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RFC Pilot Training
RFC Pilot Training
Michael Skeet
Published by Michael Skeet
3 December 1998
Page 3

The School of Military Aeronautics presented what for all intents and purposes was a concentrated university course, compressed into the space of a month or so. (Courses were initially four weeks, increased in mid-1917 (August-September) to six weeks.) Cadets were under parade discipline at all times while being instructed, and were required to salute an instructor at all times when speaking to him, even if their probationary rank was higher than the instructor’s.

Cadets almost universally seem to have regarded ground instruction as complicated and pointless. While practical courses in aerial observation and wireless telegraphy were vital, it’s doubtful anyone learned anything useful from courses on the workings of aneroid barometers, the manufacture of engine parts or the proper method of stitching linen to cover aircraft (a course called “sail-making”). As an example of how pointless this could be: cadets were required to know all of the parts of a Lewis gun and be able to replace a broken bolt -- even though it was known that it was impossible to do this while flying, and replacement parts weren’t even carried in aircraft. Norman R. Anderson’s cadet log-book contains four pages of close-written notes on the Lewis gun, including detailed descriptions of why the gun works the way it does. This information was taught not because it had been proven useful, but because it had always been part of the ground-school curriculum. (Cadets also took courses in mess room etiquette; I doubt these lessons were retained once airmen reached frontline squadrons.)

Significantly, there were (until the introduction of the Smith-Barry system in the fall of 1917) no classes in the theory or mechanics of flight.

Daily Routine

While attending the School of Military Aeronautics, cadets studied in and were barracked at the time-honoured colleges of the universities. A typical day began with a six o’clock wakeup call, breakfast and then a parade from barracks to a large open space where the assembled cadets were inspected. They then broke into squadrons of 10 to go to classrooms. There were two lectures and two periods of practical work each day, with two 15-minute recesses, and classes ended at 4 p.m. From then until the following morning the time was the cadet’s own -- unless the CO had instituted Study Parades, in which case cadets were expected to remain in their rooms studying. C.H. Andrews described this as “practically amount[ing] to a Confined to Barracks all week.” Cadets could also get C.B. for infractions of discipline; Andrews and his entire class were confined to barracks one weekend “because some of the American cadets beat up a flight sergeant named Cooper. They couldn’t find out who did it so we all got it.”

The evidence is that the schools in Britain were actually more relaxed than their Canadian counterparts. Cadets were freely given leave on weekends, and nobody seems to have noticed much if men didn’t turn up for morning parade (or even morning classes). There was no real pressure on the cadets to learn, though the cadets themselves usually managed to find plenty to worry about. When exams were written, though, they invariably turned out to be easy, no more than repetition of information learned by rote. Those who failed at the first attempt were given additional opportunities. Fewer than five percent of cadets washed out of ground school over the course of the war; until late 1917 the figures were even lower. When demand for men at the training squadrons was high, courses were often cut short in order to graduate the cadets as quickly as possible.

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pilot training, rfc, royal flying corps

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