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RFC Pilot Training
RFC Pilot Training
Michael Skeet
Published by Michael Skeet
3 December 1998
Page 9

All of my sources agree that elementary flight training was done early in the morning and late in the afternoon, because at those times the air was most calm. Daytime heating resulted in thermals and higher winds during mid-day; thermals caused crashes because most pupils couldn’t deal with the turbulence (“bumps” was how Price referred to them) while higher winds caused crashes because they induced stalling in the underpowered elementary training aircraft. Accordingly, cadets at elementary training squadrons were usually wakened at 5 or 5:30 am during flying weather. Gibbard remembers trumpets being used to wake the cadets -- but adds that wakeup calls were seldom necessary. “We lived for flying,” he wrote, “and were in despair when shortages of machines, sickness, orderly duty etc. grounded us. Outside social activity was non-existent and not desired. No time for anything that did not further our aviating.”

Higher Training

A pilot’s elementary training was considered to have been completed once he’d spent between 10 and 20 hours in the air (R.V. Dodds had just under 10 hours in autumn of 1916; Donald MacLaren had 21 hours in summer 1917) and had made 30 successful landings at the airfield and one, under simulated emergency conditions, away from home field. At this point he was posted to another training squadron for what was referred to as higher training.

Higher training was done on a variety of machines, and this was most pilots’ introduction to rotary-powered aircraft. Dodds flew Avro 504s and B.E.2s; Harold Price flew Avros and R.E.8s; A. Roy Brown flew Avros and B.E.2s (which he preferred to the Avro; it had better gliding characteristics, he wrote). In Canada, MacLaren did both his elementary and higher training on Jennies; A.D. Bell-Irving, a year earlier, did elementary training on three different Farman types, and did such higher training as he got on the Morane-Saulnier P before moving on to single-seaters.

Whenever possible, cadets at higher training squadrons were encouraged to fly every day. Whereas at the elementary training squadron all flying had been basic in nature, involving little more than circuits of the airfield and landings, higher training broadened the scope considerably. Instructors regularly sent cadets on distance flights cross-country (Harold Price took notes of the castles and cathedrals he was able to see from the air). Other flights required the students to climb above 8,000 feet, while others were devoted to specific activities such as observation, aerial navigation, the interpretation of ground-based signals from the air, and even bombing practice.

Because higher training machines were better (and better-powered) aircraft, there were fewer restrictions on flying than in elementary squadrons. Higher training continued through fall and even into winter, though obviously more days were lost to bad weather in December and January. Bill Lambert did his higher training with 93 Reserve Squadron from December 1917 through February 1918, and on one memorable occasion enjoyed what he called “an enjoyable and free vacation” when he got lost in fog while trying to lead 10 Avros on a formation flight. He later wrote that he “spent my days in making forced landings and my nights in strange bedrooms, all over the shires of Berks, Hands and Wilts!” What was supposed to have been a flight of an hour or so took him three days to complete.

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pilot training, rfc, royal flying corps

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