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History of Air Scouts


Although Air Scouts as a branch wasn’t formed until 1941, aeronautical interest within Scouting dates back considerably further when Britain made its first powered flight just over a century ago in 1908.  The Aerial League of the British Empire approached Sir Robert Baden-Powell in 1909 to enlist the assistance of Scouts by replying and forwarding signal messages transmitted by airships.  The creation of the The Scout Aero Club in 1910 and the introduction of the Airmans badge in 1912 promoted aeronautics in the Scout Movement.

First World War

The significance of aviation became apparent during the First World War, where it was used as both a vehicle for observation and as a weapon in its own right.  Britain began the War in 1914 with a handful of aircraft and very few qualified pilots and engineers.  To address this shortage of qualified personnel Sir Robert Baden-Powell asked General H.B. Jeffreys to create a scheme where Scouts could learn the principles of aeronautical engineering and their practical application.  The first course began on the 18 April 1917 and conducted at and by the staff of the London and Provincial Aviation Company at the London Aerodrome (Hendon).  For details of the programme please see image of document.

The success of this first scheme led to further schemes starting around the country including Chingford, Bristol, Croydon, Eastbourne, Gosforth, Gosport, Reading, and West Gate.  These schemes provided the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps with considerable numbers of skilled entrants during the War.  The Scout Movement also assisted by running flax camps, which harvested the flax and spun into linen which sealed the aircraft structure during production.  During this period there were repeated calls for a separate branch of Scouting dedicated to aviation but with the end of the War and the onset of economic depression led to fewer opportunities for Scouts to be involved in aeronautics.

Eric Walker Visiting Lord Baden-Powell at Ewhurst Place


Golden Age of Aviation

The economic depression may have limited opportunities but the public’s imagination was captivated by the trail blazing flights of Alcock and Brown across the Atlantic and Amy Johnson flying solo to Australia.  In a letter dated 8 July 1921 to Sir Robert, Mr Kennedy-Cox of Canning Town informed him that he had surreptitiously started an Air Scouts Patrol due to the huge demand for aeronautical training by the boys in the East End of London.  With costs restricting access to real aircraft making scale models which introduced many of the principles at a fraction of the costs.  Hampstead Troop as an example became members of The London Aero-Models Association in 1921 and utilised the general flying ground at Parliament Hill Field. 

With the coming to power of the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933, Britain like other countries began to re-arm to counter the threat.  Part of this was promoting ‘air mindedness’ amongst the youth in essence building a base of skills in flying and engineering.  Both Air Commodore Chamier who would later form the Air Defence Cadet Corps (later the Air Training Corps) and Major Baden Baden-Powell introduced gliding into Scout activities.  This provided an opportunity for Scout Groups to build a glider which they could then learn to fly at considerably lower costs compared with powered aircraft.


Scouts learning to fly Gliders


Second World War

With the advent of the Second World War and particular the Battle of Britain in which the Royal Air Force suffered from a shortage of trained pilots, new schemes were initiated to address this situation.  In 1941 the Air Training Corps was formed and on the 29 January the Air Scouts Branch was formally created.  Both organisations were co-ordinated with boys aged 11 to 18 years old joining Air Scout units and boys aged 16 would be able to join the Air Training Corps.  Air Scout Groups could be attached to ATC Squadrons to benefit from training and facilitate Scouts becoming ATC Cadets when they reached the required age.

In August 1942 saw the first National Air Scout Camp held at Avington Park in Hampshire where all Air Scouts could join together and share experiences.  Later that year an Air Scout Exhibition was held at Dorland House in London, the event was used to launch the first Air Scout Handbook.  The Fleet Air Arm hosted a camp for the Air Scouts with Lt Lawrence Olivier (later Lord Olivier, famous actor) as the Naval representative to them.


Air Scouts climbing on a Fairey Albacore with Lord Olivier


Post War

In 1950 an agreement was made with the Air Ministry that Air Scout Troops could apply for Royal Air Force recognition on similar lines to the Sea Scouts and the Royal Navy.  Provided that the Troop passed an inspection they would be issued with a certificate and badges for the Air Scouts to wear on their uniform.  They would have increased access to Royal Air Force equipment, training and be authorized to fly in service aircraft.  By 1981, at least 82 Air Scout Groups had participated in the scheme in this Country and abroad.

Air Scouts with Boeing Stratocruiser


In order to provide a dedicated air activities centre for Air Scouts, a lease for up to 12 acres at Lasham airfield in Hampshire was made in June 1963.  At Lasham Air Scouts could participate in gliders, balloon and parascending.  Unusually the Centre was given two airliners by Dan Air for use as hostels for Air Scouts staying at Lasham!  They were Avro York G-ANTK (preserved at Imperial War Museum Duxford) and de Havilland Comet G-APDK (scrapped in 1980).  The Centre closed on 21 March 1980 and due to high costs no replacement has been acquired.

Air Scouts Glider flying at Lasham


Currently there are approximately 41 Air Scout Groups and many other Scout Groups which offer aviation related activities.

Air Scout in the cockpit of a Glider at Lasham






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