Unit History: Central Flying School
The Central Flying School (CFS) is the Royal Air Force’s primary institution for the training of military flying instructors. It was established at RAF Upavon, near Upavon, Wiltshire in 1912, and is the longest existing flying training school. The CFS’s first commandant was Captain Godfrey Paine RN.
In 1918 the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated to form the Royal Air Force and as part of the reorganisation, in 1920 CFS became the Flying Instructors School tasked to carry on the work started at the School of Special Flying at Gosport.
As a result of a further reorganization in 1926, CFS moved from RAF Upavon to RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire. The Air Ministry decided that in between the courses the staff should visit flying training schools to check whether the system and standard of instruction was being maintained. This was the beginning of the Examining Wing. In 1927, a Refresher Flight was formed and pilots from all over the world were being trained in some form of flying at CFS.
In 1929 staff instructors flying the Supermarine S6 aircraft won the Schneider Trophy for Great Britain and 2 years later, flying the uprated S6B, won the trophy again thus enabling Great Britain to retain it for all time. During this period Pilot Officer Frank Whittle, while serving at CFS, patented the first jet engine.
By 1934 the international situation had deteriorated to such an extent that the Prime Minister, announced a new expansion programme for the Services. CFS was again enlarged and became a unit within Flying Training Command and moved back to RAF Upavon in 1935.
In 1942 a new unit was formed, the Empire Central Flying School (ECFS), at RAF Hullavington in Wiltshire. ECFS took many of the staff from RAF Upavon but left behind sufficient to form the nucleus of No 7 Flying Instructors’ School. ECFS was intended to draw the wide experience of the course members into a common pool for the benefit of all the training schools.
Handling Squadron was responsible for preparing Pilots Notes for all new types of aircraft coming into Service and for advice on aircraft handling. Examining Flight was given the job of inspecting the Flying Instructors’ School in the United Kingdom and re-categorizing instructors. A Research Flight was formed to investigate the practical and psychological problems of flying instruction. Eventually the Day/Night Development Unit was added to advance the all-weather flying aspects. The school was responsible for co-ordinating and revising untidy theories concerned with the art of flying and from its AP1732, the modern instructor’s ’Bible’, the AP3225 Instructors Handbook, was evolved.
It had been intended to retain ECFS after the war as a permanent centre of flying training research but in 1946 the Central Flying School was revived and moved to RAF Little Rissington. ECFS was renamed the Empire Flying School and continued in existence for a few years before being disbanded. The nucleus of the staff was transferred to RAF Manby in Lincolnshire to open the Flying College. Manby later became the home of the College of Air Warfare, part of which was the School of Refresher Flying.
At this time RAF South Cerney was opened for the basic phase of the CFS Course. The Empire Flying School disbanded in 1949 and the Examining Squadron rejoined CFS. In response to Government calls for further economy, South Cerney was closed for about a year, the course was shortened and type flying was limited to the Meteor. The following year the Korean War broke out, the commitment rose to 750 students per year and South Cerney was re-opened.
RAF flying training became a 2-stage scheme in 1953 using the Provost and Vampire and, in 1954, RAF Little Rissington became CFS (Advanced) and RAF South Cerney became CFS (Basic). The same year the Helicopter Development Flight was formed with 2 Dragonfly helicopters at RAF Middle Wallop and later moved to RAF South Cerney.