Who's Who - Robert Smith-Barry

Robert Smith Barry (1886-1949) played a leading role in organising the training of British pilots during the First World War.

Smith-Barry learned to fly by taking lessons in 1911 at Larkhill, the first aerodrome in Wiltshire.  He was also among the pupils attending the first training course held at the Central Flying School the following year at Upavon.

Thus by the time war broke out in August 1914 Smith-Barry was one of relatively few pioneer pilots who enlisted for military service.  His initial wartime service saw the somewhat brilliant if eccentric Smith-Barry fly on night-time anti-Zeppelin patrols.  He also served as commanding officer at No. 60 Squadron (which included one of the highest-scoring British air aces of the war, Albert Ball).

During the early stages of the war the casualty rates at training centres worldwide was remarkably high with more pilots lost during training than actually in combat.  Smith-Barry secured the agreement of Sir Hugh Trenchard, the British pioneer responsible for British military aviation, to return to Britain and re-organise training at a new school at Gosport in August 1917.

The curriculum at Gosport was based upon a combination of academic classroom training and dual flight instruction.  He was clear in stressing that students were not to be led away from potentially dangerous manoeuvres but were instead to be exposed to them in a controlled environment in order that the student could learn to recover from errors of judgement.

Smith-Barry's methods were so successful as to gain worldwide renown and his approach was rapidly adopted among most combatant nations with a major air force.

Smith-Barry, who served once again at Upavon during the Second World War, died in 1949.  He was regarded by Trenchard as "the man who taught the air forces of the world how to fly".

'Kitchener's Army' comprised Men recruited into the British Army a result of Lord Kitchener's appeal for volunteers.

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