For the first time in its more than 100-year history, the U.K.’s Royal Air Force is expected to name a non-pilot as its commander later this year. Sky News says it has learned the new Chief of the Air Staff will be Air Marshal Sir Richard Knighton. If confirmed, he will only be the second person who hasn’t served as a fighter pilot at the helm of the organization. A helicopter pilot headed the RAF in 2013. “It breaks an important glass ceiling,” Sky News quoted one source as saying. “We have never had a non-pilot before.”
Knighton is currently the deputy commander in charge of capability and was also a deputy chief of defense staff, so he’s not a stranger to headquarters but he’s never been on the front lines. “It is extraordinary given the extensive number of deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan over many years that someone could rise to commander of the RAF without deploying on either of those defining operations,” a former RAF officer told Sky News. Politics and tradition aside, the new CAS knows he faces an extraordinary number of serious issues, ranging from lagging recruitment to stalled flight training and behavior issues with the elite Red Arrows air demonstration team. The RAF refused to confirm the Sky News report.