Role of a Lifetime: Group Captain Tony Keeling

Group Captain Tony Keeling discusses his career and the experiences that led him to be appointed the Station Commander and A4 Force Element Commander at RAF Wittering.

Station Commander Group Captain Tony Keeling. Tony’s time at RAF Wittering has been a busy one. THE opportunity to become a Station Commander comes only once in the life of an RAF Officer. While many are called to a career in the Service, few are chosen for this responsibility. Those who have gone on to achieve higher ranks in the RAF will often reflect that their most enjoyable tour of duty was as a Station Commander.

This is certainly a sentiment expressed by Gp Capt Tony Keeling who, after two years, is now coming to the end of his time as Station Commander at RAF Wittering.

Tony Keeling was born in Nottingham in 1969 and moved to Manchester at the age of four. He and his wife Bobby have two children and, while he identifies himself as a northerner but, like many Service personnel, says that home is simply where the family is.

Proudly an RAF engineer, he joined up as a Halton Apprentice but his first experience of working on an aircraft came as an air cadet. He said: “I was working alongside a technician as he was replacing hydraulic pipes on Jet Provost at RAF Church Fenton, and then we saw the aircraft go flying and I was hooked.”

It is just as well; grammar school had not provided the young Tony Keeling with an environment in which his technically-orientated skills could develop. Even now, years after becoming a commissioned officer, he still enjoys the physical aspect of engineering and maintains that it’s impossible to be an engineering apprentice unless you enjoy using your hands.

Trade training complete, in 1990 he arrived at RAF Cottesmore (now Kendrew Barracks) as a junior technician when it was home to the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment. Within a year he had been promoted to corporal and applied for his commission in 1994. For a person whose skills were more technical than academic, the route to a commission would prove so challenging that it very nearly didn’t happen at all.

Before starting his three-year engineering degree at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, Tony had to complete an academic preparatory course at RAF College Cranwell. He only just passed the course and entered Shrivenham as a training risk. But it was this experience that hardened his sense of self-determination. He said: “It takes hard work. You have to recognise for yourself that you have a talent and finding that inner talent will unlock all kinds of opportunities for you.”

Tony graduated with a first-class honours degree in aero-mechanical systems engineering and then, after graduating top of his class at Cranwell, commissioned as an engineering officer into the RAF in 1999. He joined the Military Aircraft Authority on its formation in 2010, set up after the Haddon-Cave enquiry into the crash of Nimrod XV230. He was also Officer Commanding Engineering and Logistics Wing at RAF Lossiemouth when the two Tornados collided over the Moray Firth in 2012…

Read more in Wittering View Magazine Summer 2019