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Forerunner to the Royal Air Force

These were the new heroes, gladiators of the skies, epitomised by the fabulous (if fictional Captain Bigglesworth). Here was the stuff of boyhood adventure writing- the dashing fliers, the knights of the sky; magnificent men in their smashing flying machines.

The early part of the 20th century had seen much scientific and technological advance, possibly the greatest of which was the development of manned flight. Military brains, ever keen to take gain a strategic advantage have often turned such developments into weaponry, for defence or offence.

In Great Britain, there had been many official airborne military groups, notably the Royal Engineers' Balloon Unit in 1878 and an Air Battalion in 1911. The development of Geoffrey de Havilland's BE-2 aircraft, however led to a major rethinking of aerial strategy and tactics, and The Royal Flying Corps was founded in 1912.

By the outbreak of World War I, the Corps had about 90 airplanes (bombers and fighter planes, notably the BE-2, Vickers FB5 and the Avro 504. By 1915, following Lord Trenchard being placed in command, the Corps took on a more aggressive role in the war, with more offensive sorties and fewer reconnaisance missions. Casualties were high, however, an average of two aircrew being lost every day.

The development of safer aircraft brought a dramatic improvement in casualties, with the Bristol Fighter, Sopwith Pup, Sopwith Camel (of Biggles fame) and S.E.5, along with bombers such as theHandley Page and Airco DH-4. By 1917 the British has established their superiority in the skies and the RFC was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to form the basis of the RAF.

In January 1918, Trenchard was appointed chief of staff to the newly-formed Royal Air Force, and by the end of the war, the RAF had some 4,000 combat aircraft.

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