World War II and The Battle Of Britain

RAF pilot training – At the outbreak of war on September 3, 1939, the first-line strength of the RAF in the United Kingdom was about 2,000 aircraft.

These were grouped into the following commands:

  • Fighter Command, concerned with home defence
  • Bomber Command, for offensive action in Europe
  • Coastal Command, for the protection of maritime routes, under the operational direction of the navy.
  • Balloon, Maintenance, Reserve, and Training commands
  • The Army Cooperation Command was created in 1940 
  • The Ferry Command (subsequently expanded into Transport Command) was created in 1941

RAF Pilot Training in Foreign Countries

Trained pilots were urgently needed if the Royal Air Force (RAF) was to meet its operational commitments, and to compensate for the heavy casualties suffered.

Initial changes to the training programme focused on shortening courses and increasing the capacity for pupils at the flying training schools. These revisions did not work, however, as difficulties arose with the limited amount of equipment available and a shortage of flying instructors.

Furthermore, RAF pilot training in the UK was virtually impossible to conduct training:

  • As the United Kingdom was under constant threat of air attack
  • It was the main base for operations against the Axis forces
  • Due to the overcast weather
  • As the available airfields were needed for defense

So, the RAF turned to the British Empire and its allies for help, and from 1941 the majority of flying training was conducted abroad

RAF Pilot Training in the British Empire

Commonwealth countries Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined to operate the Empire Air Training Scheme, under which each of them recruited and trained pilots, navigators, and radio operators for service with the RAF.

In addition, great numbers of trainee aircraft crew were sent to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to receive their training at schools specially established for the purpose.

RAF Training in the USA

From June 1941 (six months before the United States entered the war) through to February 1943, about 6,000 RAF flight cadets trained at the flight schools of the Southeast Air Corps Training Center, headquartered at Maxwell Field. Another 6,000 RAF flight cadets trained at contracted flight schools across the country.

In addition to basic and advanced flight training, a number of RAF graduates returned to Maxwell Field to train as flight instructors After graduating from the Instructor’s School, most of these pilot officers went to flight schools to help relieve the shortage of flight instructors.

Improvement in the Standard of RAF Pilot Training

It became apparent that the standard of RAF pilot training also had to be improved due to changes in operational procedures and technically advanced aircraft.

The rush to train new pilots had led to quality been sacrificed for quantity, and from 1941 onwards, the training was upgraded.

During the course of the war, the RAF worked with the army in the training and transport of parachutists and in towing troop-carrying gliders, whose soldier-pilots flew and landed them in the selected area

By 1943 there was a surplus of trained pilots as there were lower than expected operational losses, so the RAF training capacity was reduced in 1944.

By 1945, a total of 110,600 pilots had been trained on behalf of the RAF in 9 different countries.