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RFC Pilot Training
RFC Pilot Training
Michael Skeet
Published by Michael Skeet
3 December 1998
Page 5


Dual Instruction

As soon as a cadet arrived at a training squadron, he began flying (weather permitting). His first trips were always as a passenger, but these first flights still had a powerful effect, and many men wrote down their feelings and impressions of their first time in the air. After this first familiarization flight, cadets began to take dual instruction. (It should be noted that, after the Gosport System was introduced, the first flight wasn’t just to introduce the cadet to the feeling of being airborne. Gosport instructors were required to note the pupil’s reactions to this first flight, as a number of unsuitable candidates could be washed out on the basis of their first flight alone. This couldn’t be done before Gosport, though, because the Shorthorn and its kind wouldn’t allow for any of the testing of a pupil’s attitude that was possible with the Jenny or Avro 504.)

First flight

For most of the war, pilots learned to fly by the seat of their pants: by resting hands and feet lightly on the controls while the instructor flew the plane, a cadet attempted to absorb what the instructor was doing while observing the results of these actions on the machine. Until the introduction of the “Gosport tube” (a speaking tube that allowed very limited conversation), there was almost no communication between instructor and pupil in the air. One instructor, Lt. Russell, sometimes handed notes to a pupil in the front seat (the notes were sometimes rather rude in nature). Some instructors “were known to stand up and hit the cadet on the head with a monkey wrench or anything available” if the unfortunate pupil froze at the controls. Standing up wasn’t feasible in the Shorthorn -- the extra drag would in all likelihood induce a stall -- so instructors took to kicking the back of the pupil’s seat in order to get the pupil’s attention. The Shorthorn had a communal cockpit.

Dual flights were always of short duration; they took place at low altitudes (always under 1,000 feet) and within sight of the airfield. This was because, since a limited number of cadets could be airborne at any one time, the remainder would stand on the field and watch. “We stood on the edge of the field,” wrote E. C. Burton, “while an extra instructor made suitable remarks such as, ‘Look at this silly nut... he is flattening out way too high... he’ll crash for sure.’ He did.” Cadets practiced turning (it was important that they learn the flow from rudder to aileron in a turn, lest the machine skid rather than turn smoothly) and landing. In fact, many training flights were little more than a succession of landings and takeoffs; William Lambert did a total of 58 landings in just four days of dual instruction.

Because of the Shorthorn’s deficiencies, dual instruction could only be done when the weather was perfect: any wind greater than five m.p.h., write a number of pilots, was sufficient to cancel flying until the winds calmed. Early morning and early evening tended to be the most active flying times, because that was when the air was most likely to be calm. “If the wind sprung [sic] up suddenly when a number of students were in the air,” wrote R.V. Dodds, “it could be expected that 5 or 6 would crash in landing.” Such restrictions meant that it could take weeks for a cadet to amass two or three hours of flight time. (When the weather was good, as it was for Lambert, four days could be enough.)




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