Air Battalion Royal Engineers

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Air Battalion
Founded1 April 1911
Part of Royal Engineers
Headquarters Farnborough Airfield
Commander Sir Alexander Bannerman

The Air Battalion Royal Engineers (ABRE) was the first flying unit of the British Armed Forces to make use of heavier-than-air craft. Founded in 1911, the battalion in 1912 became part of the Royal Flying Corps, which in turn evolved into the Royal Air Force.

British Armed Forces combined military forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The British Armed Forces, also known as Her Majesty's Armed Forces, are the military services responsible for the defence of the United Kingdom, its overseas territories and the Crown dependencies. They also promote Britain's wider interests, support international peacekeeping efforts and provide humanitarian aid.

Royal Flying Corps former air warfare service of the British Army

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was the air arm of the British Army before and during the First World War, until it merged with the Royal Naval Air Service on 1 April 1918 to form the Royal Air Force. During the early part of the war, the RFC supported the British Army by artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance. This work gradually led RFC pilots into aerial battles with German pilots and later in the war included the strafing of enemy infantry and emplacements, the bombing of German military airfields and later the strategic bombing of German industrial and transport facilities.

Royal Air Force Aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. Following victory over the Central Powers in 1918 the RAF emerged as, at the time, the largest air force in the world. Since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history. In particular, it played a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.



In 1911, following the growth in early aviation activity, the War Office issued instructions for the School of Ballooning, which had originally been formed in 1888, to be expanded into a battalion. An order was issued on 28 February 1911 for the formation of the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers effective 1 April the same year. The initial establishment was 14 officers and 150 other ranks. Officers could be selected from any branch of the service whereas other ranks were selected from the Corps of Royal Engineers.

War Office department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army

The War Office was a Department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army between 1857 and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence. It was equivalent to the Admiralty, responsible for the Royal Navy, and the Air Ministry, which oversaw the Royal Air Force. The name "War Office" is also given to the former home of the department, the War Office building, located at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall in central London.

School of Ballooning

The School of Ballooning was a training and test centre for British Army experiments with balloons and airships. It was established at Chatham in Kent in 1888. The School moved to Stanhope Lines, Aldershot in 1890 when a balloon section and depot were formed as permanent units of the Royal Engineers establishment. The School was sometimes known as the Balloon Factory.

Battalion military unit size

A battalion is a military unit. The use of the term "battalion" varies by nationality and branch of service. Typically a battalion consists of 300 to 800 soldiers and is divided into a number of companies. A battalion is typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel. In some countries, the word "battalion" is associated with the infantry.

Pilots had to already have earned a Royal Aero Club certificate from a private flying school. The GBP 75 charge for flight training was reimbursed only if the student passed the course.

Royal Aero Club

The Royal Aero Club (RAeC) is the national co-ordinating body for air sport in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1901 as the Aero Club of Great Britain, being granted the title of the "Royal Aero Club" in 1910.

Structure and activities

The battalion comprised two companies and a headquarters located at Farnborough. The commander of the Air Battalion was Major Sir Alexander Bannerman.

Company (military unit) military unit size

A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80–150 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain. Most companies are formed of three to six platoons, although the exact number may vary by country, unit type, and structure.

No. 1 Company, at Farnborough, was equipped with airships and was under the command of Captain Edward Maitland, an experienced balloon and airship pioneer. He also helped pioneer the parachute and in 1913 made the first parachute jump from an airship.

No. 1 Squadron RAF Royal Air Force fighter squadron

Number 1 Squadron, also known as No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron, is a squadron of the Royal Air Force. It was the first squadron to fly a VTOL aircraft. It currently operates Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth.

Airship type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft

An airship or dirigible balloon is a type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air under its own power. Aerostats gain their lift from large gasbags filled with a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air.

Parachute Device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere

A parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag. Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong fabric, originally silk, now most commonly nylon. They are typically dome-shaped, but vary, with rectangles, inverted domes, and others found. A variety of loads are attached to parachutes, including people, food, equipment, space capsules, and bombs.

No. 2 Company, at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain, was equipped with aeroplanes and was commanded by Captain John Fulton. A mechanical engineer from the Royal Field Artillery, Fulton had been an early enthusiast of military flying and had attended the world's first air show at Rheims in 1909. He had earned his pilot's certificate, number 27, on 15 November 1910.

No. 3 Squadron RAF

No. 3(F) Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Typhoon F2, FGR4 and T3 from RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. It was formed in 1912 as one of the first squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps.

Larkhill garrison town in the civil parish of Durrington, Wiltshire, England

Larkhill is a garrison town in the civil parish of Durrington, Wiltshire, England. It lies about 1 34 miles (2.8 km) west of the centre of Durrington village and 1 12 mi (2.4 km) north of the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. It is about 10 mi (16 km) north of Salisbury.

Salisbury Plain Chalk plateau in England

Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in the south western part of central southern England covering 300 square miles (780 km2). It is part of a system of chalk downlands throughout eastern and southern England formed by the rocks of the Chalk Group and largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, but stretches into Berkshire and Hampshire. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England's best known landmarks. Large areas are given over to military training and thus the sparsely populated plain is the biggest remaining area of calcareous grassland in northwest Europe. Additionally the plain has arable land, and a few small areas of beech trees and coniferous woodland. Its highest point is Easton Hill.

On 17 September 1911, Lt. R.A. Cammell, R.E. was killed in the crash of a Valkyrie monoplane at Hendon airfield; [1] a 1922 account of the formation of the RAF states this was the only fatal accident in the Air Battalion. [2]

On 14 February 1912, Lt. Barrington-Kennet flew a government-bought aeroplane – a two-seater Nieuport monoplane with a 50 hp Gnome engine – 249.5 miles in 4 hours and 32 minutes, setting a record. [3]

Creation of the Royal Flying Corps

In October 1911, Italy's use of aircraft in combat against the Ottoman Empire in Tripoli, Libya led to the formation of a sub-committee of the British Imperial Defence Staff to recommend policy for the future of British military flying. The committee recommended the formation of a separate flying corps and on 13 April 1912 the Royal Flying Corps was created, with the Air Battalion becoming its Military Wing on 13 May. [4]

No.1 Company was the forerunner of No. 1 Squadron RFC on 1 April 1911.

No.2 Company was the forerunner of No. 3 Squadron RFC on 1 April 1911 and a detachment of No.2 Company became No. 2 Squadron RFC on 13 May 1912.

See also

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  1. The Passing of Lieut R.A. Cammell, R.E. Flight, 23 September 1911, p.830
  2. Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh; Henry Albert Jones (1922). The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force ... Clarendon Press. p. 196.
  3. Raleigh, Jones (1922). pp195–196
  4. "Formation". Royal Air Force Museum. 13 November 2015.
Preceded by
School of Ballooning
Air Battalion
Succeeded by
Royal Flying Corps
(Military Wing)