Leak Reveals Royal Air Force Told to ‘Stop Choosing Useless White Male Pilots’

Photo Credit: Joe Giddens / PA Images / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Joe Giddens / PA Images / Getty Images

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has suffered yet another email leak, with publications gaining access to correspondences that show the service advised recruitment officers to “stop choosing useless white male pilots,” in order to increase the number of ethnic minority and female service members. Some of the emails were submitted as evidence in an internal inquiry launched in 2022 by the Ministry of Defence.

Three Royal Air Force (RAF) airmen eating ice lollies
Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel enjoy colorful ice lollies following a final marching preparation at RAF Halton, July 2018. (Photo Credit: Leon Neal / Getty Images)

In one of the emails obtained by The Telegraph, dated January 19, 2021, Squadron Leader Andrew Harwin of the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre wrote to a sergeant:

“I noted that the boards have recently been predominantly white male heavy. If we don’t have enough BAME [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic] and female to board then we need to make the decision to pause boarding and seek more BAME and female from the RF [recruitment force]. I don’t really need to see loads of useless white male pilots, let’s get as focussed as possible, I am more than happy to reduce boarding if needed to have a balanced BAME/female/male board.”

A secondary email sent the following day suggests Harwin was struggling to hit the service’s diversity targets. Speaking with The Telegraph, an unnamed Royal Air Force source said the leak “clearly demonstrates the endemic culture that was created by the senior leadership to chase ridiculous diversity standards that were patently unachievable.”

They added the selection process has stunted the career progression of White males, saying, “If the selection board didn’t have any ethnic minorities and women, they were cancelling those boards, which meant the white males were in the system and were going for the Air Force, were held up effectively because you’re pausing them.”

Rishi Sunak speaking with three Royal Air Force (RAF) trainees while two other officials watch on
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak talks to trainee pilots during a visit to RAF Valley in Anglesey, north Wales, March 2023. (Photo Credit: RICHARD MARTIN-ROBERTS / POOL / AFP / Getty Images)

An email written by Group Captain William Dole to Air Commodore Adrian Burns, dated November 13, 2020, emphasized the stress his team was under to follow the diversity guidelines. According to Sky News, the correspondence reads:

“CAS [Chief Air Marshal Mike Wigston] observed that BAME course loading for officer training was significantly below the overall in-year requirement, which drove a discussion on the impact of lower recruitment and retention in this cohort. There was a need to review the systemic issues that were causing a shorter Return of Service for BAME Officers than their colleagues.”

Mike Wigston dressed in his Royal Air Force (RAF) uniform
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston watches personnel from the Royal Air Force (RAF) rehearse for the coronation procession at RAF Halton, ahead of the coronation at Westminster Abbey of King Charles III and the Queen Consort, May 2023. (Photo Credit: Joe Giddens / PA Images / Getty Images)

The Telegraph previously reported an instance where a Royal Air Force recruit claimed to have been passed over because he was a White male, despite having scored well on several aptitude tests. In response to Jack Zanelli’s claims, the service denied the allegations, saying the 24-year-old was passed over because “other candidates had better scores.”

That being said, the Royal Air Force did admit there had been a discrimination issue that “accelerated women and BAME people that had already been selection to the front of the queue for training,” adding that the problem had since been rectified.

According to Sky News, the service will pay £5,000 to 31 White men who found they’d been unfairly disadvantaged by the Royal Air Force’s policy to boost its number of female and ethnic minority recruits.

While only 31 are receiving financial compensation, a source told Sky News that hundreds more had been disadvantaged. However, when approached directly about how many men had filed a complaint with the service over its recruitment policy, a spokesperson with the Royal Air Force said “fewer than five” had submitted one that had been upheld.

Four members of No. 617 Squadron RAF performing a training exercise
Personnel from No. 617 Squadron RAF based at RAF Lossiemouth take part in a chemical attack during the War Week Mission Rehearsal Exercise, in preparation for their final Afghanistan deployment, October 2013. (Photo Credit: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

All this comes after Group Captain Elizabeth “Lizzy” Nicholls, of the recruitment department at RAF Cranwell, quit after claiming the Royal Air Force had paused its recruitment of White men. She accused officials of discriminating against 160 qualified White male applicants to meet the service’s diversity targets.

In a previous email leak suffered by the Royal Air Force, Nicholls is reported as telling a superior she wouldn’t allocate spots based on ethnicity or gender, as it would fall under positive discrimination, which is illegal. She wrote, “This is unlawful. I am not prepared to delegate or abdicate the responsibility of actioning that order to my staff.”

This specific order was never implemented, given Nicholls’ resignation.

Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel marching together
Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel parade in London as part of the “RAF100” parade celebrations in London, England, July 2018. (Photo Credit: Ministry of Defence / Getty Images)

According to Sky News, the Royal Air Force had taken steps to “artificially inflate” its diversity numbers in recruitment prior to Nicholls coming into the role. Following her departure in 2022, outgoing Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said the service was “doing all we could to tackle this intractable problem, which is the lack of diversity in our service.”

During the latter stages of his tenure, Wigston had committed to having the Royal Air Force’s recruitment numbers equal 20 percent ethnic minorities and 40 percent women by 2030. Of the 1,500 pilots the service recruited in 2022, just 10 were from ethnic minorities and 30 were women.

“One of the mistakes we made was that those aspirational goals filtered down into people’s personal objectives in-year which they found almost impossible to meet,” Wigston said. “That put intolerable pressure on them, and I’ve apologised to the recruiting and selection organisation.”

Royal Air Force (RAF) airmen dressed in protective gear and gas masks
Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel wait in a bunker wearing full Nuclear Biological and Chemical suits after a warning of a Scud missile attack on their base in Kuwait, 2003. (Photo Credit: PA Images / Getty Images)

In a statement about the email leak and the subsequent controversy, a Royal Air Force spokesperson said:

“The Royal Air Force will not shy away from the challenges we face building a service that attracts and recruits talent from every part of the UK workforce. We will continue doing everything we can to increase our recruiting intake from under-represented groups within the provisions of the law.”

More from us: Archaeologists Uncover Hoard of Coins Belonging to Fearsome Ancient Roman Legion

They continued by saying, “All individuals joining the Royal Air Force were and are selected on merit and any individuals that were advanced to their training courses had already passed the selection process. There was no compromise of entry standards and no impact on the front line or operational effectiveness.”

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

Writing Portfolio
Stories of the Unsolved