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The tuition of pupils from the time of joining the service until they reach their squadrons


FORMATION FLYING AT CRANWELL, Lincolnshire, where cadets who are accepted for permanent commissions receive their training. Instruction in formation flying is first carried out with dual control. Later an instructor leads pupils flying solo. Finally, the pupil himself leads a formation. In all formation flying during instruction the machines are farther apart than they would be in regular squadron formations. Formation flying calls for considerable skill in piloting and for close concentration.

ONE year is about the time it takes to train an R.A.F. pilot to the standard at which he is ready to join a squadron. During that time he will carry out between 150 and 200 hours’ flying, nearly 100 hours of which will be solo flying. When it is appreciated that the pilot's training includes night flying, instrument flying and a great amount of ground instruction, it is possible to realize how hard the pilot has to work to complete his tuition in the time available. That it is possible to complete the syllabus in about a year is due to the careful way in which the training is planned. Progress is continuous and the pilot passes smoothly from one stage to the next.

All pupils go through the same course of training, irrespective of the channel through which they join the R.A.F. Pupils may be commissioned officers or other ranks. There are three principal channels through which the pilots-to-be arrive at the flying training schools. Those accepted for permanent commissions join Cranwell as cadets at about the age of seventeen and a half, or they may join the R.A.F. after having graduated at a university.

Other candidates take short service commissions. Opportunities are available later for these officers to take regular commissions or to extend their time to medium service commissions. Thirdly, a number of specially selected men from the ranks are trained as pilots.

The flying training in all these categories is based on the same standard syllabus. This syllabus is divided into three sections, covering elementary, intermediate and advanced training. With the exception of those being taught at Cranwell, all elementary training is carried out at civil flying training schools, which are under special contract with the Air Ministry. The intermediate and advanced training is received at a Service, or R.A.F., flying training school. Cranwell combines the functions of civil and R.A.F. flying training schools, thus dealing with the complete tuition of those who are trained there.

At present there are thirteen of the civil schools. They are situated in England at Hamble (Hampshire), Brough (Yorkshire), Hanworth (Middlesex), Filton (Bristol), Hatfield (Hertfordshire), Sywell (Northamptonshire) , White Waltham, near Maidenhead (Berkshire), Reading (Berkshire), Desford (Leicestershire), Yatesbury (Wiltshire) and Ansty (Coventry), and in Scotland at Perth and Ayr. In some instances these schools do considerable training for civil flying, the R.A.F. training constituting a section of the school. In others, the schools are concerned only with training for the Royal Air Force. All of them, however, carry out training of R.A.F. Reserve pilots as well.

AN INSTRUCTOR EXPLAINING ENGINE DETAILS to a group of pupils at the Service flying training school at Sealand Aerodrome

AN INSTRUCTOR EXPLAINING ENGINE DETAILS to a group of pupils at the Service flying training school at Sealand Aerodrome, Chester. An R.A.F. pilot must have a considerable knowledge of engines and airframes, so that he will thoroughly understand his machine. The aircraft in this picture is a Hawker Hart, a two-seater machine used extensively for the training of R.A.F. personnel.

Of the R.A.F. flying training schools, ten are in Great Britain and one in Egypt. One of those in Great Britain is devoted entirely to the training of pilots for the Fleet Air Arm. The number of officers in training at Cranwell at any one time is about 150.

During his elementary instruction at the civil flying school, the pilot does not wear uniform, but discipline is maintained at a high standard. It must not be imagined, because the elementary training is conducted outside the R.A.F., that less importance is attached to it than to the later training. It is equally important. Unless the foundation of good flying is laid at the civil school, it will be impossible for the pupil to pass successfully and rapidly through the stages that follow.

The chief aim of the civil school is to teach the pupil to handle the controls of an aeroplane correctly, and to develop a smooth and leisurely use of them. To achieve this, instruction must include the rudiments of the theory of flight and the functioning of all normal aircraft instruments. A certain amount of navigational experience is obtained; this includes map reading, following a compass course and making allowances for the wind. Some pupils who progress well may be allowed to go on solo cross-country flights, but in no instance is such flying permitted to interfere with the learning of the accurate use of the controls. Skill in handling aircraft is always kept well in the foreground as the aim of training at the civil schools.

Under the Hood

Instrument flying of a simple nature is taught, as well as flying by natural aids, but advanced hooded flying, such as recovery from spins and take-offs, is not touched. The object of the flying done under the hood at the civil school is to give the pupil a clear idea of the aids by which he normally flies his aeroplane, which of these aids he loses when in clouds, and how they are replaced by the instruments.

Ground training at the civil flying school is always a little ahead of training in the air. In this way the pupil is prepared for what he is to be taught during each, instructional flight. There is a certain amount of instruction in engines and airframes. This instruction is confined to general principles, and it is planned so that the pupil can handle his aircraft intelligently in the air and on the ground, and so that he can understand the maintenance required to keep it serviceable.

The elementary course lasts eight or ten weeks, and provides a minimum of twenty-five hours’ dual-instruction flying and an equal number of hours of solo flying. At the end of this period the pupil is able to carry out all normal aircraft manoeuvres, including loops, half-rolls and slow rolls. He is also able to perform forced landings and to climb, glide, fly level and turn with the use of instruments alone. Finally, he is able to carry out short cross-country' flights with the aid of compass and map.

All flying at civil training -schools is carried out on light trainers of a general type to be found in private flying clubs and schools. These trainers include the Tiger Moth, the Avro 626, the Miles Magister and the Blackburn B2. The skill attained, however, is such that no trouble is experienced by pupils in going on to the Service types when they transfer to an R.A.F. school for intermediate training. Parachutes are always worn for flying.


PRACTISING DECK LANDING ON AN AERODROME at Gosport, Hampshire. Pupils training for Fleet Air Arm squadrons learn to make accurate landings on to a small area representing the deck of an aircraft carrier. Such an area is marked out on the aerodrome and is indicated by boards carrying letters and by white lines. The degree of skill obtained by the pilots is shown in this picture by the proximity of officers and men to the machine.

After the pupil has left the civil school he spends a fortnight at a depot, where his uniform is issued and where he receives a certain amount of drill and instruction in the procedure of the Royal Air Force. After this short break from flying, the pupil proceeds to the R.A.F. school, where he is to obtain his intermediate and advanced training.

At this stage the pupil is informed what kind of squadron he is eventually to join. As far as possible, his preferences are given consideration. The decision has to be made at this stage because it affects certain aspects of his future training. He may be drafted directly to the school in Egypt. Or he may be picked for a type of squadron - such as a heavy-bomber squadron - in which he will have to fly twin-engined aircraft. In this event he will receive all of his intermediate and advanced training on twin-engined machines.

Such is the thoroughness of the elementary training that it is possible for a pupil with but twenty-five hours’ solo flying to transfer direct on to twin-engined types. Only a few hours’ dual flying is required before solo flying on the new type can be undertaken by the pupil.

Thus the first thing a pupil does at the R.A.F. school is to become familiar with Service types of aircraft. The single-engined types are generally Hawker Harts and Hawker Audaxes. The first of these are used for dual flying, and the second for solo flying. In the twin-engined types there are Avro Ansons and Airspeed Oxfords.



Key to the colour plate:

1. Marshal of the RAF; 2. Air Chief Marshal; 3. Air Marshal; 4. Air Vice-Marshal; 5. Air Commodore; 6. Group Captain; 7. Wing Commander; 8. Squadron leader; 9. Flight Lieutenant; 10. Flying Officer; 11. Pilot Officer; 12. Flight Lieutenant Full Dress (other officer ranks similar for full dress); 13. Officers of Air Rank; 14. Group Captain; 15. All other officers (for walking out and ceremonial); 16. Forage or Field Service Cap; 17. Officers of Air rank; 18. Officers below Air Rank; 19. Full Dress Tropical Hat (worn by Air Officers Commanding - serving abroad); 20. Full Dress Hat (all ranks); 21. Chaplain’s Cap badge; 22. Pilot’s Badge; 23. Fleet Air Arm badge (worn on sleeve above ranking stripes); 24. Medical Officer’s Collar Badge; 25. RAF Ensign; 26. Marshal of the RAF; 27. Air Chief Marshal; 29. Air Vice-Marshal; 30. Air Commodore; 31. Group captain; 32. Wing Commander; 33. Squadron Leader.

Note - Although the Fleet Air Arm has been taken over by the Admiralty flying personnel will continue to be drawn from the Royal Air Force for a time, and this badge is still being worn.

The first ten days of the term generally see all pupils flying solo on Service type aircraft. By this time some sixty hours’ flying will have been done by the pupil. By the end of the intermediate term of training he will have reached a stage where flying has become a means to an end, and not an end in itself. This fact is highly important, because training during the advanced stage is such that it cannot be profitably undertaken if the pilot has to give more than passing thought to the mechanical movements of flying an aeroplane.

During his term of intermediate flying, which lasts about fifteen weeks, the pupil gradually changes over from direct to indirect flying training. In indirect flying a pupil has an object in view other than the handling of the aircraft; but, at the same time, he is gaining exjierience in controlling his aeroplane in the various manoeuvres of flight. The main items covered in the intermediate term include formation flying, instrument flying, night flying and navigation.

Night Flying

Clear weather flying, cloud or instrument flying, and night flying are all studied concurrently. The object of this is to emphasize that all three types of flying are complementary and not to be considered as independent of one another. Moreover, it removes the tendency to look upon night flying as rather a mysterious accomplishment altogether different from ordinary flying.

Only a small amount of time is devoted to formation flying in the intermediate term, and the formation is not so tight as that of fully trained pilots. The training in formation flying consists of both dual and solo practice, and is divided into a large number of short periods, because of the close concentration which it requires.

By the end of the intermediate term the pilot should be able to reach an objective in virtually any weather. Obviously, therefore, he has to do considerable instrument flying. This, like formation flying, is carried out in numerous short periods rather than in a few periods lasting a long time. The pupil is taught to recover from any unusual position, such as a spin, with the aid of his instruments alone. He also learns how to fly a complete triangular course entirely under the hood. Such a course is completed within a mile or two of the correct destination without the pilot once seeing the ground. So far as night flying is concerned, the pupil is taught to make good landings with either a flare path or floodlighting.


A LESSON ON THE CONTROLS OF AN AEROPLANE to cadets at Cranwell before they take off for instruction in the air. The model, with its working joystick^ gives point in a vivid way to the remarks of the instructor. The large chart in the background is used for marking up the number of hours flown by the pupils and the exercises which they have completed.

During the intermediate term the pupil will carry out numerous solo cross-country flights. He will also do a height test, in which he will have to climb to 15,000 feet and stay there for half an hour. Forced landings will be carefully taught. Each school has auxiliary landing fields for this purpose.

The pupil has as much to learn on the ground as in the air during this term. There is a wide variety of subjects which he has to study. These include air navigation, meteorology, airmanship, engines and airframes, administration and organization, law and discipline, drill, armament, signals, general education and reconnaissance. Under “armament” is included thorough instruction in the theory of machine guns and bombs. The principles of radio and the Morse code are learnt under the heading of “signals”.

The completion of his intermediate term of training brings the pupil to an important occasion. Having completed the necessary tests, which include one in aerobatic flying, he receives his wings. He will now have completed at least eighty hours of flying, and a minimum of twenty of his solo hours will have been on Service types of aircraft. Although the pupil is now certified as a qualified pilot, he has much to learn before becoming a qualified Service pilot. This he is taught during his advanced training term at the R.A.F. school. For each batch of pupils passing through the intermediate training course, a special chart is kept which shows in detail the progress of individual pupils. The flying times are divided into three sections: the number of hours’ dual flying before a pupil goes solo in his Service type of aircraft, the number of hours’ dual after this first solo, and the number of hours flown solo.

Skeleton Maps

The various flying tests which have to be passed are all recorded separately. Each attempt is recorded as a single diagonal line through a square, and, when a high enough standard is reached for a pass, a cross is put in the next square. Thus it is possible to see at a glance the speed with which any pupil has gained experience in the various sections of his training.

The advanced training term lasts as long as the intermediate training term. Four weeks of it are spent at an armament training camp, where practice with live ammunition is carried out. The aim of advanced training is to teach the application of flying to the duties which a pilot would carry out in time of war as a member of the squadron to which he is to be drafted. It follows therefore that the training will be largely concerned with armament. A certain amount of basic training is common to all pupils, but much of the instruction must vary according to the type of squadron for which a pupil is destined.

SHORT-SERVICE PILOTS studying the construction of the elevators of an aeroplane

SHORT-SERVICE PILOTS studying the construction of the elevators of an aeroplane. Training is divided into three sections, each of which includes instruction on the ground and in the air. The sections are elementary, intermediate and advanced training. The first of these is given at a civil flying training school, and the intermediate and advanced terms are spent at a Service flying training school. The pupil receives his wings at the end of the intermediate section of his tuition.

The types of squadrons in the Royal Air Force may be classified under the following headings: fighter, light bomber, medium bomber, heavy bomber, torpedo bomber, flying boats, Army cooperation and general reconnaissance. Pupils destined for one of the last three types of squadrons receive further specialized training at a special flying training school after they have completed their advanced training and before they join their squadron.

The pilot destined for a fighter squadron will not require instruction in bombing, and a pilot who is going to a bomber squadron will not be concerned with training in the use of the fixed machine gun. These are examples of the way in which training is graduated in accordance with the types of squadrons to which the pilots are going. Except in special instances, pilots spend the whole of their Service time with squadrons of the type for which they are trained. As far as possible, pupils undergoing advanced training are divided into syndicates of two or three. These syndicates work together throughout the term; friendly criticism between members of a syndicate and mutual aid in dealing with problems assist considerably in keeping the standard of efficiency at a high level. An instance of the working together of pupils is provided by cross-country flying under the hood. Another pupil flies in the aeroplane as well as the pilot, to act as “look-out”, and plots on a map the actual course of the machine so that the pilot flying blind can afterwards compare it with the course he intended to fly.

Another instance of this team training is provided by bombing practice. The pilot learns to fly steadily while bombing is in progress, and to follow the instructions of the bomber in the back seat. At the same time the pilot in the back seat, on his part, is learning the intricacies of bombing and accurate sighting. Such flying brings home vividly the effects of good or bad flying on the work of an observer. Even a single-seater-fighter pilot has to put in time as an observer to ensure that his knowledge of navigation is as good as that of the pilot of a multi-seater. On many of their cross-country flights the pupils are allowed skeleton maps only. A skeleton map consists of normal maps of the areas round the aerodrome of departure and round the destination, and details of the normal bearing of the course connecting the two map sections. The pupil has to work out the correct course to fly between the two map sections, allowing for the wind direction and strength. He is unable to check whether he is following the right course until he arrives over ground shown on the map of his destination. Sealed maps of the whole route are carried for use in emergency.

Use of the Camera Gun

During his advanced training the pupil is introduced to air photography. The general use of this subject is such that it forms part of the basic training common to all pupils. The camera gun is used by pupils for all firing practice except that carried out at the armament training camp.

Apart from his further instruction in cross-country flying, instrument flying and night flying, the pilot has much to learn during the advanced training term. With photography is combined reconnaissance of an advanced nature. The pilot has another height test to carry out, in which he has to climb to 15,000 feet with the full Service load on his machine. The rate of climb to various heights is checked, and has to come within a certain percentage of a standard climb.

Experience in formation flying is carried to a stage where formation takeoffs and landings are performed. Formation drill in the air is carried out also and moderate dives are performed. The pilot, flying solo, also acts as the leader in formation flying. Moreover he has to learn bombing and machine gunning. A high degree of skill is attained in gunnery with the aid of the camera gun. Ground targets, as well as targets towed by other aircraft, are used. The instructor generally flies in the aircraft towing the target so that he may check the pupil’s method of approach to the target. The degree of accuracy of the shooting is shown when the films from the camera gun have been developed. Various forms of attack are taught.

PARACHUTES ARE ALWAYS WORN for flying by pupils and qualified pilots of the Royal Air Force

PARACHUTES ARE ALWAYS WORN for flying by pupils and qualified pilots of the Royal Air Force. In this picture an R.A.F. pupil at a civil flying school is being shown how to adjust the harness of his parachute. The aircraft is a Blackburn B2 trainer, which is a two-seater with a side-by-side arrangement of the seats. Machines of this type are used at the Hanworth civil flying training school in Middlesex.

The amount of ground instruction during the advanced training term is less than that received during the intermediate training. Furthermore, it is of an essentially practical nature, being intended mainly to lead up to practical work in the air. It includes radio, although no practical experience in the air is covered at this stage.

After the pupils have returned from their stay at the armament training camp, simple manoeuvres are often arranged in which various units take part. Their object is to demonstrate the parts played by squadrons of various types when cooperating together.

The Link trainer, a device which reproduces on the ground the exact conditions of flight by instruments, has been universally adopted in R.A.F. training. It enables pilots to practise instrument flying at any time without the necessity of flying. All the civil training schools, all R.A.F. schools and all squadrons are due to be equipped with these useful devices. They enable blind flying to be practised when weather conditions prohibit flying, and pilots are required to practise on them regularly.

At the end of his advanced training the pupil is certified as a qualified Service pilot and, after his special navigation training, is posted to a squadron.

A description of training at the R.A.F. schools would not be complete without some reference to the instructors. All fully qualified pilots have to specialize in some subject, such as armament or photography. Some specialize in flying, with the object of becoming instructors. Instructors themselves have to receive a special course of training at the Central Flying School at Upavon (Wiltshire), which was formed in 1912. Officers sent for the instructor’s course must be regular or medium-service officers, and have completed at least 400 hours’ flying. They undergo a course of training, which lasts twelve weeks, before they are posted to a flying training school.

Selection of Instructors

Only those officers whose flying reaches a high standard and who show the necessary capabilities of imparting knowledge are chosen for instruction. It does not necessarily follow that an officer who is an especially good pilot will make a good instructor. The knack of imparting knowledge to others, particularly in flying, does not always go hand in hand with the gift of doing well those things which have to be taught.

After a pilot has joined his squadron, he still has a number of things to learn before he can take part in the work of the squadron in the same way as an old hand. The type of machine he is to fly may be different from that on which he has learnt, in which event he will need a few hours to become thoroughly acquainted with the new type. If he is a heavy-bomber pilot, to take an example, he will have to learn the cooperation methods of the various members of an aircraft’s crew, and the duties which each member of the crew performs.

The pilot has to apply all he has learnt to the particular duties of his own squadron, and he has to learn more about the use of radio. Another item concerns the use of oxygen apparatus for high-altitude flying. Finally, there is formation flying. The pilot has to become accustomed to the close formation of Service flying and the procedure of formations when entering clouds. As a formation enters a bank of clouds, each pilot makes a turn of a certain number of degrees to spread out the aeroplanes. They may afterwards join up into close formation again.

The training of a pilot is never really complete. The whole life of pilots in a squadron in time of peace is a matter of training. True, it may be more in the nature of practice training than initial training, but there is always something more a pilot can learn, whether he be a civil or Service pilot. Even the complicated manoeuvres in which imaginary wars are fought in the attack and defence of towns at night are simply a matter of training.

A LECTURE ON INSTRUMENT FLYING in progress at the Central Flying School

A LECTURE ON INSTRUMENT FLYING in progress at the Central Flying School at Upavon, Wiltshire. The diagrams on the board represent turn indicators. In both instances the rate of turn is the same, as indicated by the lower pointers. The diagram on the right shows a turn to the left, without bank, thus causing sideslip to the right. The upper pointer in the left diagram is central, indicating that the amount of bank is correct and there is no sideslip in either direction.

You can read more on “The Auxiliary Air Force”, “The Fleet Air Arm”, “RAF Operations Overseas” and “The Royal Air Force Reserve” on this website.

Training R.A.F. Pilots