© Wonders of World Aviation 2015-20  |  Contents  |  Site map  | Contact us at info@wondersofworldaviation.com

Wonders of World Aviation

Spare-time pilots and aircraftmen who attain a standard of efficiency comparable to that of the R.A.F.

HAWKER HART of No. 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force in flight

A HAWKER HART of No. 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force in flight over Leith Docks, Edinburgh. Each squadron of the A.A.F. is associated with a city or large town in which are its headquarters. The City of Edinburgh Squadron is a bomber squadron and was formed in 1925 It was one of the first three A.A.F. units. Early in 1938 there were nineteen squadrons.

The Auxiliary Air Force is a voluntary organization, composed of Auxiliary Air Force squadrons, in which members render part-time service at week-ends and on certain evenings during the week. The nature of their duties as members of Auxiliary Air Force units is almost identical with that of R.A.F. officers and men, and the amount of time put in by them is not far short of that which is achieved by the regulars. The efficiency of an Auxiliary Air Force squadron which has been formed for some years is such that it can hold its own with a regular squadron and can, in every way, be trusted to take its place as a first-line squadron.

The first recruit for the Auxiliary Air Force was enrolled in 1925, when it was announced that three squadrons were to be formed. These were the City of London, City of Glasgow and City of Edinburgh Squadrons. They were an instantaneous success and there was little lack of volunteers among men who wished to be pilots. There were not, however, quite the same numbers for enrolment as aircraftmen, perhaps because the important and highly individualistic nature of aircraftmen’s work was not fully realized.

Nowadays the work of the aircraftman is seen to be as valuable as that of the pilot, and the expansion of the 1925 establishment of three squadrons to the 1938 establishment of nineteen squadrons has been effected satisfactorily. There are, however, plenty of vacancies for keen young men eager to devote their spare time to the service of their country and, incidentally, to their own advantage both from a recreational and a professional point of view. As in all voluntary bodies, the club life plays an important part in the efficiency of the Auxiliary Air Force. Each squadron is stationed near a city or large town so that it may have an abundant potential supply of recruits nearby. Skilled mechanics are more likely to be found in towns, and this is another reason for the choice of existing stations. It has, however, been found that keenness surmounts a multitude of difficulties; men who spend their normal professional hours as clerks or accountants are soon able to take their places in the squadron as valuable mechanics. The most outstanding example of this is the City of London Squadron, which draws its recruits from that part of London known as the City, and only three or four of the aircraftmen are normally occupied in mechanical work.

Each squadron has a headquarters in the town. Here there are recreation rooms and canteens as well as classrooms and workshops where lectures are given on engine and airframe maintenance, photography, navigation, radio, gunnery, bombing and the like. “Drills” are held at these centres twice a week in the evenings after working hours and many opportunities are provided for recreation when the lectures are over.


A GROUP OF A.A.F. PILOTS studying a map before they take off for a flight. Candidates for commissions in the A.A.F. must hold the pilot’s “A” licence before they are gazetted. If the necessary flying for this licence is carried out after application for a commission, the cost of the flying training will be refunded.

THE WORK OF AIRCRAFTMEN in the Auxiliary Air Force is as important as that of the pilots. The aircraftmen have to maintain the airframes and engines of the aircraft, and also the armaments. In the lower picture two aircraftmen of the County of Middlesex Squadron are seen fitting a bomb to a Wapiti aeroplane.

For a fortnight each year a squadron moves to some other aerodrome for its annual camp. During this period officers and men live under canvas and the squadron undertakes intensive Service training. Each morning at nine o’clock the nine or ten machines are wheeled out of the hangars and their engines are started and warmed up; then the machines take off either singly or in flights and disappear on their varied exercises. Some may be going to a bombing range for practice bombing, others may be swooping low over targets placed in deserted country to exercise their machine-gunners.

High up over the aerodrome at 15,000 feet may be seen the machine that only a quarter of an hour before was resting in front of its hangar. It flies backwards and forwards on parallel courses with apparent needless monotony. But its pilot and observer are trying to obtain a perfect mosaic photograph of the aerodrome and its surroundings. After the big machines of the squadron have flown out of sight it is the turn of the little training machines. For the rest of the morning they will be seen making circuit and landing, circuit and landing, until the break for the midday meal. Then the air is filled with the homecoming machines converging on the aerodrome from all points of the compass.

As soon as the machines have landed, the pilots taxi them up to the fuel pumps to be refuelled ready for the afternoon exercises. When these exercises are over, the machines are wheeled back into the hangars and mechanics swarm over them, checking every little detail so that they may be ready to give the same faultless service the next day. It is not possible for all the men in the squadron to fly. Most machines in the A.A.F. are two-seaters, so that there is no room for a passenger. Moreover, flying is not part of the normal duty of a fitter (engine mechanic) or of a rigger (the man who is responsible for the airframe). Yet, the fact that most of the men in a squadron like flying is not overlooked by the commanding officer and a special joyride machine is generally detailed to give short flights to those whose duties normally keep them on the ground. Sometimes these flights are made in training machines, when the pilot may allow his passenger to take the controls for a while; sometimes they are made in the high-powered Service machines which give a thrill that the civilian flier never knows.

Gunners obtain a great deal of flying, as their duties lie in the air. Some Auxiliary squadrons are equipped with two-seater fighter machines; others have two-seater day bombers. In both

the gunner is almost as important as the pilot, and his work is of absorbing interest. In a fighter, his main duty is to shoot the enemy down; this he has to do while his own machine is making the most fantastic evolutions to escape the fire of the enemy. The gunner, therefore, has to be a man of cool head and steady aim. As he never gets the opportunity of practising in realistic conditions in peace time, he makes up for this lack as best he can by using various devices.

The most ingenious of these is the camera-gun. Instead of firing bullets, this gun, when the trigger is released, takes a photograph which, when developed and printed, reveals the extent of the gunner’s accuracy of aim. On the negative are marked circles of varying radius and, from the photographed position of the aeroplane at which he was firing, he can determine if he scored hits or not.

The pilot, too, has a camera gun, but his gun is fixed. To aim it he has to aim the whole aeroplane at his target.


INDOOR PRACTICE FOR BOMB DROPPING is carried out by a bomb-sight mounted on a platform high above the floor of a room. A moving picture of the ground is thrown on the floor by a projector. The bomber presses an electric push-button to indicate the release of a bomb; the accuracy of his aim can then be checked.

To give gunners and pilots practice in handling real guns in the air, targets are placed on the ground; at these targets real bullets can be fired. For the pilot to hit a target with his guns he has to dive the machine straight at it and then pull up at the last moment. The gunner, with his rotatable gun, fires as soon as the pilot has placed the machine in a convenient position. Tracer bullets are used so that their line of flight can be seen and correction can be made for any error. Such flying is carried out at specified ranges to which machines fly from the home aerodrome, but practice at sighting is carried out by diving at a target, which is generally to be found in an obscure corner of any R.A.F. Aerodrome.

The annual camp is the time when such practices as that outlined above are held. It is then that frequent journeys are made to the nearest range to give experience to as many of the personnel as possible.

Bombing requires the closest cooperation between pilot and bomb-aimer. Without this co-operation there can be no accuracy. The bomb-aimer’s sights are useless if the pilot does not fly his machine on a steady course and as nearly level as possible. An immense amount of concentration is required by the pilot if he is to be successful in this, because it is not often that the air is smooth. When there are bumps, the pilot, to keep his machine level, has to try to anticipate them and thus provide his bomb-aimer with as steady a platform as possible. Bombing practice is not always carried out with bombs. At almost every Service aerodrome there is an apparatus called a “camera obscura”. The image of a machine passing high overhead is projected by a lens on to a chart. The bomb-aimer in the machine uses as his target the hut in which the apparatus is housed. When he thinks he is in a position for a direct hit he transmits a radio signal. The point at which the image of the machine appears on the chart at the time of the signal is noted. The accuracy of the bomb is calculated by knowledge of the height and speed of the machine and of the direction and strength of wind.

Army Cooperation

Bombing practice is carried out, as well, with an even more ingenious apparatus which is part of the equipment of most Town Headquarters. The bomb-aimer, with his sights, sits on a platform high above the floor on to which is projected a moving picture of the ground as seen from the air. This picture is made to move at any desired speed and in any direction.

The photographer plays an important part in modern war. Air photography is dealt with in the chapters listed here.

Some Auxiliary squadrons are Army cooperation squadrons. Their duties are solely with the Army, and consist largely of assisting artillery batteries by spotting their fall of shot from the air. One of their most spectacular duties, and one which was a regular feature of the former R.A.F. displays at Hendon, is picking up messages. To do this, a machine is fitted with a hook which is lowered beneath the fuselage. The message bag to be picked up is slung between two posts on the ground. The pilot of the aircraft flies his machine between and just above these posts and the message bag is caught by the projecting hook.

The efficiency of all these duties in the air depends on the reliability of engine and airframe. The most important men in the squadron are, therefore, the fitters and riggers who keep the complicated modern machine in working order. Upon them depend the safety and success of the squadron.

Aircraftmen adjusting the tail unit of a No. 601 (County of London Squadron) machine

EACH SQUADRON GOES TO CAMP for a fortnight every year, when bombing and firing practice with live ammunition is carried out. The aircraft of the squadron are in constant use during the period of annual training, and after each day’s use they are checked over in every detail by riggers and fitters so as to be ready for the next day. Aircraftmen are shown in this illustration adjusting the tail unit of a No. 601 (County of London Squadron) machine during a camp at Lympne, Kent.

There are certain obligations to be accepted by those serving in the A.A.F. Officers and men must accept the liability to serve within the British Isles in the event of war and also to attend for the specified minimum training. For officers entered for flying duties, this consists of periodical flying, drills and instructional parades, the annual training camp and courses in ground gunnery, air gunnery and bombing. Compulsory training for airmen comprises a minimum number of drills and instructional parades and the annual training camp. In addition, voluntary training, including week-end camps and special courses, is undertaken enthusiastically by all ranks.

Certain statutory rights are also accorded to all members of the A.A.F. The most important of these are, that no officer or man can be required to serve outside the United Kingdom unless he volunteers in writing to do so, and that no member of an A.A.F. squadron can be removed and posted to another squadron without his consent.

With few exceptions, any British subject who is between the ages of 18 and 35 and who reaches the necessary standard of physical fitness may join the Auxiliary Air Force, except that airmen are accepted up to the age of 38 and that pilots must not have reached the age of 30 at the date of their application to join.

Further, before being commissioned, a pilot must have reached the standard of flying required for an “A” licence. This requirement need not deter intending pilots from applying for a commission in the A.A.F. Applicants who are suitable in other ways have their names recorded and are eligible for commissions when they can produce the required proof of their flying ability, provided there has been no deterioration of their physical fitness in the meantime. Moreover, upon being granted a commission in the A.A.F., they will be paid, in the form of a bounty from the Air Ministry, the amount they have spent on flying training to “A” licence standard. This bounty is subject to a maximum of £115 and does not apply to flying carried out before application was made for a commission, nor is it payable to candidates who already held a civil pilot’s licence at the date of application.

Pay and Promotion

The initial period of service for an officer is five years and for an airman four years. Officers are allowed to extend their service, provided they are recommended for such extension, for further periods of not more than five years. Airmen may re-engage for periods of not more than four years at a time. At the end of his initial period on the active list an officer generally begins a period of five years in the Auxiliary Reserve.

Officers are paid at the current R.A.F. rates when carrying out annual training at the summer camp, for approved whole-time courses of instruction and for periodical flying up to ten days a year. On joining, the pilot officer in the general duties branch receives pay at 14s. 6d. a day.

Pilot officers may look forward to promotion to the next higher rank, that of flying officer, at any time after they have completed eighteen months’ satisfactory service. The pay of a flying officer in the general duties branch is 18s. 2d. a day. Promotion above the rank of flying officer, with correspondingly higher pay, is made from among officers who have satisfactorily completed the obligatory training and have passed the appropriate promotion tests. Uniform has to be provided by the officer himself, but a grant of £40 toward the cost of uniform is made to those who have not previously held a commission in the R.A.F. and also to certain others.

Airmen are paid according to rank and the group in which they have enlisted. Thus the pay of an aircraftman, 2nd class, in Group I, which includes fitters, metal-workers and wireless operator mechanics, is 3s. 6d. a day, and the pay of a warrant officer in this group is 14s. a day. Selected airmen are trained as gunners or observers and, when qualified, receive extra pay for such duty. Marriage allowances and good conduct pay are issued also. In addition, a bounty of £3 is payable in each year of service to men who attend the specified number of drills, instructional parades and the fifteen-days annual camp, with further bounties payable on compliance with certain conditions. Uniform is supplied free to airmen.

Provision is now made for men to join as sergeant pilots or to be promoted to that rank.

AN INSPECTION of the No. 600 City of London Squadron at Hendon Aerodrome. Air Vice-Marshal E. L. Gossage, D.S.O., M.C., is inspecting the aeroplanes and their personnel. An A.A.F. unit which has been formed for some years could be trusted to take its place as a first-line squadron.

[From Part 22, published 2 August 1938]

Click here to see the photogravure supplement to this article.

You can read more on “How Maps are Made”, “The Royal Air Force Reserve” and

“Training RAF Pilots” on this website.

The Auxiliary Air Force