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Royal Flying Corps

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of World War I.

Table of contents
1 Origin
2 Aircraft
3 Actions
4 Training
5 Amalgamation
6 Some members of the RFC
7 In Fiction
8 Web links


Formed by Royal Warrant on May 13, 1912, the RFC superseded the Air Branch of the Royal Engineers. By the end of that year, it had 12 manned Balloon and 36 biplane Fighter aircraft. The RFC was responsible for manning observation balloons on the Western front. For the first half of the war, the French air force vastly outnumbered the RFC, and accordingly did more fighting.


RFC and RNAS aircraft used during the war included the Airco DH2 DH4 DH5 and DH9, Armstrong-Whitworth FK3, Avro 504, Bleriot Experimental 2a 2b 2c, Bristol F2B Scout, Handley Page HP 0/400, Martinsyde G.100, Morane Bullet Biplanet Parasol, Nieuport Scout 17 23 & 27, Royal Aircraft Factory Scout Experimental 5 and 5a, BE2e BE12 FE2b FE8 RE7 and RE8, Sopwith Aviation Baby Camel Dolphin Pup Snipe & Strutter, SPAD S.VII and S.XIII, and Vickers FB5. Many technological advances took place. Planes became faster and more maneuverable, so they could attack enemy positions as well as scouting. Machine guns were fired between the propeller blades.


Despite the primitive aircraft, aggressive leadership by commander Hugh Trenchard led to many brave fighting exploits and many casualties - over 700 in 1916, the rate worsening thereafter.

The RFC's first casualties of World War I were before the Corps even arrived in France. Lt Robert R. Skene and Air Mechanic Ray Barlow were killed on August 12 1916 when their, probably overloaded, plane crashed on the way to rendezvous with the rest of the RFC near Dover. Skene was the first Englishman to do a loop in an airplane. Following the rendezvous, the RFC made a mass crossing of the English with 60 machines.

Eleven RFC members received the Victoria Cross during World War I.

Before the Battle of the Somme (1916) the RFC had 421 aircraft, with four kite-balloon squadrons and fourteen balloons. These made up four brigades, which worked with four British armies. The RFC drew on men from across the British Empire including South Africa, Canada and Australia. Some Americans joined the RFC before the USA became a combatant.


In 1917, the American, British, and Canadian Governments agreed to join forces for training. Between April 1917 and January 1919, Camp Borden in Ontario hosted instruction on flying, wireless, air gunnery and photography, training 1,812 RFC Canada pilots and 72 for the United States. It now now hosts the largest training wing of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Training also took place at several other Ontario locations.

During winter 1917-18, RFC instructors trained with the Signal Corps of the US Army on three airfields accommodating about six thousand men, at Camp Taliaferro near Fort Worth, Texas. Training was hazardous; 39 RFC officers and cadets died in Texas. Eleven remain there, re-interred in 1924 at a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery where a monument honours their sacrifice.


The RFC was separate from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Towards the end of World War I, on April 1, 1918, the RFC and the RNAS were amalgamated into the Royal Air Force under the control of the Air Ministry. By 1919 the RAF had 4,000 combat aircraft and 114,000 people.

Some members of the RFC

In Fiction

Web links