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British Airways Captain describes how being an Air Cadet helped her stand out

A former Air Cadet who now flies Boeing 777s for British Airways says she hopes more cadets will follow her into the pilot’s seat. 

Captain Ruth Smith has been employed by BA for 23 years but started out as a cadet at Lymm (2137) Sqn near Warrington in Cheshire.

Captain Smith said being a cadet helped her to stand out among the competition as she worked towards her dream career. 

“It was not just the obvious things like the gliding badge and the camps,” said Captain Smith.  “It was also the soft skills like going up through the ranks and learning about leadership and teamwork. 

“It really develops you in ways that you just do not get in other organisations.  

“It allows you to draw on life experiences from an early age because you have done so much on camps and night exercises.It certainly put me ahead of the game.” 

The British Airways pilot joined Air Cadets as a teenager at Lymm (2137) Sqn, which she described as quite a small squadron with about 30 cadets. 

She stayed with them all the way through to university and said highlights were achieving her Basic Gliding Licence, doing a parachute jump and going on an International Air Cadet Exchange (IACE) to Washington DC in the USA. 

Captain Smith achieved the rank of Warrant Officer and then, through the RAF, gained a flying scholarship which she completed at Cumbria Areoclub in Carlisle. She stayed on to extend her scholarship gaining her PPL (private pilots licence) at the age of 17. Ruth applied to the RAF a second time and achieved a Bursary (university scholarship) studying aeronautical engineering at City University, London. This also gave her a place on the UAS (University Air Sqdrn), which opened up further opportunities for flying, camps, skiing and leadership and teamwork experience.

Ruth had also applied to British Airways and with her Bursary focusing on a ground role, Ruth soon opted to join British Airways’ cadet programme to open up a route to flying some of the world’s most loved commercial aircraft instead. 

Captain Ruth Smith has been employed by BA for 23 years but started out as a cadet at Lymm (2137) Sqn near Warrington in Cheshire.

Her dad Dave had also been a BA pilot and he made sure to get his daughters involved from an early age. 

“We grew up with it, which did give us a huge start,” she said on the sidelines of a cadet visit to the British Airways Heathrow training centre, which had been organised after cadets had impressed BA during the National Air and Space Camp at RAF Syerston in summer 2022. 

“School careers advisors told us there weren’t any female pilots but we were going to work with our dad and had seen female pilots at BA. Right from the age of five we knew we wanted to be pilots. 

“We saw those women in aviation and knew we could do it and believed we could be pilots. That led us to joining the Air Cadets.”  

Captain Smith said her biggest learning point from cadets was understanding that if you put in the effort when starting at the bottom you can work your way up and achieve. She also described how she enjoyed gaining responsibilities and the Warrant Officer leadership role. 

But despite so many fond memories, Captain Smith’s exciting current job is delivering plenty more as she flies people around the globe. 

“I’ve travelled all over the world,” said Ruth, who also flew alongside her father before he retired. “I did my training at Kidlington Airport near Oxford and then started at Gatwick on 737s. I was then lucky enough to fly the Jumbo for 11 years then I went to the 777, where I got my command three years ago.  

“The Jumbo was my favourite. She is the Queen of the Skies and a fantastic aircraft. She was so iconic to walk up to and I was very proud to fly her.” 

While many of us head to schools, offices and other workplaces during the week, life is somewhat different for Captain Smith. 

“We get to go to the Caribbean and Maldives for work, which isn't too bad,” she said, with a grin. 

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