The first man made powered flight took place in North Carolina, USA in December 1903. The Wright brothers were the first to successfully achieve this aviation goal, although others were hot on their heels! Less than a decade later Britain was exploiting this new form of aviation as a military force and by 1912 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had been established. In 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service separated from the RFC and during the First World War both services were in operation under a combined central flying school. Each service was found to have its own priorities and on April 1st 1918 a new force was established: the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The creation of the RAF was inevitable really following the increasingly important role aviation played during the war. Aerial reconnaissance over enemy territory allowed military chiefs to see enemy trench formations, where defences were particularly strong or weak and where strategic gains might be made. In the early days of the war pilots would lean over the side of the plane to take photographs, or in two-seater planes the observer would play a vital role. As the war progressed more pilots were needed both at the Western Front and in other theatres of war. In order to fill this skills gap the Royal Flying Corps trained pilots at one of their flying schools. Before you were allowed near a plane however you had to pass a few basic tests and not everybody was a suitable candidate!
Test your friends to see if they might pass some of the more basic WW1 pilot testing to determine their eligibility for pilot training in the RFC:
Hearing: Listen to the forced whisper of your examiner. You should be a minimum 6.0m from each other. Your examiner will speak a sentence in a forced whisper. Recall the words exactly back to the examiner.
Muscle tone and Fitness: Flex your arm muscles as and when directed and hold the tension. Try and make your stomach hard and hold the position until directed to let go. Undertake muscle tensing in different parts of your body - Are you muscle fit?
Nervous system: Exaggerated reflex reaction may indicate an unstable/inadequate nervous system & can reduce reaction time and coordination. Tap the knee reflex gently with a small wooden hammer. The knee should jerk - too little or too exaggerated a reaction suggests the candidate might not be a suitable for pilot training. Slow reactions or exaggerated reactions might be dangerous - why might this be the case?
Balance I: Can you stand on one leg, hands on hips with closed eyes for 30 seconds?
Balance II: Can you walk along a straight line heel to toe with eyes open, pivot 180 degrees without coming off the line and walk back, heel to toe?
Balance III: Can you walk heel to toe in a straight line with your eyes closed?
If you have successfully completed Stage 1 you are eligible to train as a WW1 pilot. Once trainee pilots were allowed near the planes many were unfortunately killed in training before they even got near the conflict. This was particularly the case before the Gosport System of training was introduced in 1917. This standardised the stages of learning which prior to its introduction, were very much at the discretion of the flying instructor. The flying instructor was often an ex combat pilot himself who had been injured or was no longer fit for the front. Under Smith-Barry's Gosport System there was a clear training route to becoming a pilot. Michael Skeet (www.theaerodrome.com) notes that:
Once the Gosport System was introduced, the solo (flight) was never a surprise: the cadet knew when it was coming, and had been told by his instructor exactly what maneuvers he was expected to perform. Once the first solo was complete, the cadet returned to an extended period of dual instruction so that any bad habits that had been observed during the solo could be worked on. It must be emphasized, though, that this care was not shown until Smith-Barry reorganized the RFC’s training.
The training was known to be dangerous and fatalities were high but for those that made it through (and more did following the introduction of the Gosport System) they could expect to play an active role in the air from the moment they reached the Front.
WW1 Flying Facts:
Initially the role of the early WW1 pilot or observer was simply for aerial reconnaissance purposes.
During the Fokker Scourge (late 1915/early 1916) the average life expectancy of an Allied pilot was 17.5 flying hours.
'Aces' were pilots who had downed at least 5 enemy aircraft. The French were the first to use the term.
John Inglis Gilmour (RFC) was Scotland's premier 'Ace' with 39 victories.
One of the first major contributions of planes in WW1 was at the First Battle of the Marne (September 1914). Allied aerial reconnaissance planes spotted a weakness in the German lines. The Allies attacked and were able to split the German armies and drive them back.
The first aircraft carriers were constructed during World War I.
The WBIII fighter plane was designed and built for the RNAS by Beardsmore in Glasgow at Dalmuir (see page 'About).
The Fokker Eindecker was perhaps the most famous fighter plane during WWI. It was fast, nimble and introduced synchronized machine gun fire (through the propeller). The Fokker gave Germany air superiority for a period of time during the war.
The most infamous WW1 pilot was German: Manfred Von Richthofen, more commonly known today as 'The Red Baron'. With 80 victories under his belt he was killed in action on April 21st 1918.
The casualties from the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Air Force and Royal Naval Air Service for 1914–18 totaled nearly 10,000 killed or missing and over 7,200 wounded.
Links: Robert Smith-Barry: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-21321362 About pilot training: http://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/showthread.php?t=23225 Aviation and Aircraft: https://www.ducksters.com/history/world_war_i/aviation_and_aircraft_of_ww1.php World War 1 Aces: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_War_I_aces_credited_with_20_or_more_victories World War 1: http://diggingin.co.uk/