Air Battalion

In 1911, following the growth in early aviation activity, the War Office issued instructions for the School of Ballooning, which had originally been formed in 1888, to be expanded into a battalion. An order was issued on 28 February 1911 for the formation of the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers effective 1 April the same year. The initial establishment was 14 officers and 150 other ranks. Officers could be selected from any branch of the service whereas other ranks were selected from the Corps of Royal Engineers.

Pilots had to already have earned a Royal Aero Club certificate from a private flying school. The £75 charge for flight training was reimbursed only if the student passed the course.

The battalion comprised two companies and a headquarters located at Farnborough. The commander of the Air Battalion was Major Sir Alexander Bannerman. No. 1 Company was equipped with airships and was under the command of Captain Edward Maitland. No. 1 Company was located with the headquarters at Farnborough. Maitland was an experienced balloon and airship pioneer. He also helped pioneer the parachute and in 1913 made the first parachute jump from an airship. No. 2 Company was equipped with aeroplanes and was commanded by Captain John Fulton. No. 2 Company was located at Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain. Fulton, a mechanical engineer from the Royal Field Artillery, had been an early enthusiast of military flying and had attended the world’s first air show at Rheims in 1909. He had earned his pilots certificate, number 27, on 15 November 1910.