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1998 Closed threads from 1998 (read only)

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Old 30 September 1998, 03:12 AM   #1
Michael Skeet
Posts: n/a

14. RFC Training: Wings
Nowhere in the preceding notes have I made any mention of the awarding of wings. This is deliberate. Prior to the introduction of the Gosport System, there doesn’t seem to have been any consistency in the way wings were awarded. Few of the sources I’ve used mention wings at all, and the evidence suggests that before fall 1917 at least, there was no ceremonial parade at which wings were awarded. In some cases, cadets weren’t even told that they were allowed to wear wings; William Gibbard wrote that he and his fellows started wearing their wings while off duty once they’d soloed, but kept them either pinned on or loosely stitched, so that they could be removed quickly if a senior officer hove into view. These cadets didn’t wear wings full-time until they were sent to the front. E.C. Burton was allowed to wear wings once he’d passed the required tests at his Canadian elementary training squadron (remember that Canadian squadrons provided more detailed training than did their UK counterparts); a list of qualified pilots was posted.

Technically, I believe that pilots weren’t allowed to wear wings until they had been qualified for service at the front. A.D. Bell-Irving received his wings the day before he was posted to the front, and that’s the standard that the Gosport System adhered to. (I should point out here that my notes for Bell-Irving are contradictory, because I have another note stating that he received his wings shortly after his first solo, having done an additional two and a half hours of flying. Since his totals before being posted were just over 30 hours, there’s a discrepancy here that I can’t as yet answer.)

The Gosport System spelled out exactly what a pilot had to do in order to earn his wings. According to the cadet’s log-book of which I have a photocopy (the handwritten changes were made at some time in early 1918):

“A. To graduate a pilot must have:

“1. Undergone instruction at a School of Military Aeronautics.

“2. Had 20 hours solo in the air. [Handwritten amendment reads: “25 hours solo + dual combined”]

“3. Flown a service aeroplane satisfactorily.

“4. Carried out a cross-country flight of at least 60 miles successfully--during which he must have landed at two outside landing places under supervision of a R.F.C. officer.

“5. Climbed to 8,000 ft. and remained there for at least 15 mins., after which he will land with his engine stopped, the aeroplane first touching the ground within a circular mark of 50 ft. in diam.

“6. Made two landings in the dark, assisted by flares (only applicable to B.E. and F.E. 2 pilots; pilots of other machines may do this at discretion of Wing Commanders and Commandant C.F.S.).*

[A hand-written note adds: “7. Passed Gas Course”]

“B. Pilots will not wear wings until they are qualified for service overseas as under:--

“1. Passed tests applicable on p. 6--7. [These are the tests in “A” above.]

“2. Have had air experience 30 hours solo, of which not less than five hours must be done on a service type. [Handwritten amendment reads: “Have had dual control instruction + solo air experience amounting in all to 35 hours: of which no less than 5 hrs must be made upon a service type.”]

“3. Carried out 15 ‘tail down’ landings on service type.

“He will then be known as a service pilot and will wear wings.

“C. If a service pilot is required for overseas on a type other than that on which he is qualified as such, he must do a further five hours solo and 15 ‘tail down’ landings on new type.”

* Night landings were required for B.E. 2 pilots because this machine was used for anti-Zeppelin work, while the F.E. 2 was used in night bombing.

This was a minimum standard. Many pilots who went to the front in later 1917 and 1918 did so with upwards of 80 hours’ experience, up to a quarter of that on service types. Of course, this standard was equally often honoured in the breach, especially in the spring of 1917, when aircrew were being killed, injured or captured on their first or second trip over the lines and replacements were needed on a daily basis, owing to Trenchard’s “no empty chairs” policy.

And that’s all she wrote. I have of necessity left out huge gobs of information, so if anybody has any further questions please feel free to post them and I’ll do my best to provide answers.
Old 30 September 1998, 07:52 PM   #2
Forum Ace
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Western Australia
Posts: 948

First class, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say thankyou for posting this stuff.
I'm not sure where to start on asking further questions, but perhaps when I've re-read all the posts?
I can only say that any more info you have would be gratefully accepted.

very best regards

Darryl is offline  


rfc, training, wings

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