Organized military aviation in the British armed forces commenced with the School of Ballooning, established in 1878.
In 1911 this was expanded into the Air Battalion Royal Engineers (ABRE), with 14 officers, 150 enlisted personnel, one 'squadron' of balloons and another of primitive fixed-wing aircraft.
of respect to these largely forgotten aviation pioneers, I record their names below.
Back Row (l-r): Lt G.T. Porter, Lt J.M. Fletcher, Lt C.M. Waterlow, Lt B.R.W. Beor,
Capt G.W.P. Dawes, Capt G.H. Raleigh, Lt C.A.H. Longcroft, Lt T.G. Heatherington, Lt C.T. Carfrae.
Front Row: Capt E.B. Loraine, Capt P.W.L. Broke-Smith, Lt Col H.R. Cook,
Maj A. Bannerman, Capt C.R.W. Allen, Capt A.D. Carden, Capt E.M. Maitland.
100 years ago today, on April 13th, 1912, the ABRE was absorbed into the newly-established Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Initially this had two 'wings' or departments, one serving the needs of the Army and the other the Royal Navy. However, in 1914 the Navy took control of its own aviation branch with the formation of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). On April 1st, 1918 the RFC and the RNAS would again be united, this time into an independent service, the Royal Air Force, on an equal footing with the Army and the Royal Navy.
(open the image in a new tab or window for a larger view)
When it was established, the RFC had only a few hundred personnel and a few dozen aircraft.
By the end of World War I, six and a half years later, the RAF would boast over 4,000 combat aircraft and almost 120,000 personnel.
At the end of the war there were 5,182 pilots in service (just 2% of the RAF). In comparison the casualties from the RFC/RNAS/RAF for 1914–18 totalled 9,378 killed or missing, with 7,245 wounded. Some 900,000 flying hours on operations were logged, and 6,942 tons of bombs dropped. The RFC claimed some 7,054 German aircraft and balloons either destroyed, sent 'down out of control' or 'driven down'.
If you'd like to know more about the Royal Flying Corps, Wikipedia's article about it is a good place to start, followed by these two Web sites for more in-depth information.
I still marvel at how much those early aviators accomplished, in aircraft that today, in many cases, would probably never be allowed to fly at all, due to their (by modern standards) chronically unsafe construction!