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WWI Flying Training Losses

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WWI Flying Training Losses

Old 9th Jan 2014, 20:26
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WWI Flying Training Losses

" 'Members of the RFC who own their own aeroplanes should be encouraged to bring them to the Central Flying School when they undergo their training there,' said a War Office Instruction. In the autumn of 1914, however, an RFC flight training programme was hastily introduced, which before the war's end had killed more pilots than enemy action."

This is a quotation from Max Hastings' excellent book "Catastrophe." Are we to believe that, despite the pioneering efforts of Major Smith-Barry, later in the war, overall, we lost more pilots during training than perished in action? Do any members have any corroborative evidence or views on this?

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Old 9th Jan 2014, 21:25
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Wye Kent WW1 Airfield

If the deaths recorded on this one WW1 Training Airfield are anything to go by then the total deaths must have been large. See: http://www.kentfallen.com/PDF%20REPO...0AERODROME.pdf
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Old 9th Jan 2014, 21:36
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Some history here : RFC Wye - Forgotten Former WW1 Home Defence and Training Airfield
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Old 10th Jan 2014, 17:16
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I've read most, if not all the books written as first person accounts by people who went through the training system during WW1. The consistent theme is that prior to 1917 and Major Smith Barry's influence on instructor training, the carnage in training was horrific. This was down to poor instruction by people who weren't interested and had little understanding themselves of basic principles of flight, combined with pressure to cut training hours. Unreliable engines and rotary engines with their peculiar handling traits (rich cuts after takeoff for instance) and one sided torque characteristics such that in the Camel, right hand turns needed full left rudder if a spin was to be avoided.
After Major Smith Barry, things improved but not enough to alter the statistics for the whole war.
It must be remembered that even in WW2 the training losses were pretty bad as well.
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Old 11th Jan 2014, 04:35
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In the book “The First of the Few” by Denis Winter, he writes:
"Put statistically, official figures at the end of the war listed 14,166 dead pilots, of whom 8,000 had died while training in the UK. In other words more pilots died training at home than were killed by the enemy, a remarkable state of affairs, which even reached the ears of Parliament. On 20 June 1918 the Secretary of State was asked for an explanation. His answer naturally put the blame on the pilots themselves, since 'discipline after all was not the pre-eminent quality of youth.'"
In the book 'Billy Bishop: Canadian Hero,' the author notes Bishop was judged ready to solo after just three hours flying time, and received his wings after less than 20 hours. He then writes:
"Such limited preparation seems preposterous today, and perhaps it explains why fatal crashes were an everyday occurrence at British flight schools. Indeed, while 6,000 aviators were killed in combat with the German Air Force between 1914 and 1918, a shocking 8,000 more were destined to die in England while they learned how to fly."
Describing his training in a letter home, Bishop made it clear there were plenty of crashes. He wrote:
"Yesterday I had 3 forced landings, 2 of which I managed to get into the aerodrome, but the last one I crashed on the side of a hill."
He adds: "Last night we had a boy killed here and another this morning. I saw them both, perfectly ghastly sights."

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Old 12th Jan 2014, 21:13
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Thank you Bob C - that seems to be my answer! One gets a sense of the situation in "Winged Victory" but its nice to have some statistics.
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Old 13th Jan 2014, 11:46
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Unreliable engines and rotary engines with their peculiar handling traits (rich cuts after takeoff for instance)
I remember reading somewhere that there was a special enquiry into the Camel, because of the appalling accident rate in training. Can anyone confirm this?

My paternal grandfather was an RNAS Camel pilot, who survived the training system and then survived the war by being shot down, landing behind German lines and ended up in a POW camp (Holzminden I think). He was shot down by Carl Degelow, and merited a chapter entitled The Musical Tommy in Degelow's memoirs (Germany's Last Knight of the Air). My grandfather was taken to Degelow's mess for a party before departing for the POW camp. During a sing-song around the mess piano, my grandfather noticed a violin and mentioned that he could play the violin. After his host apologized that they had no strings, my grandfather produced a set from his pocket. Obviously, he was well prepared for all combat eventualities!

My other grandfather was also an RNAS pilot, but he survived by not having finished training by the time of the armistice. He produced an immaculate photograph album, that was full of pictures of mangled aeroplanes, with captions like "Smith's crash", "Deek's crash", etc. There is one lovely picture of a 504J with its nose in a hedge, complete with a Boy Scout guarding it and the caption underneath says "My Crash"

In the front of the album, there was a photograph of his class at Greenwich, upon graduation. Everyone's name was carefully inscribed underneath. About 40% of the names were underlined and a footnote indicated that they were killed in training.

Last edited by India Four Two; 14th Jan 2014 at 01:15.
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Old 13th Jan 2014, 17:14
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From Norman Macmillan's book 'Freelance Pilot', on flying training just before the armistice, and illustrating something of the situation -

'From dawn to dusk the monotonous drone of rotary engines echoed from low clouds. Instructors' nerves were worn, their tempers short. But what of that? The armies in France were pressing on. It was vital for boys to be trained to fly and Weekly Returns had to show the number of hours we flew.'

No mention of training fatality rates, but many of the pilots he encounters through the book (published in 1937) are noted to have died in aviation related accidents.
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