THE WORLD'S oldest military pilot training academy is preparing to celebrate its 50th year of service in North Yorkshire.

Number 1 Flying Training School (1 FTS) was formed in 1919 at Netheravon, Wiltshire to train "Airmen Pilots" and, after a nomadic existence, finally settled at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, near York, where it began instructional flying on October 29, 1957.

It has remained there ever since, and will celebrate five decades on Monday.

The school's present role is to train jet pilots and navigators for the RAF and Royal Navy using the Tucano aeroplane, and to mark the milestone anniversary one of its aircraft has been painted with a "50 years at Linton" logo on the tail.

The first courses were taught on bi-planes, such as Bristol Fighters, and took a year to complete.

Today the complexities of a modern jet means pilots must spend up to three years before being deemed "combat ready".

The Linton course lasts ten months, at the end of which students are awarded their wings. Another ten months of advanced training is completed in Wales before Operational Conversion Units deliver specialist training for individual aircraft types.

Alf Akers, Linton ground school instructor, said modern students have a different skills-set compared to those of 50 years ago.

He said: "Today's pilots will go solo after only nine hours, flying an aircraft that has a higher performance than a Spitfire. It's a very demanding course; they arrive here as boys but leave as men."

In all, more than 5,000 pilots have been taught by 1 FTS at Linton and some returned to the base for a formal dinner to celebrate the milestone anniversary.

For present day students, a place on the course is the stuff of dreams.

Pilot Officer Tom Balicki, of 207 Squadron, is a member of the 100th Tucano course.

He said: "Being here is the realisation of a lifelong ambition.

"It is the chance to do something I have always wanted to do and although it's not by any means an easy course the training here is as good as it gets."