Air Crew Training (WWI)

RESEARCH NOTES

BACKGROUND

Training in the RFC evolved as technology and techniques changed and attitudes towards the lower classes improved. 

The official history of the RFC shows “Some of the instructors had seen active service in France, and all were veterans in aviation. Of the pupils a certain number were regular officers, but the majority were civilians of promise. There were lectures on engines, aeroplanes, wireless telegraphy, meteorology, tactics and organisation. The pupil was first taken up as a passenger, and the method of using the controls was demonstrated to him. He was then allowed to attempt flight for himself, either on a machine fitted with dual controls or with the watchful instructor on the pounce to save him from dangerous mistakes. The training was almost wholly directed to producing airworthiness in the pupil. The various activities which had developed at the front, such as artillery observation, fighting and bombing, had no counterpart as yet in the training establishment. Most of the pupils were eager to fly and to get to France so viewed workshop instruction as a necessary evil. Most of the instructors were unable to answer the questions of a pupil interested in the science of aviation. They knew, and taught, that when a machine is steeply banked the rudder and elevator appear to exchange functions, so that the rudder directs the machine up or down and the elevator turns it to this side or that, but they could not explain the reason for this mystery. Nor could they explain why in a fog or cloud the compass of an aeroplane is suddenly possessed of a devil, and begins to- spin round. But although they were not all well versed in technical knowledge and theory, they were all
fit to teach the most important lesson ~ the lesson of confidence, resource and initiative.”

The following is a summary of the training process for pilots and observers which was being introduced in 1916 when No. 35 Squadron started working up to operational readiness.

“Trade” Training (Pilots)

Having received basic flying instruction at one of the RFC Schools, pilots were “attached” to a squadron that was working up to operational readiness to receive “higher instruction in aviation”.

Whilst “attached”, they received Ground Training in subjects such as engines, aeroplanes, wireless telegraphy, meteorology, tactics and organisation and Flying Training, where they were encouraged to gain air experience by flying at night and in bad weather and by practising landings, bomb dropping and flying in formation.

Having completed their training, they were required to take Graduation Exams A and B in order to earn their wings and earn promotion to Flying Officer.

Certificate A was a written examination which covered subjects such as the theory of flight, RFC organisation and artillery co-operation procedures Certificate B was a practical exam covering subjects such as aero-engines, rigging, Morse and machine guns.

Having qualified, some were taken on strength of the squadron, others were posted to other operational squadrons

“Trade” Training (Observers)

In 1916, the RFC introduced a formal training programme for Observers (prior to this very little training had been offered to those volunteering to take on this role).

The programme started with a four week Ground Training course at Reading or Oxford covering subjects such as Aeroplanes, Artillery Work, Photography, The Lewis Gun and Signalling (*)

(*) Aeroplanes (Types of aeroplanes, Theory of Flight, Aero-engines, Instruments) / Artillery Work (Artillery Observation, Troop Formations, Reconnaissance, Bombs and Bombing, Aerial Fighting, Photography) / The Lewis Gun / Signalling (Wireless, Signalling (Morse)) / Miscellaneous (Map Reading, Meteorology, Astronomy, Military Law)

This was followed by an attachment to a squadron that was working up to operational readiness for “instruction in aerial observation” (primarily to gain practical flying experience). Whilst on attachment, a further 3 week course was undertaken at Brooklands (Wireless) and/or Hythe (Aerial Gunnery)

Qualification was achieved when a trainee observer:

  • knew the Lewis Gun thoroughly
  • could use the RFC camera successfully
  • could send and receive by wireless at the rate of 6 x 5 letter words a minute with 98% accuracy
  • knew the method of co-operation between aeroplanes and artillery thoroughly
  • had carried out two reconnaissance flights or had ranged batteries on at least two occasions

Having qualified, some were taken on strength of the squadron, others were posted to other operational squadrons

Operational Training / Conversion Training (Pilots and Observers)

Having been posted to an Operational Squadron, Pilots and Observers needed to be trained in operational techniques (such as firing from an aeroplane and fighting in the air) and in how to carry out the various types of patrols and shoots as set out in the document “Co-operation of Aircraft with Artillery”

Instruction Leaflet Index

Furthermore, as all previous training had been carried out in “training” aircraft, they had to be trained to fly the “service type” aircraft that they would be using when they mobilised to France; this was known as “conversion training”


TRAINING WITH 35 SQUADRON IN THE UK (JANUARY 1916 to JANUARY 1917)

“Trade” Training (Trainee Pilots and Observers)

Trainee Pilots and Observers were attached to the squadron to receive “higher instruction in aviation” and “instruction in aerial observation” respectively.

Operational Training (Qualified Pilots and Observers)

Qualified Pilots and Observers were posted to the squadron to receive Operational Training and Conversion Training

As 35 Squadron had been designated as a Corps Squadron, they were trained to “provide medium and short distance aerial reconnaissance for one of the British Army Corps Commands”. The role included:

  • Location of Hostile Batteries
  • Observation of Artillery Fire
  • Contact Patrol Work
  • Close Reconnaissance and Photography
  • Offensive action against vulnerable points in the Army reconnaissance area

Conversion Training was carried out using the squadron’s allocated “service” aircraft, the Armstrong Whitworth FK8

In December 1916, the squadron was advised that it would be attached to the Cavalry Corps when it mobilised to France. As a result, specialist training in “co-operation between Cavalry and Aeroplanes” was undertaken, in conjunction with representatives from the Cavalry Corps

Continuation Training (Qualified Pilots and Observers)

Qualified Pilots and Observers continued to receive Ground and Flying Training in their respective “trades”, both onsite and offsite, with training exercises being carried out on a regular basis.


TRAINING WITH 35 SQUADRON IN FRANCE (JANUARY 1917 to APRIL 1917)

Operational Training with the Cavalry Corps (Qualified Pilots and Observers)

Qualified Pilots and Observer continued with their specialist training in “co-operation between Cavalry and Aeroplanes”, in conjunction with representatives from the Cavalry Corps.

Continuation Training (Qualified Pilots and Observers)

Qualified Pilots and Observers continued to receive Ground and Flying Training in their respective “trades”, both onsite and offsite, with training exercises being carried out on a regular basis.


TRAINING IN FRANCE (FROM APRIL 1917)

Operational / Continuation Training (Qualified Pilots and Observers)

In April 1917, the squadron became operational as a Corps Squadron.

Qualified Pilots and Observers continued with their Operational / Continuation Training, with training exercises being carried out on a regular basis

The squadron’s Record Book shows its personnel undertaking the following training flights: Aerial Combat, Aerial Gunnery, Aerodrome Reconnaissance, Artillery Patrol, Cavalry Contact, Cavalry Co-Operation, Cavalry Scheme, Contact Patrol, Duration, Fighting Duty, Formation, Lamp and Panel Reading, Landing / Force Landing, Line Reconnaissance, Message Dropping, Photography, Practice Shoots, Reconnaissance, Signalling, Tank Reconnaissance, Wireless Practice