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The flying services of the Dominions, developed from small beginnings, are now invaluable in the training of personnel


AN INSPECTION AT POINT COOK, VICTORIA, of the Royal Australian Air Force Station

AN INSPECTION AT POINT COOK, VICTORIA, of the Royal Australian Air Force Station by the Governor-General in 1935. Pilots are given a twelve-months’ course at No. 1 Flying School, which was founded at Point Cook as early as 1912. Special attention is given to navigation, on which so much depends during flights across the vast tracts of virtually unknown country in Australia.

APART from the overseas organization of the Royal Air Force, which comprises the seven Commands ranging halfway across the world from the Mediterranean to the Far East, the defences of the British Commonwealth and Empire are materially strengthened by the separate air forces of the various Dominions. Compared with the enormous air fleets of the Royal Air Force or with those of other European Powers, the Dominion Forces are small in size. Their size, however, gives little indication of their inestimable value to the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Most important of all the activities of the Dominion air forces is the training that they give. Fit young men are trained to become proficient pilots and to acquire technical skill in all the various departments of aviation. Every year hundreds of men are passed through to build up a great reserve of skilled aviators. The air strength of a nation is most accurately measured not so much by the number of first-line aircraft as by the number of trained pilots who can fly them and by the skill, training and ability of the ground staff, the engineers and the specialists.

At the outset the success of this principle of training was proved during the war of 1914-18. It was not until late in the war that an air force was established in Canada, yet before the end of the war large numbers of officers from Canada were attached to the British air services (see the chapter on “The Royal Canadian Air Force”). For more than twenty years training has been going on in the Dominion air forces, new units have been formed and the work they carry out has been constantly extended.

The work of these air forces differs considerably from that of the Royal Air Force. Canada is a particularly good example. The Royal Canadian Air Force has been engaged in the development of military and civil aviation in Canada. Forest protection, coastal patrol, survey and exploration have been the general routine. Similarly the Royal Australian Air Force is largely concerned with assisting the Government in developing its huge territories.

No. 1 Australian Squadron left Australia for Egypt in March 1916 and later took part in the Palestine campaign. This squadron was the first complete Australian squadron. In 1917 three more squadrons were formed to serve in France and Flanders. These four squadrons became the nucleus of the Australian Flying Corps, which in 1918 established its own training wing in England. By November 1918 it had a personnel of 3,000, with 250 pilots.

After the war the Australian Flying Corps was disbanded, but in 1921 the Royal Australian Air Force was formed, as part of the defence of the Commonwealth. Expansion is going on rapidly. No sooner had a three-years’ programme ended in 1937 with the completion of a new aircraft depot and five new squadrons, than a four-years’ expansion programme was put in hand. The ultimate aim is the establishment of at least nine further squadrons, of which two are to be based on a new station at Darwin, Northern Territory, three at Canberra, the Federal capital, one at Brisbane and two in New South Wales.

Training is carried out virtually in the same way as in the Royal Air Force. Pilots take a twelve-months’ course at No. 1 Flying School, which was founded as early as 1912 at Point Cook, Victoria. This course fulfils all the requirements of a pilot’s training. Particular attention is given to navigation, upon which so much depends when flying across a continent such as Australia with its vast tracts of inhospitable and virtually unknown country.

Airmen and technicians are trained in the Training Depot at Laverton, also in Victoria. Here also are the Wireless and Armament Schools. Airmen are enlisted for a term of six years, but are eligible for re-engagement until, in some instances, they reach sixty years of age.

Officer cadets are required to spend a year at Point Cook, after which they receive short-service commissions. Some of these officers may be drafted straight into the Royal Air Force, from which they pass into the Reserve of the R.A.A.F. Others may obtain permanent commissions in the General Duties Branch.

The aircraft industry is becoming increasingly important in Australia. The Government has a big expansion programme and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Pty., Ltd., has erected works at Melbourne to build aircraft and engines under licence from Pratt & Whitney and North American Aviation, Inc. The NA-16 is to be produced as a training monoplane, to supplement the Westland Wapitis, Avro Cadets and Gipsy Moths already in use. Australian Hawker Demons are used for army cooperation and as fighter-bombers. Amphibians of the Supermarine Walrus (Seagull V) type are for fleet cooperation, and the D.H. Rapide and the Tugan Gannet are used for communication and survey flights.


HAWKER DEMONS BUILT IN AUSTRALIA flying near Melbourne, Victoria Westland Wapitis, Avro Cadetsand Gipsy Moths are used as training aircraft, but are being supplemented by an American type of training monoplane, the NA-16. These machines are to be built in Australia. Supermarine Walrus amphibians are used for fleet cooperation, and D.H. Rapides and Tugan Gannets for communication and survey flights.

In 1937 a special unit was formed — the Communication and Survey Flight, stationed at Laverton. This flight is devoted solely to air survey work and photography, one of the most important activities of the Royal Australian Air Force. The northern part of Australia still requires a great deal of exploration and is capable of much exploitation.

Since 1935 the R.A.A.F. has been cooperating in a large-scale geological and geophysical survey of Northern Australia, and in three years about 16,500 square miles of land have been photographed from the air. The Army Survey Corps uses air photographs for all its mapping work. Other activities of the R.A.A.F. include fishery patrols and many kinds of investigation for scientific and economic purposes.

Transporting Diamonds

Diverse activities of this nature are common to all the air forces of the British Dominions. The South African Air Force, for instance, carries out such tasks as transporting diamonds from the State diamond workings at Alexander Bay to Capetown, machine-gunning herds of wild animals, or spraying chemicals over plantations.

A permanent South African Air Force did not come into being until after the war of 1914-18, but South Africans formed a unit in England which served in France in 1914, and in the next year played an important part in the conquest of German South-West Africa. In 1916, No. 26 (South African) Squadron, R.F.C., landed at Mombasa and was not disbanded for two years. Altogether more than 3,000 South Africans were commissioned in the various British air services.

In 1919, the British Government gave the Union of South Africa a hundred aeroplanes, with the necessary equipment, and eventually the South African Air Force was formed. For some years lack of funds restricted the development of the new force, but in recent years remarkable progress has been made. In 1936, there was begun a five-years’ programme which aimed at 200 first-line aircraft by 1938, with three new coastal defence squadrons at Capetown, Durban and Bloemfontein. An ambitious training scheme was also inaugurated, with the object of training 1,000 pilots and 3,000 mechanics in five years. Of these pilots about 150 were to be drafted to the regular establishment, as well as 1,300 of the mechanics.

The Training School is at Roberts Heights, Pretoria, in the Transvaal. Here university or non-university entrants receive training for nineteen months, as well as training at approved flying clubs and schools. During this period pilot pupils are required to do 110 flying hours and 104 hours’ ground instruction.

At Roberts Heights important structural work is carried out by the Artillery and Aircraft Depot. A notable feat was the transformation in 1927 of the old D.H.9s into Mpalas, which were in service until 1937. Bristol Jupiter VI radial air-cooled engines were fitted and the D.H.9s modified accordingly. The result was a two-seater general-purpose machine. The Mpalas were used as training machines when the Wapitis were introduced in 1930.

Licences tor building the Westland Wapiti and the Avro Tutor were obtained by the Aircraft Depot, which has produced about twenty-five Wapitis, modified to take Armstrong Siddeley Panther aero engines. In 1936 the Depot obtained a licence to build Hawker Harts. Aircraft of this type which are built there are known as Hawker Hartebeest.

An interesting type, a modification of the Airspeed Envoy, was bought by the South African Government in 1936. Seven of these twin-engined monoplanes were ordered. They are easily convertible from military to civil trim or vice versa. The conversion can be carried out completely by four men in a few hours.

Air routes in South Africa have been well developed for some time. This development is in great measure due to the cooperation of the South African Air Force with the R.A.F. in surveying the Cape to Cairo route in 1929 (see the chapter “Advance of the Empire Air Mail”). Survey work and photography are being continually done, two notable expeditions being flights over the Kalahari Desert in 1925 and 1933, in cooperation with scientific ground expeditions.

The spraying of pests from the air was tried with great success by the S.A.A.F., at the suggestion of a Government Department, in 1925. A gum plantation was infested with a pest known as the eucalyptus snout beetle. This was exterminated when aircraft flew over the plantation and sprayed quantities of calcium arsenate powder (see the chapter “Air War on Insects”) over the trees. On another occasion it fell to the lot of S.A.A.F. machines to exterminate a herd of vilde-beest which was causing damage to crops and livestock in Swaziland, where they had been driven by the drought farther north. The aircraft located the herds, flew over them and machine-gunned them effectively.

Trained Reserve

In New Zealand lack of funds has somewhat retarded expansion, so that the Royal New Zealand Air Force is mainly a Territorial Force. The Territorial Air Force is composed of four squadrons—two bomber and two army cooperation. There is an R.N.Z.A.F. base at Hobsonville, near Auckland, North Island; the flying training school is at Wigram Aerodrome, at Christchurch, in South Island.

One of the most recent air forces to be constituted in the British Empire is the Indian Air Force, which was founded in 1932. This Air Force is composed entirely of Indians in all ranks. Indian officers are trained for two years at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. Then they are attached to a unit in Great Britain for six months, after which they are sent to join their squadron in the Indian Air Force. The Indian Air Force is still small, but its first squadron has already distinguished itself in operations in Waziristan during 1937. One Indian officer was mentioned in dispatches.

In other parts of the Empire are to be seen what may be the nuclei of new air forces. In 1936 was formed the Straits Settlements Volunteer Air Force. The first unit was accommodated at the R.A.F. base at Seletar and is trained by R.A.F. officers to cooperate with the defence of the new Singapore Base. The unit is equipped with Hawker Audax army cooperation biplanes and a sum of £100,000 (out of a gift of £500,000 from the Sultan of Johore) has been set aside for the provision of buildings for the Volunteer Air Force.

Kenya, Ceylon and Southern Rhodesia have already established air sections of their defence forces. A unit of four flights was formed in the Kenya Defence Force in 1933. Accommodation for two squadrons of the Air Section of the Ceylon Defence Force has been provided at the R.A.F. air base at Trincomalee.

From such small beginnings as these rose the Dominion air forces, whose work is of the greatest value to the development of their countries by the Governments concerned. Apart from their usefulness in service, the air forces are constantly training pilots and technicians. In 1936 and 1937, 430 pilots from the Dominions joined the Royal Air Force. The air forces of the Empire are building up, at the same time, a valuable trained reserve.

VICKERS VILDEBEEST BOMBERS of the New Zealand Air Force flying over Auckland

VICKERS VILDEBEEST BOMBERS of the New Zealand Air Force flying over Auckland during a reconnaissance flight. The Royal New Zealand Air Force is mainly a Territorial Force of four squadrons—two bomber and two army cooperation. The flying training school is at Wigram Aerodrome Christchurch in the South Island.

You can read more on “Advance of the Empire Air Mail”, “RAF Operations Overseas” and “The Royal Canadian Air Force” on this website.

Air Forces of the Dominions