When you make it up as you go along, it’s often referred to as ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ and for most early aviators, the challenge of controlled flight was exactly that.
Although the British Royal Flying Corp was founded by Royal decree under Kings George V in 1912 only nine years after the Wright Bros had made their first historic but tentative powered flights at Kitty Hawk, the military applications for aviation were already being explored.
With a growing recognition of the cost-effective potential for aeronautical reconnaissance and artillery observation, the Royal Flying Corp was initially equiped with 12 manned balloons and a mixed bag of some 36 rudimentary aircraft.
Consisting of a naval wing, a military wing, a central flying school and aircraft factory, the RFC were allowed 133 officers and over the next two years leading up to the First World War, slowly built up their expertise and organisational structures, forming squadrons and air wings as aircraft development progressed and the challenges of flight became better understood and mastered.
In the opening months of WWI, as well as over-flight reconnaissance, the RFC were also responsible for the manning and operation of observation balloons along the Western Front. It was dangerous and highly hazardous duty, with each balloon only expected to last less than a fortnight before being destroyed.
Observation balloons had to be kept out of artillery range well back from the front and results were largely dependant on weather and the skills of the observer but as German air supremacy grew, the RFC observation balloons also became primary targets.
The RFC’s early Bleriot XI monoplanes and vulnerable ‘pusher’ aircraft such as the Airco DH.2 and FE 8’s had also been deployed in observation roles which gradually expanded to rudimentary ground support bombing with pilots and their observers tossing ordnance over the side by hand.
A deadly combination…
As the war continued and RFC battlefront casualties rose at an alarming rate, those that did manage to survive their basic flying training, soon found themselves rushed to the front, often to be sent up the very next day.
It was little wonder then, that RFC casualties remained extremely high with the loss of almost 600 pilots and crew in just the first five months of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Germany had quickly gained air supremacy through the legendary exploits of her fighter wings such as the Jasta 11, led by Manfred von Richthofen (popularly known as the Red Baron) with his Albatros D.II and D.III’s. Equipped with the latest twin-IMG 08 synchronised machine guns firing through the arc of their propeller, they hopelessly outclassed even the newer Allied aircraft such as the American Nieuport and Sopwith Pup.
It was a deadly situation which was to remain unchecked until the introduction of a new generation of technologically advanced Allied fighters such as the SE.5, Sopwith Camel, and SPAD S.XIII and a radical restructuring of the RFC pilot training program.
British pilot training had long been disorganised, inconsistent and often abbreviated in order to keep squadrons suffering heavy casualties up to strength.
It was a self perpetuating recipe for disaster as new pilots were being sent to the front with less and less practical flight experience.
A new approach…
In late 1916 a new RFC flying school was opened at Gosport by Robert Raymond Smith Barry AFC which was to totally transform pilot training and set the foundation for modern pilot training we know today.
Smith Barry had already had a long and experienced flying career having been appointed a flying officer in the newly formed RFC in 1914. Surviving a crash during operations over France in his BE 8 which killed his observer and left Barry with two broken legs, the flying officer managed to return to Allied lines and after months of recuperation, was promoted to captain.
Within two years, Barry Smith had risen in the ranks to Wing Commander and had taken over No 1 (Training Reserve) Squadron at Gosport near the British naval base of Portsmouth.
Now responsible for all flight training, Barry-Smith got rid of all the antiquated Longhorn and Shorthorn aircraft and replaced them with frontline fighters such as the Bristol Scout, Sopwith and Avro. His argument was that all pilots should be trained in aircraft they would eventually operate under combat conditions.
Dividing the schools intake into three ‘flights’ - each with their own instructors, he ensured continuity of training by ensuring the instructors stayed with their pupils from start to finish.
Training revolved around class-room theory and practical flying but instead of the traditional avoidance of potentially dangerous manoeuvres, he deliberately exposed students to them in controlled environments so they could learn to recover from errors of judgement.
Recovering from spins and stalls, critical engine failures and flying in adverse weather conditions all became common place training for his students who then progressed to fighter strategies and aerial combat training.
Within a year, RFC casualties had been reduced by almost 50% and the Allies slowly regained air supremacy at the front as more experienced and comprehensibly trained pilots took to the air.
One of the biggest challenges for instructors taking up a trainee pilot was being able to communicate with them clearly in an open cockpit over the deafening the roar of the engine and air stream blast.
Screaming and poking a student furiously did little for the trainees confidence and whilst experiments with a primitive electrical audio-phone had proven to be impractical, one of Smith-Barry’s instructors began experimenting with ‘speaking' tubes fitted between the instructor and students cockpits.
The device consisted of a hollow tube-like stethoscope into which the instructor could speak directly to his pupil in the pilot’s seat, the tube ending in earpieces in the trainee’s helmet.
The Gosport Tube as it came to be known, proved to be an outstanding success and was quickly adopted by flight training schools around the world and remained in use with airforces up until the early 1950s.
Unfortunately, the Gosport Tube could do nothing to aid a student who simply refused to follow instructions and as one early flight instructor recounted with devilish glee, “If they didn’t take any notice, I simply placed the throat of the speaking tube into the outside airstream and blew their ears off!”
WWII & help from afar...
Leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe in 1939, the RAF found themselves in urgent need of pilots to meet their operational commitments. Like the US, the period post WWI saw Britain's airforce severely depleted with Royal Flying Corps pilots returning to civilian life and aircraft development stagnating as nations sought to rebuild from the destruction of the Great War.
With such a critical shortage, initial revisions to the RAF training programs focused on shortening courses whilst increasing capacity of the country’s flying schools but with limited resources and training aircraft available, together with a severe shortage in flying instructors, Britain was forced to turn to the Commonwealth and her allies for help.
It led to the establishment of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), or Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) - a joint military aircrew training program was created by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The agreement called for the training of nearly 50,000 aircrew each year, for as long as necessary: 22,000 aircrew from Great Britain, 13,000 from Canada, 11,000 from Australia and 3,300 from New Zealand. Under the agreement, air crews received elementary training in various Commonwealth countries before travelling to Canada for advanced courses. Training costs were to be divided between the four governments.
With the United Kingdom considered an unsuitable location for air training due to the possibility of enemy attack, the strain caused by wartime traffic at airfields and the unpredictable weather, trainee pilots found themselves taking to the skies across Australia, Canada, South Africa and even far flung Bermuda.
Prior to the inception of the Empire Air Training Scheme, the RAAF had trained only about 50 pilots per year. Under the Air Training Agreement, Australia undertook to provide 28,000 aircrew over three years, representing 36% of the total number trained by the BCATP. By 1945, more than 37,500 Australian aircrew had been trained in Australia; a majority of these, over 27,300, had also graduated from schools in Australia.
Irreplaceable aviation icons…
This amazing Recovery Curios Aviation collectable combo is an original set of RAAF late 1930s flying gear as used by Australian trainee pilots participating in the Commonwealth Air Training Scheme.
The brown, all-leather flight helmet was made by Stagg Leather & Gloves of Melbourne Victoria and was modelled on the British type ‘C’ general purpose helmet, first issued in 1935 and superseded in 1942. This type of helmet was mainly used for low level open cockpit aircraft such as the Tiger Moth or Hawker Demon.
With a buckle chinstrap and small leather loops at the sides and rear to retain goggles, the helmet also features insulated circular leather ear-pads to reduce noise with openings at the bottom to allow the insertion of the two Gosport Tube communication system’s alloy ear pieces.
Snap fasteners on either side keep the Gosport Tube ear pieces in place and lead off via two flexible alloy/rubberised tubes to a ‘Y’ allow connector to which the instructor would attach the end of his speaking tube.
Made in England, the 1930s era flying goggles are the forerunner to the later RAF Mk VIII googles and feature a cushioned sponge liner with leather face and adjustable split frame glass lenses. The goggles still carry their original fabric strap although the glass coating has deteriorated over time.
Whilst all showing signs of over 80 years of wear and fatigue, this 3-piece late 1930s original aviation combo is an incredibly rare testimony to a bygone era and resting on its black manikin head, mounted on a 100yr old mango wood display stand with engraved plaque, makes an awesome centre piece display for any aviation enthusiast.
With a detailed printed and laminated fact Sheet telling the story of the items and the aircraft they were flown in PLUS a highly detailed 1/72 or larger 1/48
custom-made model of the legendary De Havilland Tiger Moth perched atop its removable magnetic arm - this is an aviation heirloom to hand down for generations to come!
This Australian, De Havilland Tiger Moth Recovery Collectable Display comes complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photos of equipment in use.
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Your De Havilland Tiger Moth, 1930s Flying Helmet, Goggles and Gosport Tube Original Recovery Curios Warbird Collectable includes:
- Original Warbird instrument
- Highly detailed hand-built and airbrushed 1/72 plastic scale model of the aircraft,*
- Hand-crafted and beautifully finished 100yr, Far North Queensland Mango Wood display stand
- Detailed, 2-sided, printed and laminated Instrument Fact Sheet detailing aircraft and instrument
- Removable Magnetic Display Arm
*An upgrade to the larger and more detailed 1/48 scale model is also available in the hand-built and airbrushed plastic version for an additional $35 (Click on the 1/48 scale option)
Both the 1/72 & 1/48 scale hand-built and airbrushed plastic models are available with a choice of two Squadron markings and camouflage.
Upon order placement you will receive an email asking for your preferred configuration.
Your complete Recovery Curios Original Instrument Collectable is securely packed and delivery normally takes between 4 - 6 weeks approx.
Did you fly, crew or maintain a Tiger Moth or have a friend, colleague or family member who did? Check out our PERSONALISED ORIGINAL INSTRUMENT COLLECTABLE OPTION here.