The latest in our ongoing series of visits behind the fence at RNAS Culdrose.

RNAS Culdrose in Helston is not just a military airfield but is also a huge training establishment – similar in scope to a further education college with its own accommodation.

Sailors join from aged 17 upwards, gaining qualifications in everything from GSCEs to university honours degrees. The military base even has its own Ofsted inspections from the education watchdog.

Overseeing all aspects of flying and training from his corner officer in Culdrose’s air traffic control tower is 52-year-old Commander Steve Windebank – known to everyone by his job title ‘Wings’.

“When the universities were looking at how we worked, they wanted a structure they could relate to and follow,” he said. “They said, if you oversee all this education, that’s what the dean of a university would do – so I suppose you could say I am the Dean of Culdrose.”

He said the sailors achieve around 7,000 individual qualifications each year – from completing courses in skills such as navigation, flying or firefighting to qualifications in driving, languages or basic subjects like English and maths.

“At any one time, we’ve got about 200 trainees on site, aged anything from 17 to into their 30s,” he added. “They have a quick turn-around as their courses only last a few weeks. They include all kinds of people such as aircraft handlers, air engineers, survival equipment technicians or medics."

At the same time there are around 50 people going through Merlin helicopter aircrew training, either first time or refresher training with 824 Naval Air Squadron, along with 300 people from across defence coming for training with 700X, the remotely piloted air systems squadron.

The is also 750 squadron teaching navigation to navy and RAF personnel, and finally, from across the navy, 2,000 people a year taking driving courses - everything from driving licence tests to heavy goods vehicle qualifications.

Falmouth Packet:

Alongside this , aircrew and air traffic control officers can train for six years for an honours degree in aviation management through the Open University.

Commander Windebank said: “We take a great amount of care in training to keep people in the service so there is this continuous emphasis on education at every level.

"We can’t get away from the fact we are quite a male-orientated industry – although that’s changing – and that blokes tend to learn at different rates and come back to education when they’re older.

“We’re also looking at courses such as languages. We recently had a specialist instructor in to teach Russian and we’re looking at providing qualifications in Arabic, Farsi and Mandarin.

“I know that we still ask for a low level of academic achievement to join up, so people mistakenly think that the navy is not an academic environment. That’s not the case at all.

"Our sailors soon find themselves back in the classroom as well as learning those vital practical skills.”