Researching personnel of the RFC/RAF/RNAS presents a number of challenges: there are numerous original sources, names are presented in a variety of different formats with many variations in spelling, and there are a substantial number of errors.
Not all of the data is available online and manually searching the files at the National Archives and elsewhere is time consuming and requires some specialist knowledge. Database searches will often not return all of the required records.
Consequently I have produced a database and index of aircrew and officer names in a consistent format which brings together the records from a large variety of documents and databases. The data can be downloaded and browsed. Browsing presents a number of advantages in that differences in spelling are highlighted, and there is a greater chance of obtaining all the relevant records compared to specific searches of a database.
The database can be accessed here.
The Royal Flying Corps was formed on the 13th April 1912 and comprised a Military Wing, Naval Wing, Central Flying School and the Royal Aircraft Factory. The Naval Wing split from the RFC on 1st July 1914 to become the Royal Naval Air Service ('RNAS'), under the control of the Admiralty.
On the 1st April 1918 the RFC merged with the RNAS to form the Royal Air Force ('RAF').
The RFC was a Corps of the Army, and thus had Army ranks, regulations and procedures.
All of the initial personnel of the RFC Military Wing comprised officers and men who transferred from the Army, and the Army continued to be a significant source of personnel for the RFC, either by permanent transfers, secondment or temporary attachment (the latter categories applying particular to observers).
Officers could initially enter the RFC in two ways: by transfer from an Army Unit or by joining the Special Reserve. The latter were sometimes known as 'civilian pilots' as they generally had no military experience. Early Special Reservists included well-known pre-war pilots such as Geoffrey de Havilland and BC Hucks, famous for touring the country 'looping the loop'. They were looked down upon by some military officers, some of whom had experience in the Boer War and other campaigns.
Subsequently it was possible to join the RFC directly and be entered on the 'General List'. Once the officers service in the RFC was over he resigned his commission. There was thus an advantage in joining the Army first and applying for a transfer to the RFC, in that once the RFC service was completed the officer would return to his Army unit for continued employment.
In order to enter the RFC as a pilot it was initially a requirement that the applicant acquire a Royal Aero Club aviators certificate at their own expense. If accepted into the RFC a nominal 75 pounds would be refunded. This requirement was dropped in July 1916, although an individual could still apply for an RAeC 'ticket'.
A new officer would normally be appointed as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant or Probationary 2nd Lieutenant and enter the Recruits Depot. He would be given ground training at one of the Schools of Instruction (primarily Reading and Oxford). If destined to be a pilot he would undertake further training at one of the private Flying Schools taken over by the RFC, the Central Flying School or one of the Reserve Aeroplane Squadrons ('RAS'), later renamed Reserve Squadrons ('RS'), then Training Squadrons ('TS'), and subsequently merged into Training Depot Stations ('TDS'). Alternatively he could be trained as an Observer or Balloon Officer. Officers undertaking ground duties would generally be appointed as Equipment Officers.
Other Ranks means Warrant Officers, NCO's and men. As with officers, all the initial recruits were transferred from Army units. Other ranks could also apply to be a pilot, with the same requirements that applied to officers.
Subsequently, direct entry to the service was permitted, primarily in order to obtain a sufficient quantity of trained mechanics. By the end of the war the vast majority of RFC men were direct entry.
Refer to the data section for details of information sources.