Andrew Brookes's Royal Air Force career included command of Greenham Common cruise missile base. Since leaving the service he has been an aerospace analyst and writer and in 2009 he took charge of the Air League.

What turned you on to flying?

I learned to fly with Leeds University Air Squadron back when sex was safe and flying was dangerous. We flew from Dishforth alongside the A1 and I spent many lovely hours doing practice forced landings and aeros over the Vale of York. We did lots of stalling and spinning back then but young people don't seem to do that any more. I think it is a shame that you can't experience the thrill and sense of danger associated with getting to know your limits based on first-rate flying training. I am still in touch with my old ex-Javelin instructor and we now reminisce together as the old and bold always do.

Andrew Brookes receiving the C P Robertson Trophy  
RAF thanks Brookes (right), pictured with Air Marshal Simon Bryant

Does flying still appeal to young people?

At the Air League we run the leading UK flying and engineering scholarship programmes for young people. Our aim is to reach out to youngsters from all types of backgrounds by giving them the opportunity to fly and to help them access careers in the aviation industry. We get hundreds of applications and my priorities are to raise more funding so that we can offer more exciting opportunities to increasing numbers of young people.

We started a scheme last year in the East Midlands where a group of young people on the edge of the criminal justice system were selected to undergo personal development and team building. Three of them were then selected for a gliding scholarship. They had to buckle down to ground school and regular attendance, but those that came through "unleashed the surly bonds of earth".

They ended up with a better appreciation of their own worth plus a pat on the back and a certificate, all of which had probably been absent from their lives up to then. For them, and the host of other youngsters clamouring to get airborne, flying is still as appealing as it was when I first climbed into a cockpit, although there were more analogue dials then. I would love to be able to get many more young people into cockpits.

How do you influence government and industry thinking about aviation?

My role is to speak out about the importance of aviation to British wealth, science and technology, jobs and influence. We bring parliamentarians and industry together and with the projected high turnover in MPs after the forthcoming election, we will need to get the aerospace message across to them early.

It has to be done. There is no putting the aviation genie back in the bottle and if the UK opts out of mainstream aerospace, other nations will rush to fill the gap.

What would you tell a class of 15-year-olds today?

Things have changed markedly since I first went solo and even since I flew a 50t Vulcan bomber at 300ft above the ground from the Bristol Channel to Stornoway. But the excitement and thrill of flying is there for those who seek it. The Air League was formed in 1909 by visionaries who refused to agree that aeroplanes were just a passing fad.

Fast forward to 2010 and flying is here to stay, but flying a light aircraft, a civil airliner or a fast jet is much more than operating a Playstation console. The stillness of gliding over the Sussex Downs or the satisfaction of flying that perfect loop are timeless. In the air, nothing is beyond your grasp and the sky's the limit. Go for it!

Source: Flight International