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The Birth of the Royal Flying Corps
On the 17 December 1903 the Wright brothers flew the first heavier-than-air craft. Another type of aerial platform had become available. In 1908 on a demonstration flight in France Wilbur Wright’s passenger L. P. Bonvillain took the first photograph from an aircraft. The stage was set for a revolution in aerial photography.
The advent of heavier-than-air craft stimulated the British army’s aviation establishment and on 28 February 1911 an army order was issued creating the Air Battalion of the RE’s. The Air Battalion comprised No.1 Company (Airships) and No 2 Company (Aircraft). In October 1911 the British government was provided with a report on the French air corps exercises held at the ‘Camp du Châlons’ during August 1911. The author, Lieutenant Ralph Glyn, was attached to the newly formed Air Battalion. The report cited the main use of aircraft by the French as reconnaissance and control of artillery fire, but went on to highlight the successful use of aerial photography. As the Official History states; in 1911 the French air corps’ exercise provided an insight into:
‘. . . , almost all the uses [for aircraft] which later became the commonplaces of the war’. Walter Raleigh, The War in the Air Volume 1 (Oxford, Clarenden Press, 1922) p. 178.
The obvious importance of aviation and Britain’s perceived vulnerability to air attack led to the creation of a unified British Aeronautical Service called the RFC on 13 April 1912. The RFC comprised a Military Wing a Naval Wing and a Central Flying Training School. By 13 May 1912 the old Air Battalion had been absorbed into the RFC.
Next: Part 5 ‘Aerial Photography in the RFC’