|Louis Bleriot’s flight across the English Channel, 1909|
Unlike the United Kingdom other European powers were actively developing their air arms. This worried many in the UK, and a more proactive approach was pursued, by among others, the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe. As early as 1909, the tradition of the Daily Mail sponsoring and offering cash prizes for feats in aviation had begun. Louis Bleriot for example was the recipient of £500 when he became the first aviator to fly across the English Channel.
Concerned that Britain was being left behind in the field of aeronautics these air-minded individuals, such as Claude Grahame-White, vigorously campaigned for the War Office to establish an aeroplane wing. Flying demonstrations were organised to highlight the potential use of aircraft to Parliament representatives.
Slowly the Government realised that progress in aviation, particularly in aircraft design and use, could no longer be ignored.
This change of heart is best expressed by the Chief of the General Staff Field Marshal Sir William Nicholson who had sat on the committee that had ceased funding for further aircraft development. He wrote
'It is of importance that we should push on with the practical study of the military use of air-craft in the field…. Even with the present types of dirigibles and aeroplanes other nations have already made considerable progress in this training and in view of the fact that air-craft will undoubtedly be used in the next war, whenever it may come, we cannot afford to delay the matter.'
In February 1911 this change in attitude to aviation was demonstrated when it was announced that the Balloon Section, School and Factory were to be replaced. The Balloon Section and School were to become the Air Battalion of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the Balloon Factory restyled as the Army Aircraft Factory.
Meanwhile the Admiralty and the Royal Navy were also experimenting with aeroplanes and the training of these early naval flyers would take place at Eastchurch in Kent.