'You can never do too much preparation'

Air Commodore Rob Cunningham is Commandant of RAF College Cranwell, where he is responsible for recruitment and initial training

What did you want to be as a child?

An Apollo astronaut or a Spitfire pilot.

What did you realistically think you'd end up doing?

In my early teens, I realised that joining the RAF was the most practical route to the stars, and I may have been subliminally influenced by the photograph on my bedroom mantelpiece of cousin John "Cat's Eyes" Cunningham, a night-fighter ace of the Second World War. I joined the Air Training Corps at 15, and did the RAF selection test at 16. That led to being sponsored through university, which gave me financial independence and a career.

You studied physics at Lincoln College, Oxford – was it worth it?

Yes, I enjoyed the wonder of quantum mechanics and the chance to meet real geniuses. I also learnt to fly. I then became an officer cadet at Cranwell.

What was best and worst about being a cadet?

The best was being taken to the limit of one's comfort zone, and a long way beyond. The worst was falling off a three-tonne truck and fracturing my skull. It was very careless.

So it was your fault?

Of course it was! I ended up in hospital and had to start all over again.

How did you work your way up?

After flying training, as a navigator I served on three famous fighter squadrons, flying the Phantom and the Tornado – the epitome of a boy's dream come true. Serving in places such as the Falkland Islands and Iraq were life-changing experiences, as well as high-octane excitement. I've also done the obligatory ground tours, as well as postgraduate study at the Royal College of Defence Studies.

Do you consider yourself to be successful?

I'm proud to be commanding the RAF College because this is where I started 30 years ago.

What are your top selection tips?

You can never do too much preparation. Research the career specialisations – there is lots of information on our website. Have a good idea of what the training involves. It's a week-long interview process, and people need to be themselves and be honest. We will detect if someone is pretending to be what they are not.

What are your tips for getting on at the RAF?

You need integrity, a sense of duty, good teamwork and an interest in air power.

Describe your work/life balance

I live to work.

What motivates you?

A sense of service to the people I command, I have a duty to them and that's a big responsibility.

Who are your heroes?

All those who serve their country in harm's way.

What's the best perk of your job?

The glow that is graduation day: hearing the amazing cheer that goes up at the end of the parade.