress a lot further.”
Really exciting to see these #GrobTutor training aircraft in the hangar at #Aldergrove - getting ready for the students from the Northern Ireland University Air Squadron to take to the skies!!! More on this in the coming weeks @NIUAS8 @RoyalAirForceNI pic.twitter.com/4DGnMkxye4— BFBS Northern Ireland (@BFBSNI) January 28, 2020
Meghan Thompson, 20, a psychology student at Queens, from Co Fermanagh, said she joined during her first freshers’ week when she saw some of the opportunities on offer.
She said the number of young women involved is growing every year, joking that she hopes to see them outnumber men in the group before she graduates.
Squadron Leader Ian Dornan said the unit’s mission is to attract young talent.
“Our mission is to attract talent to the RAF. With the arrival of our three new Grob Tutor aircraft, we now have the tools to do that,” he said.