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WW1 nostalgia: Farnborough RFC's battles in the sky

The Royal Flying Corps was established at Farnborough in 1912 and by the time of the start of the First World War it had 1,097 men and 179 aeroplanes

The Royal Flying Corps was formed at Farnborough in 1912

Commonly regarded as the home of British aviation, Farnborough played an important national role after the outbreak of the First World War.

A formal approach to military aviation began in 1911 when, following a growth of early aviation activity, the war office issued instructions for the School of Ballooning, which had originally been formed in 1888, to be expanded into a battalion.

The Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers (ABRE) was formed in April 1911 and headquartered at Farnborough airfield.

In October of that year, a sub-committee of the British Imperial Defence Staff discussed a policy for the future of British military flying and recommended that a separate flying corps was formed – which led to the creation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in April 1912.

The RFC only had a brief existence, but over a short period of time it became one of the most efficient air arms in the world.

The corps assumed control of the ABRE and was comprised of a military wing, a naval wing, a reserve, a central flying school and the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough.

Numbers 1, 2 and 3 Squadrons – units of aircraft – were formed at Farnborough in May 1912, with Number 4 in September that year and Number 5 in August 1913.

The RFC Military Wing formed an experimental branch, which established bases at Farnborough to assess and develop the military use of man-lifting kites, aerial photography, bomb dropping, meteorology and aerial gunnery.

 

By the time Britain joined the First World War on August 4 1914, the RFC was equipped with 1,097 men and 179 aeroplanes, and there were increasing demands on the squadrons to take part in fighting, bombing, photography, observation and patrols.

The RFC demonstrated the value of its aircraft in the field, taking part in all of these activities.

In 1917, Lord Hugh Cecil, a British Conservative Party politician, was quoted as summing up the RFC by saying: “The Flying Corps is the greatest of the novelties of the war.

“And it appeals to people in several ways. Its military importance is great and increasing, it unites in a singular degree the interest of a sport with the deeper and stronger interest of war – the gallantry of its flying officers touches sympathy and thrills imagination, and the development of its mechanical and scientific apparatus inspires wonder and almost astounds belief.”

Today, the original RFC headquarters is now the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust (FAST) Museum, in Farnborough Road.

The museum’s collection includes an archive of equipment, machinery, photographs, reports, books and films relating to the town’s aviation history.

FAST has been awarded £1,600 from Hampshire County Council towards a £6,400 project to highlight the role the RFC played in the development of aviation during the First World War.

A touch-screen computer, which will feature relevant pictures and information about the RFC, will be installed in the museum.

The exhibition will be available for all visitors to see at the museum, which is open from 10am to 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays, and is free to enter.

 
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