What does it do?

The RAF came into existence in 1918, when the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated. Rapid expansion came during the Second World War, the defining period coming during the Battle of Britain in 1940 when RAF pilots in Spitfires and Hurricanes fought off the German Luftwaffe's planes, often in dogfights over the English south coast counties. More controversial was the subsequent mass bombing campaign of German cities, including Dresden and Hamburg. Recently, the RAF has played major roles in the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003, in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. Its technological strength has just been bolstered by the purchase of the new Typhoon fighter craft, built by a consortium of European countries.

Vital Statistics:

49,000 men and women wear the RAF's famous blue-grey uniform, of whom 5,000 are serving outside the UK.

The office:

Operational headquarters are in High Wycombe. But, for most, the workplace changes every two years or so, moving between the UK and abroad.

Is this you?

Around 170 people are taken on for officer training every year. About a third are pilots, a quarter engineers, and the rest divided between areas such as air traffic control, intelligence and administration. Many have degrees, but more important is leadership potential and communication skills.

The recruitment process:

The RAF website, www.raf.mod.uk/careers, lists the types of graduate openings, but initial applications must be made via one of the 42 Armed Forces Careers Offices (AFCO) around the UK. If you get through a first interview, you'll attend a three-day selection event at the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC) at the RAF College, Cranwell. This tests your aptitude for the relevant RAF branch, includes a medical exam and fitness test, and problem-solving and leadership tests. Those selected attend a 30-week initial officer training course at Cranwell, followed by specialist training, ranging from three months for the Administration Branch to three years for fast jet pilots. The first full-time posting is likely to be in the UK, but overseas posts may crop up later.

Top Dollar?

A Flight Lieutenant's starting pay is £33,795, rising to £40,190 over eight years. Aircrew get "flying pay" on top.

Beam me up Scotty?

Graduates can expect promotion to Flight Lieutenant, the third officer rank, within around 18 months as aircrew, and 30 months in other roles. Promotion beyond Flight Lieutenant is on merit.

Who's the boss?

The Chief of the Air Staff since April 2006 has been Air Chief Marshal Sir Glen Torpy, a former jet pilot.

Little known fact:

One founding member of the RAF is still alive. He's 110-year-old Henry Allingham, a mechanic who helped repair planes in the First World War.