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Pilot Exchange Program


Hi all,

I have heard of pilot exchange programs to both different services and different countries. Examples of this include freshly trained pilots doing a stint in the USMC flying Cobras or flying Chinook with RAF. Anyone got any info on these?



War Hero
Book Reviewer
It happens but if that is what you want you have a lot of hard work to get to that position.

On 771 Sqdn we had USCG, RAF, RM, and German Navy exchange pilots at some stage or another. Whilst they were with us an RN pilot would most likely be at the opposite station.
A wasp flight at one stage had a USN pilot as the Flt Commander.


War Hero
Flown with Canuk's, Yanks, (Mil and USCG),, Germans and even a few Jocks!!!
Never heard of first tour pilots doing the exchange tours though. (Not saying they haven't but in 15 years leaping into the air I ain't not ever heard of newbies getting exchange drafts).


War Hero
Book Reviewer
Not a chance as a first tourist I would say.
By that I would say the RAF F35 sqdns don't count as we we also train on them.
The first direct entry f35 pilots are now in the system I believe.


Thanks for the info! Out of interest, what is the process of getting on an exchange tour, how long were they, and what aircraft did you fly whilst posted overseas?

I was also sceptical about first draft pilots getting that opportunity so thanks for clearing it up.


War Hero
Thanks for the info! Out of interest, what is the process of getting on an exchange tour, how long were they, and what aircraft did you fly whilst posted overseas?

I was also sceptical about first draft pilots getting that opportunity so thanks for clearing it up.
OK, firstly, I was backseat not pilot. The process 20 plus years ago was identifying there was a post to apply for!! Talking to draftie and applying. That bit is simple.
Length of tour. - No idea. (Three years would seem logical - One year training, two year squadron work).
I never did an exchange tour. I did apply for the German exchange, (Eins Staffel - Keil, Sea King SAR), and was accepted, but at the time the Germans couldn't field a candidate to exchange!! So my exchange never happened. Bit gutting after starting to learn German, but hey ho, thats life. The bonus was I was always paired with a German exchange pilot who was one of life's characters. ObLt Helmut Kist FGN. RIP. Sadly lost to the big C a few years ago.
Hopefully someone Pontious or Magic Mushroom will be along to offer words of wisdom from the officer world.


War Hero
Dapperdunn tried for an exchange with a Yank pilot but the RN refused when they realised that the Yank pilot didn't know how to make sh!t on a raft.


War Hero
Quite some time ago there was an opportunity to carry out basic flying training on exchange but that was an RAF thing and not RN. A Crab would go to the US and do his training all the way through to the T38 and a Yank would come to the UK and go as far as the Hawk advanced jet training but not the Tactical Weapons Unit. In other words, it was learning to fly and not learning to operate as an operational pilot. I believe that program has long passed.

As far as a 'normal' exchange is concerned I can only speak for the fixed wing of 'old' but I would imagine the rotary-wing stuff is similar. It's normally available around the third tour mark. I think the idea of this is that you should have something to offer after a couple of front line tours, whereas if you're fresh out of training the exchanging country is going to get nothing from the deal. You apply through the normal means of talking to your Appointer and badgering him at every opportunity :)

Once on exchange it normally lasts for the length of a normal appointment, so around three years. During this time you'll do your initial conversion to the aircraft type and then you'll be sent (normally) to a front line squadron, where you'll do all the things that squadron would normally get up to. Hopefully you'll learn something there which you can bring back to the UK and, in return, hopefully you'll be able to impart some of your wisdom to them. As an example, the SHAR exchange to the AV8B basically entailed us 'teaching' them some fighter-type stuff (normally qualifying as one of their Air Combat Tactics Instructors) and them 'teaching' us ground attack-type stuff (close air support being their bread and butter to support the Marines on the beach).

While overseas you normally have to pay the RN the standard accommodation allowance and they convert all that into money to pay all your bills if you're living on base or a generous monthly allowance if you want to rent off base. Off base is normally better because you get to meet other people instead of just having the same people around you as when you're on the squadron.

I did an exchange to the US (no, I'm not going to say which one) and had a great time. There was plenty of time to enjoy three years of American living and travel with my wife and kids. I was very lucky and did it when the Yanks had plenty of military funding, so I got to enjoy firing off more weapons etc than I ever would have in the UK and I got plenty of flying (probably double what my mates in England were getting). We still have friends that we visit if we nip to the US of A and have had an occasional visitor to us, so it is something that will stay with you for your whole life.

I suppose one of the things to consider is how it might affect your RN career IF you're determined to make it to the upper echelons. I was happy being a pilot and never aspired to the dizzy heights of The Admiralty, so it didn't affect me at all but some purists will look down their noses and say it wasn't a 'proper' use of three years and you would have been far better off attending some school to discuss strategy of our three ships and the submarine. I would counter it is far more useful to have direct experience of the way our NATO allies work but, then again, I'm sure their lordships wouldn't give two hoots what I think :)


Lantern Swinger
I did an exchange tour decades ago and am still in touch with some of the blokes I was on Sqn with to this day.

I think it also depends on manning pressures and vacancies, diplomatic pressures etc, none of which you will see from your slot on a FL sqn. As Pontius rightly indicates above, there is a 'swap of expertise and ideas' strand to it, as well as being an obvious sign of trust, cooperation etc. There is also the spin-off benefit that exchange tour personnel tend to go onwards & upwards (more on this below), which instills in their parent Service an informed outlook towards international or indeed inter-Service cooperation as well as the benefit of being able to network at high level from a position of strength. Simply put, if you know a bloke personally or were on a squadron with him, then you're more likely to trust and cooperate with him, regardless of his uniform or nationality.

I did a course years ago with an RN bloke who had gone on exchange (to Canada I think) immediately upon gaining his C of C (ie he had been front line on type for 12 months). I have also known of the AAC sending their 'problem children' on exchange tours to get shot of them for a few years!!! At the other end of the scale, in the RAF, any sniff at an overseas FJ exchange is usually fought out between each Sqn's QWIs / QFIs etc and is seen to be an early indicator by 'the system' that you are marked for better things - have a look at some of the VSO's biographies, and you will often see "Exchange Tour USAF F15", or USN F14 / F18, or indeed USMC AV8B etc.

The sands have shifted in recent years with the various "Seedcorn" programmes in play with our Five Eyes colleagues (AUS / CAN / NZ / US) whereby we have sent large numbers of people on non-reciprocal exchange (NRE) in order to keep them current whilst we await platform delivery - this has worked well for F35 and P-8 Poseidon.

Another factor to consider is that the F35 fleet is in it's earliest stages of infancy just now and has many many milestones to reach before being fully operationally capable. I am not in the RN Appointer or RAF Manning system but I'd hugely doubt that filling exchange tours is going to be high priority until we have the whole force up & running.

As a youngster, you have to:
Pass flying training and get established on type as an above-average operator and officer - you usually have to be 'top third' in terms of comparison with your peer group.
Throw your hat into the ring
Be selected

So, not much really!!!!

Bit of a long and wordy tome but I hope it helps.


Thanks for all the responses, really good info and explains everything I was interested to find out. Much appreciated.


War Hero
@Waspie Thanks very much, by 'backseat' do you mean aircrewman or observer?
Yeah maybe @Pontius or @Magic_Mushroom might have some info.

All 3 services have exchange programmes for a variety of branches (ie not just aircrew).

For the RAF, we have fast jet exchanges with the USAF (F-15E, F-16 Aggressors, F-22, B-2 with F-35A likely to be added soon), USN (FA-18E/F and EA-18G), USMC (FA-18C/D and AV-8B), RAAF (FA-18A moving to F-35A shortly and FA-18F), RCAF (CF-18A) and French (Rafale). Multi-engine wise, we have guys on stuff as varied as USAF C-17 and MC-130 to RAAF E-7 and USN, RAAF, RCAF and RNZAF MPA. We have RPAS guys with the USAF and helicopter exchanges on Army AH-64, RN pingers, USAF HH-60s and US Army MH-47s, to name but a few. We also send student test pilots to the USAF, USN and French schools.

As @Waspie and others say, candidates apply (overseas tours are all voluntary) and are selected based on a number of criteria but will generally be experienced. There are actually not that many applicants for each one as the same demographics will also be in the running for things like Qualified Weapon Instructor courses and the Reds. Perhaps more importantly, there are quite serious financial and domestic implications (eg schooling, spouses having to give up work etc) to an exchange tour which put many off. These days, if you go on exchange to the US, you’ll probably return after 3 years at least £5K out of pocket not including loss of spouse earnings.

We’ve also reintroduced sending a small number of student pilots through the USAF flying training system, largely due to the MFTS debacle. They used to return at the Tac weapons stage but I’m not sure what the plan is now; they also have to learn what clouds are!

To the best of my knowledge, the RN have a variety of FJ exchanges but most are currently one-way to build up FJ experience. These are USN and USMC centric on FA-18C/D/E/F and AV-8B. Once our F-35Bs are properly in service, I’d expect these to reduce to historic norms with perhaps one each on USN F-35C and FA-18E/F, and maybe a USMC F-35B slot.

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