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Royal Flying Corps

Royal Flying Corps. The Royal Engineers experimented with balloons in the 1870s and a small factory was established at Chatham in 1883. Several balloons were used for observations during the Boer war. Blériot's flight across the Channel in 1909 and the German Zeppelin programme persuaded the army to set up an Air Battalion in 1911 and the RFC was established in April 1912, with a Central Flying School at Upavon on Salisbury Plain. In 1914, 4 squadrons went to France with 63 aeroplanes, most of them BE2 biplanes (Blériot Experimental), made at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. The first reconnaissance was carried out on 19 August. The early role of the corps was scouting, with the odd hand-grenade tossed over the side of the cockpit, but the buildup of forces and the invention of the synchronized machine-gun, firing through the propeller, led to frequent dog-fights. Albert Ball, flying an SE5, shot down 43 German planes before he was killed in May 1917: the total was surpassed by the Canadian William Bishop (72) and Edward Mannock (73). The corps' defensive capabilities were demonstrated on 3 September 1916 when William Leefe Robinson shot down Zeppelin SL 11 while it was raiding London. In 1918 air warfare was reorganized to assist co-ordination. The RFC amalgamated with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the Royal Air Force, with its own minister.

J. A. Cannon

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