Naval base looks back at 100 years of aviation school

From left, CPO Lambert, Cdr Selway, Capt Towell and LT Doyle. Picture: PO Phot Nicola Harper
From left, CPO Lambert, Cdr Selway, Capt Towell and LT Doyle. Picture: PO Phot Nicola Harper
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A NAVAL base has marked the 100th anniversary of an important event in military aviation history.

Air engineering officers and technicians at HMS Sultan in Gosport have commemorated the centenary of the School of Special Flying – which was founded on the site that is now used by the Royal Navy.

In August 1917, 1(Reserve) Squadron, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Smith-Barry, became the School of Special Flying – a unit set up to teach new flight instructors.

Now, 100 years later, a new gate guard – a Gazelle helicopter – has been unveiled at HMS Sultan by Commanding Officer Captain Peter Towell to celebrate the achievements of the school over the past 100 years.

Lt Col Robert Smith-Barry’s School of Special Flying aimed to teach pilots to explore an aircraft’s maximum capabilities and become experts in the cause and effect of any movement made in the air.

This included learning how to take-off and land in crosswind, spinning and making sharp turns in the air – pushing both the plane and the pilots to their limits.

The pilots that were introduced by Lt Col Smith-Barry’s experiment were trained so rapidly and to such a standard that his methods were soon adopted by the Royal Flying Corps.

In time, his teachings were embraced by a number of other air forces across the world, before the site was transferred to the navy in 1945.

Royal Naval Air Engineering and Survival Equipment School (RNAESS) Chief Petty Officer Andrew Lambert oversaw the project alongside Lieutenant Michael Doyle.

He said: ‘We chose a Gazelle aircraft as it was a fleet air arm aircraft which was used for training aircrew – and what was taught here 100 years ago now forms the basis of all flight training across the world.

‘What was taught then mimics exactly what we deliver here now, except that we do it from an engineering position.

‘We teach the theory of how aircraft work and how to maintain them.

‘It was important for us to try and commemorate the history of the site, which was Grange Airfield and is now HMS Sultan.

‘We’re really grateful to the Aircraft Maintenance Section within the RNAESS who managed to restore it and having it on a raised platform is also really nice as it means that it’s visible to not only those working within the establishment but also the general public too.’