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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.