& FAA ORIGINS
of Naval Aviation of the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth
Fleet Air Arm
Naval Aviation Book store now open for Christmas gifts
early part of the 20th century the British Royal Navy used balloons and
airships for reconnaissance. After the failure of the Royal Navy's airship
Mayfly in 1911, the naval minister, Winston Churchill, began arguing for the
development of military aircraft.
In 1912 the government formed the Royal Flying Corps. The British Royal
Navy was given the airships owned by the British Army. It was also given
twelve aircraft to be used in conjunction with its ships. The first flight
from a moving ship took place in May 1912. The following year, the first
seaplane carrier, Hermes, was commissioned. The Navy also began to build a
chain of coastal air stations.
In January 1914 the government established the Royal Naval Air Service
(RNAS). Within a few months the RNAS had 217 pilots and 95 aircraft (55 of
By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the RNAS had more
aircraft under its control than the Royal Flying Corps. The main role of the
RNAS was fleet reconnaissance, patrolling coasts for enemy ships and
submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain
from enemy air-raids. The leading war ace in the RNAS was Raymond Collishaw with 60 victories.
The RNAS was severely attacked for its failure to prevent the Zeppelin
bombing raids. In February 1916 there was a change of policy and the Royal
Flying Corps were given responsibility of dealing with Zeppelins once they
were over Britain.
The RNAS now concentrated on bombing Zeppelins on the ground in Germany.
The RNAS also had fighter squadrons on the Western Front. Popular aircraft
with these pilots included the Bristol Scout, the Sopwith
Pup and the Sopwith Camel.
When the RNAS had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships
and 126 coastal stations when it was decided to merge it with the Royal
Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force in April 1918. The Royal Navy
did not regain its Fleet Air Arm again until 1938.
The First Flights in the British Empire
The race to be the first to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft in the British
Empire was officially recognised to won by New Zealand in 1903, followed in
1908 by Britain and then by both Canada and Australia in 1909 - Flights that
caught the interest of the armed services of the United States and the
In 1896 the British Empire may have witnessed the
first powered flight, by Bill Frost who is said to have set off in a
"flying machine" from a field
in Pembrokeshire in Wales
and stayed in the air for 10 seconds. He even applied to register a patent
for his invention - a cross between an airship and a glider - in 1894 (see
these pages Bill
Frost's Flying Machine, Lawrence Hargrave Timeline for details and the archives of the
However, the first acknowledged powered take-off flight was in New
Zealand, and achieved on 31 March 1903, when Richard Pearse flew his homebuilt craft 150 yards. This was
regarded as the sixth powered take-off in the world. A few months later on 17 December 1903, in the United
States Orville Wright made the first powered airplane flight in
The first officially witnessed flight in Europe was
made in France,
by Alberto Santos-Dumont, of Brazil.
His longest flight, on 12 November, 1906, covered a distance of about 220 m
(722 ft) in 22.5 sec. However, the first official powered flight in Britain
was not until 5 October 5 1908
when Samuel Cody makes a flight covered a distance of 500 yards at
Laffans Plain, Aldershot, England.
Then as early as 1909, Britain
funded the construction of an Airship for naval duties .
That same year, in 1909 the first successful heavier-than-air flights by a British subject anywhere in the British Empire was
in Canada by
J.A.D. McCurdy. He flew his "Silver Dart," at Baddeck,
on 23 February, 1909 for
half a mile over the ice-covered surface of Baddeck Bay.
The next day McCurdy flew four miles in a complete circle returning to his
starting point. These flights were recognized by the Royal Aero Club of the United
Kingdom as the British Empire's
Meanwhile, the first steps towards aeroplane aviation at sea began on 14th November, 1910 in the United
States when Eugene B. Ely conducted the
first successful takeoff from a ship.
History of the first Naval Aviation
service of the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Air Service
From its roots in the work of Bill Frost,
Samuel Cody and others in the early 1900s, the origins of Naval aviation stem
from early experiments that took place around 1908. In 1911, the Royal Navy
graduated it's first aeroplane pilots, Lieutenants Longmore (from Australia),
Gregory and Samson. Later Lieutenant Arthur Longmore,
as a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service, flew an aircraft to the world's
first water landing using pontoon shaped airbags.
In May, 1912, the British naval and army aviation corps were
combined to become the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). Although there were some
early advantages in the amalgamating the individual service wings, the Naval
Wing of the Royal Flying Corp lasted until July 1914 when the Royal Navy
reformed its air branch, naming it the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).
The Service comprised three flights of four aircraft plus three reserve
aircraft per squadron. That same year Arthur Longmore , RNAS, first
tested the dropping of torpedoes from aircraft.
At the beginning of the war the RNAS was engaged in north-sea patrols, and
until February 1916 was also responsible for the Air Defence of Britain and
was the pioneer of Strategic bombing, the first raid being mounted on German territorials six weeks into the war, against the Zeppelin
hangers at Düsseldorf.
In addition the RNAS continued its naval patrols from coastal air
stations, and from ships, reconnaissance aircraft flying from ordinary
warships and ultimately vessels converted to aircraft carriers.
In 1917, a Sopworth Pup piloted by Squadron
Commander E. H. Dunning, RN, conducted the first landing on the worlds first aircraft carrier, HMS Furious.
On the 1st April 1918,
the RN once again lost its Air Service, the Royal
Navy and Army air wings were merged once again, this time to form the Royal
Air Force (RAF).
In 1918, when the Great War ended, this service was the largest air force
in the world, with over 126 coastal air stations.
The RAF starved the Royal Navy's Fleet air arm through the diversion of
scarce resources to its own requirements throughout the 1920-30s. This was
not a very satisfactory arrangement and in 1924 the Admiralty introduced the
title of 'Fleet Air Arm'.However, with war looming,
the RN in 1937 successfully argued the revision of the Service to full
Admiralty control as the Fleet Air Arm.
The History of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm
In 1937, The Naval Air Branch, later known as the Fleet Air Arm, was
returned eventually to Admiralty control.
At the onset of the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of 20
Squadrons and 232 aircraft on strength.
World War 2 gave a new impetus to naval flying which gradually changed
naval tactics from a ship versus ship conflict to aircraft versus
ships, with devastating effect. The crippling of the Italian Fleet in Taranto
Harbour by Swordfish biplanes carrying torpedoes in a night attack in 1940
was undoubtedly the most notable Fleet Air Arm success of the war, although
the FAA served in almost every theatre of the second world war, taking part
in the Battle of France, low countries and the Britain, Battle of Atlantic,
Russian convoys, Invasion of Madagascar, North Africa, Libyan Desert
campaigns, invasion of Sicily, Italy, and Southern France, D-day Normandy
invasion, Battle of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the invasion of Japan.
The FAA was also instrumental in sinking the greatest tonnage of enemy
shipping, and was one of the main weapons against the U-Boat. FAA aircrew
were also adept at aerial combat and had many air aces, and received numerous
honours including two Victoria Crosses, and many Distinguished Service Orders
(DSO), Distiguished Service Crosses, Distinguished
Service Medals (DSM)s and Mention in Despatches.
By the end of the World War 2 the strength of the Fleet Air Arm was:
59 aircraft carriers, 3,700 aircraft, 72,000 officers and men and 56 air
stations all over the world. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship
as the Fleet's capital ship and its aircraft were strike weapons in their own
right. However, piston engined aircraft were reaching the limits of
their development. The hoverfly, the first operational helicopter, had
already been introduced to the Fleet Air Arm, and the Sea Fury together with
the Firefly, bore the brunt of the next conflict - the Korean War. From the
Fleet Air Arm's point of view the light Fleet carrier had more than proved
its worth. The squadrons had brought their
efficiency to new heights and the experience would serve in good stead for a
new generation of jet aircraft about to come into service on the larger
FAA helicopters and Harriers continue to play a vital role in NATO and UN
peacekeeping operations, especially in the Bosnian and Kosovan
crisis. And, assuming that no politicians or future government cancel them,
the Fleet Air Arm will look forward to the first conventional carriers to
serve in the Royal Navy for more than two decades when the Future Aircraft
Carrier enters service along with new aircraft sometime between
2000-2015. However, there is some concern over whether the projected 2
carriers will be able to cope with the load the three Invincibles
now carry, with one of the carriers being out of service for refits and
upgrades some of the time.
An excellent summary of the history of flight from antiquity can be found
Hargrave Timeline. The main online historical information including
origins of the FAA, Battle
honours, ships, squadrons and major battles is from the FAAOA History section
The history of naval aviation and for the air forces for
each Commonwealth country also includes a wealth of history and heritage
information common to the Briritsh heritage of
naval aviation and are well worth reviewing. Inparticular also see the
excellent summary in the Australia's
Museum of Flight
Genesis of Naval
Aviation'. A summary of the hstory of the Royal
Naval Air Service in the Great War is detailed by the British
-Forces.com website, with a wartime history of the RNAS, Aircraft of the
RNAS, RNAS Armoured
Cars Squadrons, RNAS Airships and RNAS Ranks .
For detailed information refer to the following publications:
'Find, Fix and Strike! - The FAA at War 1939-45' by John
Winton Published by BT Batsford, 1980: History of
FAA operations in WW2.
'British Naval Aviation - The Fleet
Air Arm 1917-1990' by Ray Sturtivant.
Carrier Operations In World War II -
Vol.1 The Royal Navy' by David Brown Published by Ian Allan Ltd, 1977 ISBN:
History of RN carrier operations worldwide in WW2.
'Fleet Air Arm Aircraft, Units And
Ships 1920 to 1939' by Ray Sturtivant & Dick
Cronin Published by Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1998 ISBN: 0 85130 271 8 *
Brief history for each individual aircraft, plus unit and base
'The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm'
by Ray Sturtivant & Theo Ballance
Published by Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1994 ISBN: 0 85130 223 8 * Brief
history for each, with aircraft types used, bases, CO's etc - fully
'British Naval Aircraft Since 1912'
by Owen Thetford Published by Putnam Aeronautical
books, 1991 ISBN: 0 85177 849 6 Photo, spec
and history for every type used by the FAA.
History of naval aviation and the
Australian Fleet Air Arm
On November 12, 1894,
Lawrence Hargrave, the
Australian inventor of the box kite, linked four of his kites
together, added a sling seat, and flew 16 feet in his flying machine. On 5
December 5, 1909 George A Taylor is the first person to fly a
heavier-than-air aircraft in Australia
(a self built 'Langley like'
glider) at Narrabeen Heads,
New South Wales. On December 9, 1909 Colin Defries made the first powered flight of a
heavier-than-air machine (def: an aeroplane or airplane) in Australia,
at Victoria Park Racecourse, in Sydney.
On 16 July 1910, John
Robertson Duigan flew his aircraft with a seven metre hop at his family's property near Kyneton, Victoria.
This flight is acknowledged as the first of an Australian designed and built
aeroplane. In 1911, an Australian, Lieutenant Arthur Longmore
from Sydney was one of the first
three British empire Naval officers to be trained to
fly. He later helped organise the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and
contributed to many "firsts" for naval
aviation history. In 1918 the Australian Naval Board proposed to form its own
naval air service. This failed proposal involved taking over a Royal Navy
seaplane carrier. However, the aviation branch of the Royal Australian Navy
was formed, temporarily, in 1925.
Pilot training for RAN personnel began in 1925 following the decision to
build the Australian seaplane carrier, HMAS Albatross and to establish the
RAN Fleet Air Arm. But in January 1928 the fledgling Fleet Air Arm was
disbanded and the RAAF again resumed control of the aircraft, providing
pilots and maintainers. During the second world war many RAN and RANVR
officers served with FAA squadrons. The Australian government was again asked
to consider the formation of a Fleet Air Arm in 1944 with a proposal to
transfer the carrier, HMS Hermes to the RAN but the plans were abandoned when
the manning required proved to be too large. But it was not until 1948 that the
RAN Fleet Air Arm was more firmly established.
For informationm about Australia's
involvement in pioneer aviation see the Lawrence Hargrave Australian Aviation Pioneer website. The
main online naval aviation historical information is Australia's
Museum of Flight
with its Genesis
of Naval Aviation in Australia 1918-21st century, and its
of the RAN Fleet Air Arm.
History of Canadian Naval Aviation and
Naval Aviation Branch
the first of the British Dominions to fly an aeroplane in 1909. However, when
the World War I began August 4, 1914,
the Canadian Forces had neither pilots nor aircraft. Yet later in the Great
produced a number of great aces in the Royal Naval Air Service, like Flight Lieut. Raymond Collishaw. The RFC training establishment of 1917-18
in Canada and
Texas set the Canadian-based
training precedent for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) of
1939-45 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) training of
However, it was not until 1945 when the Naval Aviation Branch of the Royal
Canadian Navy was to have its dramatic resurrection from the Royal Canadian
Naval Air Service which had been strangled at infancy at the end of the First
World War. During the Second World War, Canada
maintained a number of aircraft carriers, and many RCN and RCNVR officers
served with FAA squadrons. Sadly, Aviation Branch of the RCN was no match for
the Hellyer's grandplan
for "unifying" the Army, Navy and Air Force in 1968. After the
amalgamation, however, all Navy aircraft were turned over to the air force
under the auspices of the Maritime Air Group.
For history of the early history of Canadian military flying including for
the RNAS see the Canadain Air force website History timeline. The most
detailed account of post-war Canadian naval aviation is the publication Hands To Flying Stations;
story of Canadian aviation by SE Soward.
History of New Zealand Naval Aviation
The first powered
take-off in New Zealand was achieved on 31 March
1903 at Waitohi, near Temuka, when Richard Pearse
flies his homebuilt
craft 150 yards. His aircraft is powered by a two cylinder engine of
his own design and construction. This is the sixth powered take-off in the
world and regarded many as
beating the Wright Brothers by 9 months..
Military aviation in New Zealand
extends back to 1912 when two New Zealand Army Staff officers were sent to
the UK to
learn the science of flying. In 1913 the Imperial Air Fleet Committee in London
presented a Bleriot monoplane named
"Britannia" to New Zealand
as the nucleus of a flying corps, where in the Great War airmen trained at Wigram.
In 1915, the brothers Leo and Vivian Walsh fly the first flying-boat on
and later form the New Zealand Flying
to train flying-boat pilots.
New Zealanders served in as RNZVR and RN in FAA squadrons throughout the
war in 1939-1945. By 1944-1945 a number of squadrons were almost totally made
up of New Zealanders.
For a history of NZ military aviation review the "RNZAF
past" website and also see the Navy history timeline
and the Highlights of
NZ Aviation in the Auckland International
History of Netherlands Naval Aviation and the Marineluchtvaartdienst
(MLD) (Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service)
is unique for non-British Empire or Commonwealth countries which during
1939-1945 maintained aircrew and squadrons in the FAA.
Dutch naval aviation began in 1914 with the start of construction of the
first seaplane base at De Mok.On August 18, 1917 the MLD was finally
created by official decree. The emphasis for naval aviation was put on
operations in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI), the
first 2 naval aircraft arrived on the island
of Java in 1919. On May 10, 1940, Germany
invaded the Low Countries. All remaining MLD aircraft
being ordered to fly to England.
Dutch personnel formed No.320 and 321 squadron, RAF Coastal
Command, in June 1940. Other MLD personnel served in the Fleet Air Arm
with 860 and 861 squadrons, operating Swordfish torpedo bombers off 'MAC
ships', merchant aircraft carriers. In the meanwhile, the MLD in the East
Indies re-organised and expanded.
For for a history of Dutch naval aviation see
the Militaire Luchvaart Museum
history page (in dutch). Also Aerofiles Netherlands Naval
Aviation Narrative history.
History of Indian Naval Aviation
History of South African and East
African Naval Aviation
Although military aviation was still in its infancy at the time that the
Union Defence Force (UDF) was formed, the South African Defence Act (1912)
made provision for the establishment of the South African Aviation Corps
(SAAC) as part of the Active Citizen Force (ACF). In August 1912 the
Commandant-General of the Citizen Force, Brig Gen C.F. Beyers,
was sent to England
and Europe by General Smuts to observe and report on
the use of aircraft in military operations. In April 1914 six of the initial
ten pupils were appointed as probationary Leutenants
in the ACF and sent to England
to undergo further training at the Central
at Upavon. On the outbreak of war in August 1914,
the South Africans were granted permission to join the newly formed Royal
Flying Corps (RFC). They were to participate in the first aerial
reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions over France
during the closing months of 1914. In January 1915 the South African pilots
were appointed in the Permanent Force an recalled to
the Union to
help man the SAAC established on 29
January 1915 for service in German South West Africa.
1920 saw the establishment of the South African Air Force (SAAF). In
1939-1945 on the operational front, the SAAF provided a valuable protection
service for Allied shipping along South Africa’s
coastline from the very outset of the war. By the end of the war in August
1945, a total of some 15 000 coastal reconnaissance sorties had been flown by
the SAAF along South Africa’s
Throughout 1939-1945 South Africans (along with East Africans including
served with FAA squadrons across the world.
For information on the early history of aviation see the History
of the SAAF webpage.
For military information - South Africa
Department of Defence website and the history of the
South African Navy (SAN) (and the former SDF, and RNVR (SA) which merged
to form the South African Naval Forces (SANF)
History of Naval
Aviation in the United States
On Dec. 17, 1903, in Kitty
Hawk, N.C., Orville Wright
made the first powered airplane flight in history. In 1910 a place was made
in the organisational structure of the US Navy.
Captain W I Chambers was designated as officer in charge of aviation matters,
and in 1911 the first naval officers reported for flight training and on May 8, 1911, the Navy officially
purchased its first airplane--an A-1 Triad.
American Glen Curtiss built and flew the first practical seaplane in
January, 1911. He later built the sturdier flying boat and developed the
first true amphibian aeroplane. The United
States tested the first successful
aircraft catapult as early as 1912 although the concept wasn't used until the
later stages of the first World War.
In 1922, the Navy received its first experimental aircraft carrier--the
USS Langley. See this
website for summary of American Naval Aviation.
A series of detailed online publications and other material about US Naval
Aviation has been produced by the Naval Aviation
History Branch -US Department of the Navy - Naval
The following is a Chronology of Significant Events in Naval Aviation of the United
States. Also see United States Naval
Aviation 1910-1995 which is also available online at the Naval
Also see THIS WEEK
IN NAVAL AVIATION HISTORY
Aviation Chronology 1898-1916 (60K)
Chronology 1917-1919 (68K)
Chronology 1920-1929 (84K)
Chronology 1930-1939 (64K)
Chronology 1940-1945 (180K)
Chronology 1946-1949 (52K)
Naval Aviation Chronology
Chronology 1954-1959 (84K)
Chronology 1960-1969 (100K)
Chronology 1970-1980 (184K)
World War 2 Naval & Military
Chronology - Month-by-month across all Theatres
Royal Navy and World War II in World War 2 by Naval History website
The War at Sea : A Chronology
Armed Forces of the
World Detailed clickable map of all the countries of the world
produced by the Information Resource Centre, Canadian
Arm Museum Yeovilton (UK) Europe's
premier naval aviation museum.
The Ship Names of
the Fleet Air Arm. An inventory of the Seaplane Carriers, Aircraft Carriers
and Aviation Support Ships with an outline of their Battle
IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM the multi-branch
national museum of the history of war and wartime life from 1914
NAVY MUSEUM (UK)
The Royal Marines Museum (UK) is dedicated to the preservation and presentation
of all aspects of Royal Marines history for the education and enjoyment of
the general public.
Shearwater Aviation Museum of
Maritime Military Aviation (Canada) Home of the Canadian Swordfish
Aviation Museum of Australia/Museum of Flight ANAM (Australia)
American National Museum of Naval
PLYMOUTH NAVAL BASE MUSEUM
The Royal Air Force Museum, Britain's National Museum of Aviation, celebrates the story
of aviation from before the Wright Brothers to the RAF of the 21st Century
with one of the world's finest collections of legendary aircraft and associated
exhibits. The Museum stands on 15 acres of the historic former Hendon
Aerodrome at RAF Hendon, one of the oldest aviation centres in the
YORKTOWN) Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
INTREPID Sea-Air-Space Museum
LEXINGTON Aircraft Carrier Museum USS FORRESTAL
FORRESTAL Carrier Museum
NAVAL AIR NET
DIEGO AIRCRAFT CARRIER MUSEUM
MUSEUM OF ALBERTA CALGARY, ALBERTA,
CANADA An excellent site showcasing the Naval Museum of
Alberta located in Calgary. Good stories and photos, many featuring aspects of
naval aviation. The Museum commemorates the prairie men and women who served
in the Royal Canadian Navy since its formation in 1910. It is dedicated to
the memory of Lieutenant Robert Hampton Gray, VC, DSC, MiD,
RCNVR; the Royal Canadian Navy's only recipient of the Victoria Cross in
World War II.
Museum of Manitoba
UNITED STATES NAVAL AND SHIP BUILDING MUSEUMWelcome to the United States Naval & Shipbuilding Museum. Located in historic Quincy, Massachusetts, USNSM is home to USS Salem (CA 139), the world's only preserved heavy cruiser. We are located
in the former Quincy Fore River shipyard, once one of the nation's largest
Naval History Information Center The
finest online naval history information, includes the World Aircraft Carrier
Lists And Photo Gallery and the The
Canadian Navy Technical information and hundreds of photos of the
Canadian Navy from 1910 to the present day, and NavSource
Photo Archives Over 4,000 photos of US Navy surface combatants (offsite
The Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum is a non-profit, charitable organization founded
and operated by volunteers. The Museum is dedicated to preservation of the
history of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and honoring those
airmen who trained and served, and especially those who died while serving
their country in the conflict of 1939 - 1945. This is the only Museum in Canada dedicated solely to this goal and we think it is
fitting that it is located in Manitoba where so much of the training was carried out.
Canadian war museumThe Canadian War
Museum (CWM) is an affiliated museum of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The CWM has its own collections,
its own programmes and its own staff.
Alex's Royal Navy Page Aircraft Carriers of the
Royal Navy. Service and class technical details of all RN Aircraft Carriers.
Part 1 - 1920-1939 Furious, Hermes, Eagle, Courageous & Ark Royal
classes. Part 2 - 1940-1949 Illustrious, Implacable, Colossus &
Majestic classes. Part 3 - 1950-2000 Audacious, Centaur, Invincible
& Ocean classes
HG&UW World Aircraft Carrier Lists And
Photo Gallery from 1913 to 2000.
The World Aircraft Carriers Lists are a
comprehensive, detailed listing of all the world's aircraft carriers and
seaplane tenders, from the start of naval aviation into the 21st century.
Every carrier and seaplane tender ever built or planned is listed, with
complete technical data, historical sketches and photographs for virtually
every ship. There are nearly 1000 high-quality photos linked to the espective ship histories. This is perhaps one of the most
comprehensive websites for information about the ships used by the Fleet Air
Arm and the Commonwealth. Includes a Master list of
RN Carriers and an extensive list of links to other web resources.
Created: 3-04-2001, Last