Pilot Training in the Royal Flying Corps, 1915-18
These notes are based on primary and secondary sources; in most cases when an individual experience is mentioned, the information comes from a personal file (diary, letters, interview transcripts etc.) held on that individual by the Canadian Department of National Defence, Ottawa. The primary focus of these notes is on a typical recruit transferring in late 1916 and training in early 1917; where there are differences with later or earlier practice (specifically with reference to the Smith-Barry “Gosport
” system), these will be noted.
Joining or Transferring to the RFC
Transfer to the Royal Flying Corps was by turns easy or difficult depending on the conditions of the ground and air wars. At the beginning of the war, the RFC was only interested in officers with aviation experience. No one would be accepted into the Flying Corps unless he possessed a pilot’s license: the certificate issued by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale
(FAI). The FAI certificate was known universally as the “ticket
.” Ironically, possession of a ticket
didn’t mean that the RFC believed a man could actually fly. Cadets still had to undergo complete flying training; Arthur Roy Brown
wrote home in 1916 that the FAI ticket “really amounts to nothing here
As the war progressed, the Royal Flying Corps was forced to be less picky in its approach to recruitment. The requirement that candidates have an FAI ticket was dropped in July 1916 as casualties (both in the air and on the ground) in the Somme offensive reduced the number of transfer candidates at the same time as demand for new pilots increased. Beginning in late summer 1916, and continuing through mid-1917, the RFC made periodic appeals to infantry, cavalry and artillery units for men to transfer to the RFC. For example, Ontarian R.V. Dodds had been a fan of flying since childhood but could not afford the cost of getting an FAI certificate, so, in 1915, he enlisted in an infantry regiment as a Lieutenant. In September 1916, the RFC made one of its appeals for transfer candidates and Dodds applied. He was accepted and, in October 1916, he was seconded to the RFC.
Some candidates were “encouraged” by their superiors to transfer because they didn’t fit in or were otherwise considered disreputable. For example, Alan Duncan Bell-Irving
was told by his company commander to apply for a transfer (which the commander immediately endorsed) because Bell-Irving had been seen by a group of generals standing behind a set of breastworks wearing only shirt and boots, having taken off his kilt in order to burn the lice from it. “You’re not one of us
” his CO said. Incidentally, his fellow junior officers referred to the RFC as “the suicide club
A special case from Canada, just for the sake of interest: Robert A. Logan, of Edmonton, Alberta, joined the Canadian Army in January 1915. When he heard that the Royal Naval Air Service was looking for pilots, he applied to get out of the army so that he could join the navy -- what was called “discharge by purchase
.” This involved the individual in question paying a sum of money in order to get out of the service, and was at the time against regulations. Logan’s army CO decided that since Logan wanted to fly at the front, he’d bend regulations and told Logan that he could have his discharge so long as he paid the CO $18 and promised to take the man up for a joyride if they ever met again.