A Lifetime of Aviation

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Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding ranks undoubtedly as one of the best remembered and most influential commanders in the 90 years of RAF history. ...

Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding ranks undoubtedly as one of the best remembered and most influential commanders in the 90 years of RAF history. Through his pivotal contribution in the development of the radar-based fighter defence system, Dowding may be considered by to be the father of modern aerial warfare. Indeed, the fundamental principles on which he devised his fighter system – that of radiolocation, visual overview of tactical situation, central command over available resources, efficient communications and rapid response, as still as valid today as they were at the time of the Battle of Britain.

Dowding’s achievements appear even more remarkable if one considers that he envisioned his system entirely without the benefit of hindsight. His career roughly coincided with the first quarter of a century of the service (first RFC and then the RAF), when the technology and concepts surrounding aviation advanced immensely and rapidlyBy the end of that period and just prior to his retirement, the courage and effectiveness of his Fighter Command would prove legendary during the Battle of Britain Battle, thwarting Adolf Hitler’s invasion plans despite being outnumbered by the opposing Luftwaffe forces.

To better understand the future shock which Dowding and his contemporaries had to cope with during their lifetime it may be useful to have a look at the very beginning of his aviation career. Like many of the first RAF officers, his service began with the Royal Artillery. He obtained his pilot’s licence in December 1913, as member no. 711 of the Royal Aero Club, subsequently joining the RFC.

Here is the exempt of Dowding’s personal notes explaining the background of his decision and his training. It makes an interesting comparison with the training of a fighter pilot in 1940.

Dowding’s Aviator’s Certificate was issued on 20 December 1913.
[David Whiting]

Facsimile of Dowding’s certificate
[David Whiting]
The author thanks David Whiting for providing source material for this article.

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