Flying high with Belper's air cadets

"AWESOME" was the word Alex Smith used to sum up his experiences with the air cadets.

In the five-and-a-half years since he joined the 620 Derwent Valley Squadron the 18-year-old has had the chance to learn how to fly a glider, completed the Duke of Edinburgh Award and travelled the world.

He is now looking towards a career as a member of the air crew in the Royal Air Force once he completes his time with the Belper-based unit.

He said: "I wasn't looking for a career in the air force before I went into the cadets, but after going on camps and seeing the life the crew have got there and talking to people who tell you how good it is, it makes me want to go into it.

"Being in the cadets will make it easier because I've got more knowledge about the lifestyle than other people from civilian life."

Alex, who lives in Oakwood, is one of around 55 cadets in the Belper squadron, which meets at the Drill Hall, on Cluster Road.

The squadron, which has been running since March 1986, is one of 30 in

the Trent Wing of the Royal Air Force Air Training Corps, which has more than 40,000 young members nationwide.

The group, which has members ranging from 13 to 20, meets twice a week at the hall, which it moved to from Duffield in May this year.

During the two-hour sessions, youths take part in drills, initiative exercises, inspections, and projects, as well as taking part in lessons to learn about the air force.

Alex, who has just taken part in a cadet exchange in Canada said: "I enjoy the discipline involved with cadets. When I was little I was quite naughty, then I joined the cadets when I was 13, and over the years I've just matured.

"I really enjoy all the opportunities you get that you wouldn't get if you weren't in the cadets. And I've got so many friends here."

The group is also heavily involved with the community, helping out at local events. This year the cadets also took part in their first Remembrance Day parade in Belper.

The first forces cadets sprang up in Britain in 1859, when groups of young men at several schools around the UK formed armed and uniformed units to help the country in the event of attack from overseas.

In the 1930s a man named Air Commodore John Chamier set up the Air Defence Cadet Corps with the purpose of preparing men to join the RAF in readiness for war. Squadrons were set up in towns and cities and run by local people.

The air cadets as they are known today have sprouted from this model in the intervening years. Girls were also allowed to join the squadrons from the early 1980s.

Famous former cadets include DJ Neil Fox, actor Richard Burton, and Belper's own Bond star Timothy Dalton.

Today the organisation is geared to offering young people challenging, exciting and adventurous experiences, as well as teaching valuable skills and knowledge.

Flight Lieutenant Austen Colledge, commanding officer at the 620 Derwent Valley Squadron, said: "There are just so many opportunities and so many things people can experience. I've been doing this for 13 years and I still come across things I didn't know we did.

"It gives young people something to do as well, instead of standing on the street doing nothing.

"Plus young people can form strong friendships with people they would probably never have met otherwise.

"I would definitely urge more young people to get involved with it. It's not essential to be plane mad."

The Belper-based group meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7.15pm until 9.15pm. Anyone interested in joining or finding out more can head down to talk to officers at around 7pm on these nights.

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