The Royal Air Force in American Skies: The Seven British Flight Schools in the United States during World War II.
A portion of American aid to Britain during the early days of World War II was the training of British pilots in the U.S. Essentially lending official sanction to a trend that had been evolving in an ad hoc manner, the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, cleared the way for establishment of a half-dozen flight schools run by private operators. These British Flying Training Schools (BFTS) were located in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and California.
The British trained pilots on a worldwide basis (e.g., Canada and Rhodesia) in a program known as the Empire Training Scheme. This book is about the schools in America. They essentially built on Hap Arnold's long-standing idea of contracting with civilian flight schools to train pilots. Before official U.S. involvement in the war, unofficial discussions between RAF and US Army Air Corps (AAC) staff resulted in assignment of British pilot candidates to regular AAC flight training in a program known as the Arnold Scheme (a similar program existed in the U.S. Navy). Differences soon surfaced between British and American training methods, however, such as more night and instrument training for the RAF. Soon the RAF requested separate training using RAF methods. The Lend Lease Act provided resources for AAC aircraft, bases, and logistical support for such schools.
Training started in June 1941. Each 28-week course was divided between elementary and advanced training, provided no less than 200 hours of flying time, and contained about 300 pilot candidates. Through September 1945, each school graduated 25 courses.
This book covers its subject thoroughly, featuring individual chapters on each school; its origins, construction, layout, and staffing; the training experience; interactions with Americans in towns that hosted the schools; and the background and wartime and post-war experiences of the pilots themselves. This volume clearly is intended to be a permanent, exhaustive record and point of reference for future scholars.
This is the first in-depth survey of the BFTS. Guinn thoroughly covers the BTFS' immediate predecessor in The Arnold Scheme; British Pilots, the American South and the Allies' Daring Plan (2007). Morgan covers the overall Empire Training Plan in By the Seat of Your Pants, A Consideration of the Basic Training of RAF Pilots in Southern Rhodesia, Canada and the USA during World War II (1990). Golley more specifically covers British pilot training in Canada in Aircrew Unlimited: The Commonwealth Air Training Plan during World War II (1993). And of course the redoubtable Images of America series, whose topic focus brings us photos that might otherwise be lost to time, supplies what amount to photo appendices in de Quesada's The Royal Air Force over Florida (1998) and Mallett's Falcon Field (2009).
Killebrew has pulled together most of the significant accounts focused on single schools, including his own The Royal Air Force in Texas: Training British Pilots in Terrell during World War II (2003). Among other school-specific works upon which the book builds are Dawson, The RAF in Arizona, Falcon Field, 1941-1945 (2002), Denson, The Royal
Air Force in Oklahoma (2006), Largent and Roberts, RAF Wings over Florida (2000), Craft, Embry-Riddle at War (2009), and Peek, The Spartan Story (1994).
There is much fresh evidence here, culled from interviews and little-known archives. As is often the case with wartime records, Killebrew notes that some contemporary documents, composed under wartime pressures, are incomplete. He overcomes this through skillful use of multiple sources. The schools were well-publicized locally, and newspaper morgues fill in otherwise undocumented gaps. The style is easy to read, light, and flows along well. Killebrew's subjects are featured in quotations, excerpts, and interviews. The appendix lists the students killed during training. Illustrations consist of rarely-seen photos and diagrams sourced from official records, local sources, and the pilots themselves, and are closely tied to the text. The book is printed on high-quality paper in a cloth binding.
Only positive impressions and interactions among the British pilot candidates and locals are reported, with townspeople inviting them to dinner, picnics and parties. Did any of those involved encounter situations incompatible with their values? It may be that this wartime arrangement disposed everyone to favorable opinions, but a little context would fill out the portrayal. A few tables of key statistics on the schools, pupils, and accomplishments would have made it easier to find information. A summary chapter analyzing the broader context of the BFTS would have magnified the impact of their overall place in history. But these are minor quibbles. Up until now there has been no comprehensive account of these schools. Killebrew has created a unique, original contribution to the historical record--a highly recommended book that should be on everyone's shelf.
Steve Agoratus, Hamilton, New Jersey
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|Publication:||Air Power History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2016|
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