WHATISAWSO
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Hi everybody,

Long time lurker, first time poster.

I recently attended RAFC Cranwell and didn't make the cut for Pilot, which was my first choice.

It was suggested that I apply for WSO as my scores for this were very strong.

I have done a lot of research into the role and it seems interesting, particularly on the new P8. That being said, I was hoping somebody with some experience of the role could answer a few questions for me:

1) Is being a WSO a bit like working at a desk? I am joining the RAF to escape a desk job and ultimately, as a WSO you are sat at a desk, working on a computer, in a jet with no windows?

2) What are your responsibilities in reality, away from the recruitment jargon? Manage and supervise a team of WSOp's? But what would I be doing? Command and control?

3) The role on a smaller platform such as the R1 Shadow sounds a lot of fun and a bit more 'me', closer to ground forces... a bit more 'stuck in'. What is the role like in reality on the Shadow?

4) Do you spend a lot of time staying overnight at random bases and in overseas location? (This would be a positive).

5) What is the average day like as a WSO? Opportunity for PT? A lot of time managing the WSOp's?

6) Are there any ex-WSO's here? I would love to hear what the flying experience was like... Is the flying 'exciting'? (for want of a better word). My immediate thought was that being on an ISTAR asset would be a bit like working on a civvi flight!

7) Non-WSO related, what are the opportunities for sport in the RAF? My buddy is in the army and he gets to play sport almost every Wednesday when not on exercise or ops - is this the same in the RAF? They also normally get an early finish on a Friday and a later start on the Monday to get the guys home, is this generally the same with the RAF?

Thank you, some of the questions may seem quite... silly.
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threeportdrift
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I'm not sure we've got any active WSOs on the thread, a pilot, a very experienced WSOp, but I'm an ex-Nav and that's as close as you might get, so I'll have a go

(Original post by WHATISAWSO)

1) Is being a WSO a bit like working at a desk? I am joining the RAF to escape a desk job and ultimately, as a WSO you are sat at a desk, working on a computer, in a jet with no windows?
No, nothing like sitting at a desk. It's exactly the same as being a pilot except when you get on board the aircraft, one of you steers and one of you crunches the numbers, and you never really swp those roles.


(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
2) What are your responsibilities in reality, away from the recruitment jargon? Manage and supervise a team of WSOp's? But what would I be doing? Command and control?
It's like any other job, sometimes you have people to manage (though not until 2nd or 3rd tour), annual reports, secondary duties - almost everything you choose to do, or get asked because you are the right person for the job.


(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
3) The role on a smaller platform such as the R1 Shadow sounds a lot of fun and a bit more 'me', closer to ground forces... a bit more 'stuck in'. What is the role like in reality on the Shadow?
No idea, sorry.

(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
4) Do you spend a lot of time staying overnight at random bases and in overseas location? (This would be a positive).
Yes

(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
5) What is the average day like as a WSO? Opportunity for PT? A lot of time managing the WSOp's?
In the UK, day to day at your base, it's like any other job. If you aren't flying to get up when you want, do what you want, go into the squadron when you need, do the work you need to do. You go to the gym when it suits. The only issue is that on a flying day, depending on when you are flying, everything has to fit around that. So if you are flying 0600-0900 (Z!) then you will probably not fancy a run when you get up at 0400, but when you've landed and debriefed, by 1030 the day is your own, apart from those secondary duties etc. Plus the going away.

(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
6) Are there any ex-WSO's here? I would love to hear what the flying experience was like... Is the flying 'exciting'? (for want of a better word). My immediate thought was that being on an ISTAR asset would be a bit like working on a civvi flight!
Yes, the flying is 'exciting'. It's hard work, you are doing your best and giving it 100% all the time. It's a mixture between a performance, an exam and a challenge to be solved. It's nothing like working on a civvie flight. Civvie flights get from A to B with no task in between that. On an ISTAR asset getting from A to B (or back to A) is trivial, there is an on-going, challenging task to accomplish with complete accuracy, often over many hours, in between.

(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
7) Non-WSO related, what are the opportunities for sport in the RAF? My buddy is in the army and he gets to play sport almost every Wednesday when not on exercise or ops - is this the same in the RAF? They also normally get an early finish on a Friday and a later start on the Monday to get the guys home, is this generally the same with the RAF?
Loads, endless, just organise yourself and fulfill your squadron obligations. As aircrew, your life will be more regularly disjointed by flying, but otherwise, it's yours to manage because you don't have a desk to sit at.
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RAF_Adam
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
Hi everybody,

Long time lurker, first time poster.

I recently attended RAFC Cranwell and didn't make the cut for Pilot, which was my first choice.

It was suggested that I apply for WSO as my scores for this were very strong.

I have done a lot of research into the role and it seems interesting, particularly on the new P8. That being said, I was hoping somebody with some experience of the role could answer a few questions for me:

1) Is being a WSO a bit like working at a desk? I am joining the RAF to escape a desk job and ultimately, as a WSO you are sat at a desk, working on a computer, in a jet with no windows?

2) What are your responsibilities in reality, away from the recruitment jargon? Manage and supervise a team of WSOp's? But what would I be doing? Command and control?

3) The role on a smaller platform such as the R1 Shadow sounds a lot of fun and a bit more 'me', closer to ground forces... a bit more 'stuck in'. What is the role like in reality on the Shadow?

4) Do you spend a lot of time staying overnight at random bases and in overseas location? (This would be a positive).

5) What is the average day like as a WSO? Opportunity for PT? A lot of time managing the WSOp's?

6) Are there any ex-WSO's here? I would love to hear what the flying experience was like... Is the flying 'exciting'? (for want of a better word). My immediate thought was that being on an ISTAR asset would be a bit like working on a civvi flight!

7) Non-WSO related, what are the opportunities for sport in the RAF? My buddy is in the army and he gets to play sport almost every Wednesday when not on exercise or ops - is this the same in the RAF? They also normally get an early finish on a Friday and a later start on the Monday to get the guys home, is this generally the same with the RAF?

Thank you, some of the questions may seem quite... silly.
Hi

Threeportdrift has pretty much said everything. The role is definitely nothing like working on a civ flight, apart from the fact you're in the air. As a WSO you're focused on doing the task you've been given during the flight, that's the role, it's not sitting in the back just transiting from point a to point b.

I can't give you much information on Shadow as there's very little I'm able to, mainly with the work it involves. I can give you the fuller info from the Branch Information:

'As a Royal Air Force front-line Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) you might fly the P-8A Poseidon, E-3D Sentry, RC-135W Rivet Joint, Sentinel R1, MQ-9 Reaper and Protector RG1. The roles of our WSOs are as varied as our aircraft with the field of Intelligence, Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) offering the most opportunities.

Whatever you end up flying you will be posted to an aircraft type and role according to operational requirements and your ability. You would then specialise on that aircraft type for the initial part of your career.

As a WSO in the ISTAR Force, your primary role could be to manage complex sensors and weapons during operational missions whilst gathering intelligence and supporting forces on the ground. You could also be managing a mission crew of highly capable Weapon Systems Operators (WSOps) or even be a Flight or Squadron Commander on the previously mentioned aircraft types plus also the Shadow R1 or Defender aircraft.

On the P-8A Poseidon, you will track submarines and enemy ships or provide long-range search-and-rescue. On the Protector you might operate overland in support of land-based combat operations.

With experience, you may become an instructor and train other RAF aircrew. Like most people in the RAF you will probably change roles every few years, each role is known as a tour, and move between RAF bases in the UK and overseas to carry out your operational and training role. As your career develops, you could also take on mission planning and ground-based staff duties. For your first few years you will probably spend periods of time overseas - from anything from a few days to a few months at a time. You could fly on a training exercise in allied airspace or carry out your role on operations near/over hostile territory.'

Also, with regards to sport, yes there is. Daily with regards to phys/gym etc on station, but with regards to sports you can do and get involved in, have a look here:

https://www.rafsportsfederation.uk/

Kind regards
Adam
RAF Recruitment
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Drewski
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
3) The role on a smaller platform such as the R1 Shadow sounds a lot of fun and a bit more 'me', closer to ground forces... a bit more 'stuck in'. What is the role like in reality on the Shadow?
Can't better what's been said already, but on this one...
Because of the nature of the platform (sneaky beaky stuff), you won't find out much more than "it exists".
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WHATISAWSO
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Thank you everybody, that is really helpful.

Threeportdrift, you mentioned that a WSO would be crunching the numbers. Would they be in the cockpit behind the pilots then, or in the back with the WSOPs?

What do promotion prospects look like as a WSO? My first guess would be that they are quite positive, as WSO is quite a small branch and has only opened up again to new blood.
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Schleigg
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
Thank you everybody, that is really helpful.

Threeportdrift, you mentioned that a WSO would be crunching the numbers. Would they be in the cockpit behind the pilots then, or in the back with the WSOPs?

What do promotion prospects look like as a WSO? My first guess would be that they are quite positive, as WSO is quite a small branch and has only opened up again to new blood.
Bear in mind that TPD was a Navigator which is a subtype of WSO that doesn't really exist anymore.

In my experience modern WSOs are in charge of the aircraft mission kit and very much rear crew versus flight deck crew. That's not to say that being a directional consultant is more interesting than a mission commander, but don't get the two things confused.
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WHATISAWSO
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(Original post by Schleigg)
Bear in mind that TPD was a Navigator which is a subtype of WSO that doesn't really exist anymore.

In my experience modern WSOs are in charge of the aircraft mission kit and very much rear crew versus flight deck crew. That's not to say that being a directional consultant is more interesting than a mission commander, but don't get the two things confused.
How did those ‘rear crew’ WSOs find that? Intuitively, it seems that being on the flight deck would be more exciting in terms of actually flying.
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WHATISAWSO
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Alternatively, I’ve been offered the chance to go WSOp. Being an officer isn’t the be all and end all for me (though I would prefer it).

I would prefer to be Rotary, is there much demand for new crewman on the rotary stream? How much do my preferences come into it?

I am 26 so a tad older, would this make a difference? I would imagine they would tend to put the older guys on ISR.
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Drewski
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
Alternatively, I’ve been offered the chance to go WSOp. Being an officer isn’t the be all and end all for me (though I would prefer it).

I would prefer to be Rotary, is there much demand for new crewman on the rotary stream? How much do my preferences come into it?

I am 26 so a tad older, would this make a difference? I would imagine they would tend to put the older guys on ISR.
Why? Can you define why you'd prefer an officer role?

Preference plays a part, but service needs will come first.

And no, doesn't work like that. Every fleet needs a good throughput of people to enable a good mix of ages and experience among its crews.
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WHATISAWSO
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(Original post by Drewski)
Why? Can you define why you'd prefer an officer role?

Preference plays a part, but service needs will come first.

And no, doesn't work like that. Every fleet needs a good throughput of people to enable a good mix of ages and experience among its crews.
Why id prefer an officer role - because I believe that I have the potential ability to lead. In addition - Greater earning potential. More prestigious, officers messes etc.
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threeportdrift
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
How did those ‘rear crew’ WSOs find that? Intuitively, it seems that being on the flight deck would be more exciting in terms of actually flying.
It depends whether you think 'actually flying' is more exciting than managing the success of a mission. It's probably a lousy analogy but it's like playing football where the people that play at the front tend to be the goal scorers and more obvious game winners - but they wouldn't ever win without the defenders/goalkeeper. But some aircraft are more like rugby, where the forwards do the grunt work and the backs are much more often the point scorers and the WSOs are like the 9 and 10 who co-ordinate it all. There are probably all sorts of holes in that analogy, but poling the aircraft is great, but it's often not the mission critical element for ISTAR assets.
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RAF_Adam
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
Alternatively, I’ve been offered the chance to go WSOp. Being an officer isn’t the be all and end all for me (though I would prefer it).

I would prefer to be Rotary, is there much demand for new crewman on the rotary stream? How much do my preferences come into it?

I am 26 so a tad older, would this make a difference? I would imagine they would tend to put the older guys on ISR.
Hi

You can give a preference for which direction you'd like to be streamed, but at the end of the day it will come down to operational requirements at the time. It will be taken into account, but if you're more required on the fixed wing side then it's more likely you'll go that way.

Don't forget you could be doing this for a long time, so it needs to be right for you.

Kind regards
Adam
RAF Recruitment
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Schleigg
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(Original post by WHATISAWSO)
How did those ‘rear crew’ WSOs find that? Intuitively, it seems that being on the flight deck would be more exciting in terms of actually flying.
You can flip the analogy on its head and think that the flight deck crew are just there to move the aircraft to where it needs to be and the mission crew are the people doing the actual work. If I'm being brutally honest the flying on anything other than a tactical aircraft is pretty dull for the flight deck.

All of this is moot anyhow because the RAF is not training Navigators any more so a WSO is much more like the name suggests.
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FWB
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A couple of points to add:
- The RAF's future is in unmanned platforms, and an increasing amount of operational sorties are flown by the Reaper... which requires both WSOs and WSOps. Here, the role is largely the same - laser-guide bombs onto targets, as well as the usual ISR roles. Also, with the Protector due to come into service soon, there will then be two unmanned platforms requiring both WSOs and WSOps, so there is an increasing chance that that's where your career will be... on the ground. Notably, though, as a WSO on these platforms, as opposed to a WSOp, there is increased opportunities for leadership and manager roles, right up to OC level - doubt that would be the case on manned platforms what with the loss of the Navigator role on FJs? Also, I'd imagine WSOs are more likely to be involved in the training side, too, but I could be wrong? If you wish to know more about the WSO/WSOp role in the unmanned world, Dr Peter Lee's book, "Reaper Force", is truly insightful and extremely accurate (first hand accounts here are rife and, as far as I'm aware, unless you have contacts, this is one of the only sources that offers such access).

If you wish to know more about the airborne roles, there are numerous videos online from Red Flag, BBC reports over Libya and during flooding in England aboard the Sentinel which might offer a closer look at the role. Managing missions, as well as using equipment, is probably the best way to describe the role - airborne Intelligence Officers, anyone? Perhaps not quite...

Ultimately, as an Officer, you will be managing/leading missions and therefore people. If you join as a WSOp and are streamed to the ISR platforms, you will be using the equipment and gathering intelligence and data which will be used to inform decisions, but you won't be making them. If you are streamed to be a Loadie, that's very much a physical job with limited technical (ie ISR-type work) requirement, which is the same for Rotary. Do you want to be in charge of cargo, firing mini-guns at low-level out the back of a Chinook, or leading airborne missions - that is, influencing the use of air-power at the very edge?
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NFI
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(Original post by FWB)
- The RAF's future is in unmanned platforms
Whilst I agree that RPAS is certainly going to become a main effort for a period of time, I don’t think the need for manned platforms will ever disappear entirely. Aviation is a broad subject and the tech is a long way off from fully autonomous ops across the main disciplines (FJ, RW, multis). It’s settled nicely in the niche market of long loiter, decent optics with a strike capability though.
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FWB
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(Original post by NFI)
Whilst I agree that RPAS is certainly going to become a main effort for a period of time, I don’t think the need for manned platforms will ever disappear entirely. Aviation is a broad subject and the tech is a long way off from fully autonomous ops across the main disciplines (FJ, RW, multis). It’s settled nicely in the niche market of long loiter, decent optics with a strike capability though.
I certainly agree that fully autonomous ops are a long way off, but eventually (albeit, perhaps not in our career/lifetime?) unmanned fleets will surely take over the vast majority of ops, if not all. Airbus have already, for example, managed to fly the H145 helo unmanned, although I don't know much about this it must be said. Nevertheless, for someone looking at beginning a career as Aircrew, yes, there will still be manned platforms that will require your presence, but be aware that the ratio of aircrew operating on manned/unmanned platforms will change as soon as the early 2020s.

OP - your AFCO should be able to arrange a station visit for you to gain insight into the role and lifestyle of the WSO and WSOp.

Also, re Shadow... slight drift, but I have read before that Army bods operate the rear - is this accurate or hush hush?
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NFI
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(Original post by FWB)
I certainly agree that fully autonomous ops are a long way off, but eventually (albeit, perhaps not in our career/lifetime?) unmanned fleets will surely take over the vast majority of ops, if not all. Airbus have already, for example, managed to fly the H145 helo unmanned, although I don't know much about this it must be said. Nevertheless, for someone looking at beginning a career as Aircrew, yes, there will still be manned platforms that will require your presence, but be aware that the ratio of aircrew operating on manned/unmanned platforms will change as soon as the early 2020s.

OP - your AFCO should be able to arrange a station visit for you to gain insight into the role and lifestyle of the WSO and WSOp.

Also, re Shadow... slight drift, but I have read before that Army bods operate the rear - is this accurate or hush hush?
I think the limitation is the nature of tactical flying. Would you sign off the risk as a duty holder for a bunch of blokes to get in a chinook (as an example) that is required to insert them via nap of the Earth, crossing under wires, into a confined area etc?

I was told a few years ago on groundschool day 1 that we were one of the last generations of manned platform aircrew. Out of the 30 odd of us there were only two RPAS and one of them withdrew post EFT so I don’t think it will be for a while yet.

As for Shadow, no idea 👀
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EconWarrior
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(Original post by FWB)
I certainly agree that fully autonomous ops are a long way off, but eventually (albeit, perhaps not in our career/lifetime?) unmanned fleets will surely take over the vast majority of ops, if not all. Airbus have already, for example, managed to fly the H145 helo unmanned, although I don't know much about this it must be said. Nevertheless, for someone looking at beginning a career as Aircrew, yes, there will still be manned platforms that will require your presence, but be aware that the ratio of aircrew operating on manned/unmanned platforms will change as soon as the early 2020s.

OP - your AFCO should be able to arrange a station visit for you to gain insight into the role and lifestyle of the WSO and WSOp.

Also, re Shadow... slight drift, but I have read before that Army bods operate the rear - is this accurate or hush hush?
There’s a WSO in the rear ... maybe, apparently, rumoured... 👀
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FWB
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(Original post by NFI)
I think the limitation is the nature of tactical flying. Would you sign off the risk as a duty holder for a bunch of blokes to get in a chinook (as an example) that is required to insert them via nap of the Earth, crossing under wires, into a confined area etc?

I was told a few years ago on groundschool day 1 that we were one of the last generations of manned platform aircrew. Out of the 30 odd of us there were only two RPAS and one of them withdrew post EFT so I don’t think it will be for a while yet.

As for Shadow, no idea 👀
Fair.
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NFI
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(Original post by EconWarrior)
There’s a WSO in the rear ... maybe, apparently, rumoured... 👀
They’re called door operators/harness enforcers rather than WSO in the Air Corps 👀
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