Volunteer Gliding Squadron

Volunteer Gliding Squadrons (VGSs) are Royal Air Force (UK) Flying Training units, operating military Viking T1[1] conventional gliders to train cadets from the Royal Air Force Air Cadets.

Since 2014, the squadrons operate under No. 2 Flying Training School, which was newly reformed for this purpose at RAF Syerston, Nottinghamshire, within No.22 (Training) Group of the Royal Air Force.[2] The 10 Units, along with the Royal Air Force Central Gliding School, are standardised annually by the Royal Air Force Central Flying School. Formerly under the Air Cadet Organisation prior to 2010, Headquarters Air Cadets presently still retains administrative support.

VGSs are made up of volunteer staff. Each is headed by a Commanding Officer and several executives, who are appointed by a Cadet Forces Commission in the RAF Air Cadets.[3][4] Instructors are a mixture of regular RAF/RN/Army personnel, reservists, RAFAC personnel, Civilian Gliding Instructors (CGIs) and Flight Staff Cadets (FSCs).


Gliding was first introduced for the Air Defence Cadet Corps in 1939, but formally became part of official training with the Air Training Corps in 1942. From 1946, 87 Gliding Schools (GSs) came under the Reserve Command.


Initially the gliding schools were established under RAF Reserve Command (later to become RAF Home Command). In 1955, RAF Flying Training Command took over the responsibility and amalgamated them into 27 gliding schools under Headquarters Air Cadets. At the same time the gliding schools were renumbered with three-digit numbers, the first two digits being the parent Home Command Group (Nos. 61, 62, 63, 64, 66 or 67).[5] In 1968, RAF Training Command was established, incorporating Flying Training Command. In 1977, Training Command was absorbed into RAF Support Command, and then moved into Personnel and Training Command on its establishment in 1994 before being subsumed into Air Command in March 2007, where the gliding schools rest today.

Under Air Command, the chain of command for these units is through No.22 (Training) Group. On behalf of Air Officer Commanding No.22 (Training) Group, the Volunteer Gliding Squadrons and the Central Gliding School are the responsibility of the Officer commanding No. 2 Flying Training School.

Formation of the Central Gliding School (CGS)[]

Formulated in 1946, the Home Command Gliding Instructors School (HCGIS) was established in 1949 at RAF Detling to train Qualified Gliding Instructors for the gliding schools. With the disestablishment of Home Command, HCGIS was split into two Gliding Centres to accommodate the gliding schools in the north and south of the UK. A further reorganisation amalgamated the Gliding Centres into the Central Gliding School in 1972 at RAF Spitalgate, where it was renamed the Air Cadet Central Gliding School (ACCGS) in 1974. In 2009, following the formal approval of the CGS unit badge, the Air Cadet Central Gliding School was renamed the Royal Air Force Central Gliding School and in 2010 restructured under No.1 Elementary Flying Training School.

The CGS is commanded by a Wing Commander RAF, who also acts as OC Flying for RAF Syerston. The Chief Instructor is a Squadron Leader RAF. The examiners of the CGS are Flight Lieutenant RAFR and Squadron Leader RAFR officers, however all future appointments shall be RAFVR(T) commissions.

From wood to GRP[]

The RAF chose to re-equip the ageing fleet with the first of the modern GRP gliders, and in 1983 acquired an initial batch of 10 Schleicher ASK 21 named Vanguard TX.1. The first examples were delivered to the ACCGS at Syerston in time for the new Instructors' courses to take place. The first VGS to equip with these was 618 VGS at RAF West Malling. Instructors from this unit were converted to the new training syllabus and began flying the type during July and August of that year. The first Vanguard TX.1s were delivered to West Malling in July 1983 and training for cadets began in August.

After the initial 10 were delivered, Alexander Schleicher was unwilling to open a production line for the MoD, as they did not want to sideline their civilian market. A tender was issued and Grob Aerospace was awarded the contract to supply 100 Grob G 103 Twin II Acro Gliders. The RAF named the military variant as the Viking T1 in Air Cadet service. A single specimen was delivered to Slingsby Aviation in the UK for fatigue life testing.

Introduction of motor gliders[]

The Venture T.1 was trialled at the ACCGS at RAF Spitalgate in 1971/73. 10 GSs were first issued with the T.1 variant in 1977, but were quickly upgraded with the TX.2. The development of many sites and closures of many RAF aerodromes put strain on many conventional VGS. Further GSs were allocated with the TX.2s. In 1991 the Venture TX.2 was replaced with the Vigilant T.1. Originally designated the Vigilant TX.1, the glider designation 'X' was dropped due to its change of role.

Disbandment of the competition fleet[]

In 2000, ACO-COS Group Captain Mike Cross announced the sale of the Valiant TX.1 and Kestrel TX.1 fleets. This concluded the RAF's many successful years competing in national gliding competitions and setting world records.

Schools to squadrons[]

Initially established as Gliding Schools, the GSs were re-designated Volunteer Gliding Schools (VGSs) in 1978. In 2005, following a decision by the Royal Air Force Board, the VGSs were renamed Volunteer Gliding Squadrons, keeping their VGS abbreviation.

Air Cadets to Royal Air Force[]

Following the restructure in 2005, a further reorganisation was initiated in 2010 by AOC 22 Group RAF. On 1 April 2010, Command and Control together with the responsibility for supervision and regulation of the Central Gliding School and 27 Volunteer Gliding Squadrons, was moved from the Air Cadet Organisation to the Directorate of Flying Training under No. 1 Elementary Flying School (No.1 EFTS). A further restructure in December 2011 saw No.1 EFTS absorbed into No.3 Flying Training School, together with a Gliding branch of the School developed from No.1 EFTS.

Extended pause and reinvention[]

In April 2014, all Air Cadet Organisation gliding was abruptly halted due to airworthiness concerns, after maintenance records managed by Serco were found to be in disarray.[6] Flying resumed to a limited extent in 2016.[7]

In March 2016, a major restructuring of Air Cadet Gliding and Flying was announced,[8] resulting in the disbanding of 14 VGSs, significant reduction of the Vigilant, a regional focus of remaining Viking squadrons, and an increase in Tutor AEF flying. With the Vigilant due to be withdrawn from service in 2019, its retirement was brought forward to May 2018.[7] Two new AEF squadrons will be formed.[citation needed]

A review of the Defence Estate, published in November 2016, confirmed the disbandments announced in March and gave estimated dates for disposal of several sites.[9]

In 2020, it was announced that all 63 grounded Vigilant T1's would be sold to Hampshire-based charity Aerobility, which works with people with disabilities and injured ex-military personnel. A number would be modified and refurbished for use by the charity, while the majority would be sold to support the charity.[10]

Current units[]

Conventional glider VGSs (Viking)[]

Volunteer Gliding Squadron is located in the United Kingdom
621 & 637
621 & 637
644 & CGS
644 & CGS
Volunteer Gliding Squadrons

Former motor glider VGSs[]

These squadrons will be re-equipped with Vikings following the retirement of the Vigilant.

Central Flying School[]

Disbanded units[]

Conventional glider VGSs[]

Motor glider VGSs[]



Staff of a Volunteer Gliding Squadron are part-time personnel (usually specifically appointed Reserve Officers and civilians), supernumerary personnel (who are either regular or reservist members of the Armed Forces or Cadet Force Volunteers), and Flight Staff Cadets.

Appointed personnel[]

Reserve Officers are appointed to fulfil management positions mandated to operate a Squadron. Civilians start under probation as Under Training Instructors; their probation ends on attaining B2 Category Qualified Gliding Instructor (QGI) status. Personnel must attain a B1 Category QGI rating before qualifying for a Reserve Commission for an intended appointment. Executive Officers (XOs) head the leadership of the Squadron as OC, CFI and DCFI.

Commissioned posts on VGS include:

Other appointed roles include:

Supernumerary personnel[]

Supernumerary personnel are part-time staff whose primary appointment is elsewhere, thus their VGS appointment is their secondary duty. They are from various Commissioned and Non-Commissioned branches of the Regular, Reserve and Cadet Forces.

Flight Staff Cadets[]

Air Cadets from either the Combined Cadet Force or RAF Air Cadets can be appointed as Flight Staff Cadets (FSCs) on a VGS. FSCs are selected, usually after completing Advanced Glider Training, from those who show potential to become Gliding Instructors. FSC’s do not act as a substitute for VGS adult personnel, primarily providing ground support to the Squadrons. However, they are able to progress to a B2 Category status (less the supervisory privileges).

Flying training[]

Flying Training is carried out to the syllabus of the RAF Central Flying School. Ab-initio training starts with three initial courses, followed with Basic Pilot Training to achieve flying Grades.

Flying qualifications[]

The following Pilot qualifications can be obtained on VGSs:

Instructor qualifications can be attained following the completion of a course at the Royal Air Force Central Gliding School:

Higher instructor qualifications can be attained following the completion of an examination by the Royal Air Force Central Flying School Gliding Examiners:

Additional ratings:


Conventional gliders[]

In service[]

No longer in service[]

Non-GRP construction[]
GRP construction[]

Motor gliders[]

No longer in service[]

See also[]


  1. ^ "The aircraft". RAF Air Cadets. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  2. ^ "New Gliding School Launches for Air Cadets". Royal Air Force. 31 January 2014. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016.
  3. ^ "Join as a Volunteer Gliding Squadron Instructor". RAF Air Cadets. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Freedom of Information response: Royal Warrant for the Cadet Forces Commission and new regulations from December 2017" (PDF). GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 2 February 2018. Retrieved 8 December 2020.
  5. ^ 661, 662, 663 and 664 VGS – History
  6. ^ "Bungs & bargains". Private Eye (1535). 20 November 2020. p. 40.
  7. ^ a b "RAF Grounds Its Vigilant T1 Gliders". Forces Network. 11 May 2018. Retrieved 24 May 2020.
  8. ^ Written response to parliamentary questions 10 Mar 2016
  9. ^ "A Better Defence Estate" (PDF). Ministry of Defence. November 2016. pp. 15, 28, 29. Retrieved 9 November 2016.
  10. ^ "Former MOD gliders to be used by charity to change lives". The Military Times. 6 March 2020. Retrieved 8 December 2020.

External links[]

Volunteer Gliding Squadrons[]