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The Royal Flying Corps 1912 - 1918

In 1912 The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was created out of the Royal Engineers’ Air Battalion. The Corps was to have a Military and Naval Wing with a Central Flying School training pilots for both Wings. However from the start the Royal Navy set up their own flying school and soon referred to their Wing as “The Royal Naval Air Service” and thereafter the ‘RFC’ tended to refer to the Military Wing only.

At the outbreak of the First World War the RFC was required to expand rapidly. The Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough proved unable to cope with the numbers and quality of aircraft required and the decision was made to buy aeroplanes directly from private manufacturers. The Farnborough Factory then specialised in research and development only.

The RFC made a tremendous contribution to the War. Their duties not only included reconnaissance (leading to aerial combat) but also bombing, strafing, artillery fire direction and many other roles.

The normal operational unit was the Squadron, which was largely self-contained. Maintenance was undertaken by men recruited for their skill as mechanics, carpenters or upholsters.

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They were trained as ‘fitters’ who worked with engines, as ‘riggers’ who dealt with airframes or as a variety of specialists.

Pilots were trained in a number of training establishments all over the UK. The number of flying schools had been significantly expanded since the early days of the war. However, a shortage of experienced instructors meant that many pilots were sent to the front with woefully few flying hours and not necessarily any experience with the aircraft type they were due to fly. Training improvements were proposed early in the war but because of the demand for pilots they were not implemented until 1917.

By 1917 German air attacks on London and the East Coast had prompted a Government decision to establish a separate Air Arm instead of integrated air units. On 1 April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged into the Royal Air Force. The RAF was established quite independent from the older Services but initially wore khaki uniforms and used Army ranks until war shortages and military pressure eased.

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