#5 British Flying Training School

Clewiston, Florida

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British Flying Training Schools in the USA

This article has been taken from the "Air 41" History of BFTSs in USA held in the Public Records Office, Kew Gardens, London.

It covers all the BFTSs that were set up in the USA, including No 5, BFTS.


On March 5th 1941, General Arnold informed the British Air Attaché in Washington that as soon as the Lease-Lend bill was passed, the U.S. army proposed to offer 260 elementary, 285 advanced trainers to the U.K. Government for the training of RAF pupils in American civil schools. General Arnold went on to say that tentative plans had been worked out for the initial operation of British training schemes offered at 6 schools. Although the operators had no facilities to spare in existing establishments, they were all willing to build special schools, complete with all facilities at a cost of $400,000-500,000 each, accommodating 140 cadets at a time (70 primary and 70 advanced). On a 20 week course and assuming 20% wastage the 6 operators could expect to turn out a total of 1300 pilots a year, and they would charge $25 per hour primary training, and $35 per hr for advanced instruction.

The offer was the result of an order from the President, following various talks on the immediate help to GB on training, particularly between Air Chief Marshall Portel and Mr. Harry Hopkins. The manner in which it was made was "notably open-handed and helpful".

In the words of A/C Pirie, the Air Attaché, The story starts with the telephone conversation on March 5th when General Arnold Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief of the Air Corps called me and said, "When can you come in and talk training with me?" I told him that I was just leaving for the War Dep't and would be with him in 20 mins. Entering the General's rooms up at the Dep't, I found a crowd of about 15 people assembled there. All of them I knew. Without any preliminaries the General in his usual bluff fashion indicated with a wave of his hand to the assembled people and said" I think you know all these people now let's talk turkey! You've been worrying me for about a year and a half about what you call the Harvard, we're going to give you 260 primary, 285 basic trainers and here are 6 of our best civilian school operators prepared to put up schools for you. Is this of any interest?"

In spite of the manifest advantages of this scheme, it had its disadvantages. The army provided the advanced trainers, which were all single engined types Harvards, because even the US Army themselves had no twin engined trainers. The proportion of single engined to twin engined trained pilots being produced at the Empire air training schools was already too high and the new scheme would considerably increase that proportion.

None of the schools would be built and in operation quickly. The estimate was 45 to 90 days, the capital cost roughly $300,000 would have to met by the UK, and the US insisted that they should have the amenities on the some generous scale as similar schools built for the American Army Air Force with included for example : swimming pools, tennis courts at each school. The schools used a fresh previously untapped source of instructional facilities, but the price of $25 primary and $35 advanced was high. Though 285 advanced trainers would be made available they would be in substitution for, and not an addition to 200, which the UK had been trying to buy from America for use in UK and in the Empire.

The scheme promised to meet the training of American volunteers for service with the RAF. and it was hoped that two out of the six schools might be deferred into training with these American volunteers. There was no legal way of giving publicity in the USA to attract them.

The offer was considered on the 5th March, and was accepted by the Air Ministry the next day. Various details were worked out during the next month. Pupils were to have I.T.W. training in the UK before going to America via Canada. The Chief Flying Instructors were to attend a course on RAF training methods, so the Canadians were to provide this at Trenton. Night flying instruction was to be given, but armament and standard beam approach instruction were not practicable. Although it was intended that these courses were to be filled with personnel recruited from America, it soon became apparent that relatively few numbers could be expected to volunteer, and it was eventually decided to train British cadets at all the schools.

The six operators had to submit detailed proposals, and the courses were elongated. The courses were then officially named the British Flying Training Schools.

BFTS No 1 Terrell Texas operated by Major Long
No 2 Lancaster California by Major Mosely
No 3 Miami Oklahoma by Captain Balfour
No 4 Mesa Arizona by Mr. Connelly
No 5 Clewiston Florida by Mr. Riddle
No 6 Ponca City Oklahoma by Mr. Darr

Each had a capacity of 200 pupils on a 20 week course, providing both E.F.T.S. and S.F.T.S. training and the total output of 150 pupils per month equivalent to 2 and a half standard sized S.F.T.S. schools. The first 100 pupils for these schools were to leave the UK in mid April and commenced training on the 31st of May 1941.

Review of the overall BFTS programme

The BFTS programme was regarded as a form of insurance against under production and as such did not cause any reduction in the overall number of RAF and Empire SFTSs needed. At the beginning of February 1941, however, there still remained nine for which homes were required. Canada was anxious to have these and was confident that she had the resources to run them. Rhodesia offered to take two more. The Air Ministry however was of the opinion that the Canadian training organisation as it stood would use up all the existing Canadian resources and any further development there would be undesirable and impracticable. It was therefore decided in February to establish two courses in S. Rhodesia and ...? with the possibility of establishing a remaining service course in the USA. Although there would be difficulties of bomb and gunnery training, dollar expenditure, and the shortage of trainers, these were not prohibitive. The training shortage and dollar expenditure would still arise even if more training were carried out in America and it was felt preferable to do it in the US.

The idea of putting SFTSs in the USA was attractive and it was decided to pursue it by an official conversation. A statement pressing for more training facilities was handed to the USA Ambassador (Mr. Winant) and a copy was sent to the US for consideration by the big five ( Mr Cordell-Hull. Mr. Morgenthau, Mr. Harry Hopkins, Colonel Knox and Mr. Austinson?). As a result of these overtures General Arnold visited the UK in April 1941 to discuss Britain's training requirements. In general, Air Marshal Garrod the Air Member for Training in Britain, wanted short term help to increase the RAF's hitting power in 1941- by reducing the no' of men who had to be withdrawn from the first line to instruct, and long term help to re-assist the strain on a newly expanding training organisation, There was a shortage of advanced trainers and difficulty was being experienced in instruction, especially at night in an operational base.

Particular directions in which the GB asked for assistance were greater facilities for pilots, the provision of ferry pilots for the Atlantic and Takoradi supply routes, as well as for internal ferry duties, and experienced instructors. The latter, because too many ex-pupils were being used for teaching navigation. Training aircraft and radar mechanics were also needed.

Summary of RAF training facilities in America as by June 1941.

There were 5 different schemes either projected or in operation for the training of RAF or Fleet Air Arm personnel in the USA. In chronological order they were :

1 The Refreshers course : for the training of US citizens, who volunteered for service with a company called "British Aviation". The idea was that they would be accepted for service with the RAF when they came to the UK. This course started in November 1940 and was intended to turn out 35 pilots per month.

2 The American Airways Navigation course at Miami : which trained observers at an estimated rate of 840 per year. This training commenced in March 1941.

3 The BFTSs : The scheme for 6 civilian operator schools for the RAF, financed largely by lease-lend and turning out roughly 2,300 pilots per year. This scheme duly commenced in May 1941.

4 The Arnold Scheme : The use of USAAC schools both (civil and service) to train RAF pupils. This too was financed largely by lease-lend, and it was producing roughly 4,000 pilots per year. The first intakes under this scheme commenced training in June 1941.

5 The Towers scheme for using US navy schools for the training of Fleet Air Arm and RAF pilots, and possibly observers and wireless operators. Financed mainly by lease-lend and turning out pilots at the rate of 1200 per year. This scheme commenced in July l94l.

Development of the BFTSs

The BFTSs were originally intended to commence on the 17th May, but the organizational details of Lease-Lend took longer to resolve than was expected. At one time in order to accelerate their development to overcome a legal difficulty in the Arnold scheme, there had been a suggestion that the 6 school scheme should be replaced by an extension of the Arnold Scheme, with the US Army taking over the admin of the civil schools and providing the RAF with equivalent capacity in US army schools. However, this project to unify the BFTSs and the Arnold Scheme proved impracticable, whilst the initial difficulties were overcome with regard to the implementation of the BFTSs. Rapid progress was made in construction by the end of May. The contract stated that the civilian operators would be responsible for the construction of the schools, the UK advancing 60% of the building costs. It was hoped that the schools would be finished and operating within 2 or3 months.

The sites for the first 5 schools were quickly selected and approved by the operators, the US War Dep't, and the RAF. Terrell for example, a small town some 30 miles east of Dallas, Texas, was a site that had been used for some years by a small flying club, and the local town council were so enthusiastic about the scheme that they offered to put in all facilities free of cost and the school was ready within 8 weeks from selection of site.

Lancaster, 50 miles north of Los Angeles, was chosen as the site for the second school. The 3rd located at Miami Oklahoma, a small town 100 miles northeast of Tulsa. This latter site was also used by a small aero club, which was prepared to move elsewhere, and there too the local authorities were anxious to provide facilities. This school was constructed with amazing speed, and the auxiliary field was in use 3 weeks after work began. The site for the 4th school was eventually chosen at Mesa, near Phoenix. Arizona. And Clewiston at the foot of Lake Okeechobee, 95 miles northwest of the famous resort of Miami Florida, for No 5 BFTS. It is also interesting to know that the school was only 40 miles away from Arcadia. an aerodrome used for training of RAF pilots during the First world war, and now in use as a US army primary school, and was later to train pupils under the Arnold scheme.

The selection of the site for the 6th school met with rather more difficulty. Numerous sites were examined; no fewer than 4 nearly materialized, but had to be abandoned for one reason or another, before a suitable base at Ponca City, Oklahoma was found.

While the schools were being located and developed, the US army made a further offer of assistance, once it became clear that the schools would not be able to start work on the original day planned, 17th May 1941. The first BFTS pupils were to be trained in a civilian operated primary school working for the US army until the British schools were ready. Thus, arrangements were made to send the first course of 200 pupils to 4 schools at Dallas, Glendale, Tulsa, and Phoenix; all, of which were situated near the British schools and operated by the same civilian companies. Each school took 50 pupils, and those for Dallas and Glendale left England in April and arrived in Canada on the 24th May and started training in the States on 9th June. Those for the other two schools followed a week later, the second course of 250 pupils arrived 5 weeks later and went to the same four schools, with one other at Arcadia, Florida. By the time the 3rd course comprising 300 pupils had arrived the six schools had started, and pupils went directly to these schools.

The opening dates for the BFTSs were full up. No' 1 Terrell. the first 50 pupils commenced training on 9th June, at the US army primary school at Dallas, the school at Terrel1 commenced work on August 1lth, No' 2 Lancaster, California- the first 50 pupils commenced training on the 9th June at the US primary school at Glendale, Los Angeles, the school at Lancaster opening on 17th July. No' 3, Miami. Oklahoma, the first 50 commenced training on 16th June at the Army school at Tulsa, the school at Miami opened on the 13th July. The 4th Mesa, the first 50 having commenced training on 16th June at Thunderbird field, Phoenix, Arizona. The school at Mesa opened on 14th August. No 5,Clewiston, Florida the first 50 commenced training on 17th July at the US Army field at Arcadia, training at Clewiston commenced on the 23rd August. No' 6. Ponca City. Okla. the first 50 pupils commenced training on the 23rd August.

The syllabus for training was laid down on RAF lines, with one Chief Flying Instructor and one Chief Ground Instructor for each pair of schools, was to be supplied by the RAF. The only other RAF staff to be supplied was the Adjutant and an NCO in charge of discipline. Each school had a capacity of 200 pupils, and the course was 20 weeks duration, with intakes of 50 pupils every three weeks. The course was divided into 2 stages, each 10 weeks in length. The first stage, primary, involved 70 hrs flying on elementary trainers, which corresponded roughly to the E.F.T.S. school course. On the second advanced stage, roughly equivalent to the S.F.T.S. school syllabus, which involved 80 hrs training on basic and advanced trainers, the pupil wastage was estimated to be 28%, giving an output of 36 pupils per course, or a total output for the six schools of roughly 2.250 pilots per year.

The aircraft used at the school were Stearmans or Fairchilds for primary training, 35 per school. For advanced training there would be the Harvard, of which there was an allocation of 40 per school. Pupils were specially selected after completing the ITW course in the UK, they were warned that the instruction they would then receive would be different from that provided by the RAF, and the importance of the heavy responsibility they would carry in America was impressed upon them, pupils were reminded that they were representing the RAF in America, and any reference to the war should be guarded, and that criticism of America should be avoided.

The cadets wore RAF uniform whilst in Canada, but because of the neutrality laws existing in America, they had to wear civilian clothes when entering the USA. This consisted of a grey suit issued in Canada, to be worn whilst off duty, RAF blue or khaki uniforms also issued in Canada were to be worn at work in the school.

The BFTSs produced pilots trained up to OTU entry standard. The only drawbacks were some doubts about night flying, instrument flying equipment, and a difficulty about armament training. The total absence of twin engined trainers, and SBA equipment was of course another disadvantage, but it was an unavoidable one. It was also possible to improve the instrument and night flying deficiencies and some armament instruction in the syllabus and arrangements were made in July to provide an RAF instructor at each of the six schools. So successful in fact were RAF representations about providing link trainers for instrument instruction that the USA promptly bought UP the whole output before the RAF could supply its own schools!

The advanced stage was satisfactory in itself, but one difficulty was met in the lack of provision of instructors. There were plenty of elementary instructors available but very few competent to teach on basic and advanced types. This difficulty was overcome by obtaining advanced trainers before the training of pupils was due to commence, so instructors needing familiarisation in those types could be checked out by the Chief Flying Instructor.

Once the schools had started, they continued to work smoothly and wastage rate became stabilised at roughly 25%, slightly lower than had been anticipated, which compared very favourably with the wastage rate in the Arnold schools at 40-50%. The standards of training were roughly the same for both schemes, and the success of the BFTSs. were largely to do with the enthusiasm of the school operators who had a sincere desire to help Britain by making most of the British manpower. For example on the early courses at No 2 BFTS, based at Lancaster, the operator, Major Mosely, went so far as to make nearly every pupil successful, by paying out of his own pocket for whatever extra tuition was necessary.

In December 1941, the Air Member for training introduced a new plan, which aimed at raising the standards of pilots by providing more flight hours in their pre-OTU stages of training. The training syllabus for RAF EFTS and SFTS schools was extended and the flying hours were raised to 200. To conform to the new syllabus the EFTS course length was raised from 20 to 28 weeks, in January 1942, and the flying hours increased from 150 to 200 hrs. The primary stage now lasted 14 weeks and gave 91 hrs on primary trainers and the basic advanced stage 14 weeks with 109 hrs flying time. It was not possible to increase the ratio of advanced flying to primary flying because of the shortage of advanced trainer aircraft. It also had been hoped to expand the capacity of each school from 200 to 240 pupils, so as to maintain the previous rate of output, but this was impracticable at that time, and the capacities remained unchanged with intakes of pupils (50} every 7 weeks. Output was accordingly reduced to about 1600 per year.

Expansion of the BFTSs

Compared with the US army schools, the BFTSs were not running at their full capacity, and as the USAAC was known to be short of pilot training capacity, it was thought that this situation might persuade the Americans to revise their proposals by absorbing this course into their training organisation. To avoid any unfavourable comparisons, the RASF pilot training requirements in the USA were reviewed in September 1942, so that either capacities could be increased or that the number of schools reduced. It was decided that to meet the immediate requirements only a small increase in the existing output of the 1340 per year was needed, but as a safeguard against future expansion, and sufficient to retain the five existing schools, to avoid American criticisms they would have to be expanded and it was decided to offer half the additional capacity to the US Air Corps. This helped to overcome their particular training difficulties. The training of Americans in the British schools would be valuable in furthering co-operation, and interchange of ideas between the two services. This prediction proved correct, and in accepting the proposal the American government offered to supply the additional aircraft required, whilst the British decided to shorten the course length to 27 weeks so as to phase intakes with the USAAC programme, and to exchange all basic trainers which were in short supply at the schools for advanced trainers of which there now was a surplus.

These changes suited the RAF admirably enabling the BFTSs to become more in line with the normal RAF system of training. The primary course was reduced from 14 weeks to 9 weeks. with 70 hrs flying and did not require any additional aircraft, and the advanced course extended from 14 to 18 weeks, with 130 hrs flying. The aircraft at each establishment increased from 20 basic and 20 advanced trainers per school to 64 advanced trainers, with the capacity of each school raised from 200 to 300. With effect from 12th Nov 1942, intakes took place every nine weeks, consisting of 83 RAF and 17 USAAF pupils. As a result of this reorganisation the annual output increased to roughly 2,200 per year, of which 1/5th were American cadets.

The personnel establishments at the schools were also increased : one USAAC officer to look after the American pupils; 3x RAF Flight lieutenants; 2x assistant flight supervisors (and a navigator instructor); and one RAF wireless operator /air gunner (signals instructor) were to be posted to every school.

For about 18 months the 5 schools (No'2 BFTS at Lancaster California having ceased operation in 1942) continued to operate without interruption and not until the spring of l944, when there was a general reduction in the. RAF's overseas training organisation that further changes were made. There had been a slight modification in the autumn of 1943, when as a temporary expedient the intake was increased from 100 to 110 pupils, 90 RAF and 20 USAAF. A further increase to 130 was planned, for the following intake of 9th Sept 1943, but subsequent events rendered this unnecessary. The increase was mainly as the result of an urgent request by the air ministry, for an increase in pilot output. Canada was asked to supply the additional requirements, but the additional efforts to meet them could not be made until the winter of 1944, Therefore the BFTSs decided to bridge the gap until that time. As it happened only one intake was increased.

Reduction of pilot requirements

Towards the end of 1943 it was evident that with the favourable changes in the war situation, it would soon be possible to reduce the size of our overseas training organisations. In November therefore a comprehensive review of aircrew requirements was carried out, thus it was decided to reduce pilot output. Due to the fact that American training was financed by the Lease-Lend, it made it desirable to retain both the Towers schools and the BFTSs, and, to close RAF schools operating in Canada and S. Africa, which would also have the effect of releasing ground and instructional staff for other duties.

It was no now longer necessary for the BFTSs to be expanded, and plans for increasing intakes to 130 were cancelled and with courses commencing from 11th February 1944, intakes reverted to 100 pupils every 9 weeks. Before reducing intakes the spare capacity i.e. 30 per school was offered to USAAF, but they too were reducing pilots outputs, in fact they had already decided to stop sending any more pupils to the BFTSs. The last intake of American pupils of 20 per school took place on 8th December 1943, and graduated on the 14th June 1944. In all some 610 American pupils had passed through the BFTSs and 453 graduated as pilots.

The review of Feb 1944 led to considerable reductions being made in the overseas training organisation, but the BFTS capacity was retained because the closure schools would not relieve the manpower shortage. The cessation of USAAF intakes however meant that one school could be closed and its capacity made up by filling the American quota at the other 4 schools with RAF pupils. No 6 BFTS, at Ponca City was chosen as the school to closed and its last intake took place on 8th December 1943, although the school actually closed on the 17th April 1944, and its last intake was sent to the remaining schools for the second half of the advanced course.

Commencing in February the total BFTS intake was 400 RAF pupils divided equally between the 4 schools instead of 400 RAF and 100 USAAF for 5 schools. In order to bring the BFTSs into line with the schools in Canada, the courses were extended by 4 weeks to delay outputs and so to relieve the congestion at the PRCs in the UK. Courses were extended by 3 weeks to 10 weeks primary and 20 advanced, commencing with the course graduating in March 1944. Flying hours per pupil, which had already been increased by the addition of 10 hours gunnery training in November 1943, were extended to a total of 220 hours.

Closure of the BFTSs

The BFTSs continued on this basis until the end of the war. In May 1945 when the war in Europe ceased, the Americans had promptly discontinued all army air force pilot training at civilian operated schools and were anxious to close the BFTSs. They agreed however to allow intakes to continue until the 20th August 1945, in order to allow the RAF to re-establish a training scheme in the UK, which meant that the last output would graduate early in 1945. The sudden ending of the Japanese war on the 15th August meant the consequent cessation of lease-lend, caused arrangements to be rescinded, thus no more flying was carried out after no'25 course had passed out on the 25th August 1945. The last course one which had completed two weeks training, and then was returned to the UK, where they were given an opportunity to complete their training. A course due to start on the 28th August was returned to the UK, without having commenced training. In all 6,921 RAF, and 558 USAAF pilots received their wings at these schools.

Thus on the 27th August 1945, 4 years after the first British cadets arrived in the USA, all flying training in America on behalf of the RAF came to an end. These schools were a wonderful example of practical mutual co-operation and the exchange of ideas and experience between both pupils and instructors was of great value to both services. The RAF, who trained under almost perfect flying conditions free from enemy interference, were received with warm-hearted friendliness by the American people. The most generous hospitality was offered to pupils in all parts of America, on their side the cadets responded equally whole-heartedly, never abusing the kindness of the hosts, and winning their affection by their eager responses to the offer of friendship. In all, about 16,000 pilots were trained in America for the RAF, including 600 American volunteers trained in the Refreshers course, an invaluable contribution to the strength of the RAF, without which the war in the air could not have been won.

Problems of personnel reception and reselection

The development of RAF training in the USA was notable for the speed for which it came into existence, after the very schemes were created and put in hand. Whereas other training theatres had to build-up their training organisation gradually, America had ready-made resources, instructors, manpower and equipment. Of the 5 schemes only the refresher schools, trained American volunteers for the RAF. All the others trained RAF personnel supplied from the UK, travelling via Canada and by the end of the year the five schemes were turning out roughly 7,000 pilots, 1200 observers and 380 wireless operators/air gunners, together with 600 American volunteer pilots.

Various attempts were made during the year to widen the field of recruitment to the USA. Plans were drawn up to provide training for American volunteers at the BFTSs, and to form an initial training wing in America for these recruits. By the end of the year this was still under consideration. It was not easy to recruit American volunteers in the USA. The American army was naturally anxious to have the first call upon American manpower and the RAF could not trespass upon that territory. The American neutrality laws severely restricted recruiting and the impossibility of publicising the scheme made it difficult to increase the flow of suitable recruits. The whole question however was decisively settled in December 1941, and America's entry into the war ensured tremendous support in men and material for the Allied Air Forces.

Canadian sensitivity about training in the USA was allayed before the flow of pupils began, by providing a transit camp originally in Dartmouth and later in Moncton, for pupils entering and leaving the USA; and by establishing facilities for reselection for pupils eliminated in American schools.

The transitional arrangements for pupils going to America were difficult, until October 1941. All RAF personnel traveling in the USA were required to travel in civilian clothes. The first courses did not know in the least where they were going, but were presented with £5 and told to buy a suit of clothes, with varying and sometimes disastrous results. The overcoat problems were solved by replacing the brass buttons on the RAF greatcoats with RAF plain ones. The pupi1s were also issued with Khaki drill uniforms, to wear whilst on duty only inside the schools. Later courses were issued with grey flannel suits in Canada, instead of the five pounds, and a working dress for which RAF khaki drill proved unsuitable was replaced by a complete uniform subsequently with American khaki uniform.

One of the early difficulties with these schemes was to find a satisfactory method of dealing with pupils eliminated from the first course. It. was obviously desirable that as far as possible they should be re-categorized and trained in North America before returning to the UK. The shortage of shipping made essential the utilisation to the greatest advantage of all personnel sent for training to the N. American continent. At first pupils who failed their courses were often given another chance at different schools but in August 1941, it was agreed that all aircrew pupils undergoing training in the USA who failed in their courses should be posted to the composite training schools at Trenton in Canada for reselection to another aircrew category, and then to continue training in either the USA or Canada, at usual1y the Towers or BAA schools. The personnel re-mustered to ground trades were if possible retained in Canada if there were vacancies in the establishments of the transfer schools. Those suitable only for discharge from course were returned directly to the UK.