The Sir John Thomson Spirit of Aviation Initiative is based on a scheme originating in Norway and is named after former Royal Air Squadron member, Air Chief Marshal Sir John Thomson GCB CBE AFC.
The project began in 2014 in Bristol schools to help selected disadvantaged youngsters find a new focus and change their lives through exposure to aspects of flight. The four schools in the program are Merchants' Academy, Blaise High School, Bridge Learning Campus, and Montpelier High School. The aim is not to make pilots or engineers, although we would be delighted if this were to be an outcome, but rather to help students find a new focus, concentrate and achieve something outside their comfort zone thus giving them more confidence and increased self-esteem.
In the year one, of this three year program, students have two days concentrating on building and flying (indoors) a variety of model aircraft thus exposing them to the theory of flight. A third day involves a British Airways mobile 787 simulator and initiative tests. Additionally, the students are asked to prepare a short power point presentation about an aviation subject of their choice. All activities are conducted in small groups.
During year two students will make four visits to theBristol and Gloucestershire Gliding Club at Nympsfield where they have gliding lessons.
Third year students undertake five hours of flying instruction in fixed wing microlights at the Kemble Flying Club.
This program has been running, on a rolling basis, for five years and has had very positive feedback from the four schools involved; with teachers reporting their students have improved in confidence, communications skills and a raised aspiration of what they could achieve. The plan is to gradually expand the program in the future.
Annual RAS sword presentations take place not only in the UK but also the USA, Ukraine and South Africa. In each instance the sword is awarded to the highest performing cadet of the year. In Estonia a trophy is presented to the team deemed to have achieved the most during the year, and in the UK there is also a trophy awarded to the highest performing school CCF team – the winners challenging teams from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England.
In addition, each year the RAS sponsors a two-week international air cadet exchange of two cadets between the UK and Ukraine.