Alumni – Aiden Barnes


Beginning ‘Big School’ at Darwen Vale in 1999 as a shy lad I worried how I could possibly adapt to this enormous place, coming from Blackburn to a school in Darwen was alien enough for me. If only I knew that 15 years later I’d be in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK I wouldn’t have worried so much back then!! When I started at Vale I initially found the pace and sheer size of the place overwhelming. However, I soon found my feet though thanks to a great peer group and fantastic teachers who showed me all the wonderful opportunities the school had to offer. Whether it was an after-hours revision class, running our own radio station or football training after school it didn’t matter, I grasped these opportunities with open arms and began to see a change in myself for the better. Over the years my confidence grew and this culminated with becoming Head Boy in Year 11. Holding the position of head boy/girl or being asked to hold a position of trust and responsibility at any age can be daunting, but looking back I can see how I’ve been able to apply these skills in the ‘real’ world.  Standing in front of people and speaking at parents’ evenings is a skill that still aids me in my chosen career. In my career to date I’ve had to deliver various briefs to many different ranks and nationalities but however daunting it can initially seem I always look back and am thankful for the life skills I managed to learn from my time at school.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that becoming an Aerospace Systems Operator was probably not my first choice when I walked through the careers office door; as many who have followed before me, I wanted to become a pilot. It is true though that “you don’t have to be a pilot to fly in the RAF” as I quickly found out. As Aerospace Systems Operators we are the eyes and ears of the RAF and at the frontline of defence of the UK and our armed forces abroad; this in itself has opened up many opportunities.  Given the unique nature of the job my career so far has been quite diverse. Following basic training my first tour within the RAF was at an Electronic Warfare training range in Cumbria, it was here that I had a direct role in delivering Electronic Warfare training to UK and NATO aircrews. This proved to be a role which took me the length and breadth of the country and as far afield as the Czech Republic and Oman where I would spend up to a month training fast jet and helicopter crews the countermeasures that could potentially save their lives on operations. Following on from this I was fortunate enough to gain promotion to the rank of Corporal which saw me posted to RAF Boulmer in Northumberland where now I have a hand in helping to provide Quick Reaction Alert for the UK. This is a measure expanded following the atrocities of 9/11 that ensures we are best prepared to protect the UK from any potential threats posed to us from the air. It’s a role that we train for daily and let me assure you one we’re very good at!! As I mentioned previously being an Aerospace Systems Operator has opened up many opportunities and my roles have not just been limited to the UK, my four month detachments to the Falkland Islands and more recently Afghanistan have been particular career highlights.

It’s a career of many highs so far and I strongly believe that taking the opportunities handed my way at school has influenced how far I’ve come to date. If you have the will and determination to push yourself, then Darwen Vale can be the platform onto many an avenue of work. I’m just about to start my next chapter at RAF Boulmer as a Trade Training instructor so if this career sounds up your street I could soon be teaching you the role and setting you on your way to an exciting career in the Royal Air Force.

If you are interested in a career in the Royal Air Force please find details at:

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