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Thread: Non-pilot recorded as captain.

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    Default Non-pilot recorded as captain.

    Hi,

    Was it common practice with other squadrons to list the 'captain' of an aircraft the officer of the crew. On 218 during 1941, the officer of the crew was recorded as captain, regardless if he was not a pilot. Did other squadrons do this, and was there a official policy in place at the time. Any comments welcome.

    TIA

    Steve
    No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron Association Historian
    No.623 squadron Research

    ~~IN TIME ~~

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    Normally the 1st Pilot was the Captain of the aircraft regardless of rank - so a Sgt Pilot could be the Captain (Skipper) of a crew with far more senior officers/NCO's aboard.
    By mid war though (1942-ish ) there were a few Aircraft Captains who were (say) Navigators/rear crew.
    I believe (istr) that there was at least one Air Gunner who became a Sqn Commander.

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    Hi,

    Thank you bvs.

    There are a number of instances on the squadron where in the ORB and station ORB record the senior crew member as 'captain'. I am aware that non pilots often assumed command of squadrons, or took over flight commander roles. I am just trying to establish if there was a policy in place during the early years of Bomber Command where the senior officer, regardless of role was classified as captain.

    Thanks again

    Steve
    No.218 (Gold Coast) Squadron Association Historian
    No.623 squadron Research

    ~~IN TIME ~~

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    In those days I would say it was inaccurate to say that 'many' non pilots were OC Squadrons or Flights,it was very much a Pilots Air Force in those days - definitely no BC policy to put the senior member as Captain.
    It was different in other Air Forces (and had been in the RFC) where it was common for the Observer to be Captain of the Aircraft with the Pilot acting as a driver.
    I some BC crews the Navigator might have been the 'de facto' Captain unofficially if the crew desired it for any reason,(say) for crew discipline or if the Pilot was not keen on the role of being responsible for the conduct of the crew either in the air or on the ground.

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    Hi Steve
    Wing Cmdr Jefford goes into this subject in some depth in his book P264 onwards,hopefully this link will take you to the googlebooks version of the book -

    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=...aptain&f=false

    Looks like the idea for non pilot Captains in the WW2 RAF might have come from Air Cdr H G Crowe in circa June 1941 - it will be no surprise to find out that he was an ex RFC Observer :)
    Last edited by bvs; 17th March 2020 at 14:12.

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    Being a Sqn, or Flight, Commander as a non-Pilot was, I think, a fairly common occurrence during the latter part ofWW2.
    What we are talking about here is who was in Command of an a/c in the air. The 1st (or only) Pilot was normally the a/c Captain (or 'Skipper' - note, both have nautical origins and/or connotations!) and was responsible for controlling the airframe, and all those in it. You will be aware that a ship's Captain has all sorts of 'Authorities' - many actually enshrined in Law (I believe UK ship's Captains, for example, could legally Marry people!! But whether this is true I know not!).
    One has to be careful with the differences between the Titles, and the Functions. When I was in the middle of the aviation orientated bit of my career there might be several a/c (each airframe Commanded by its Captain (the 1st Pilot)) But all these a/c were sometimes controlled by a Mission Controller/Commander. He (invariably a male at that time) might be quite senior in rank, and would be in one of the a/c. He dictated how the mission was conducted, but each a/c Captain was responsible for making sure that his a/c carried out his bit of the mission correctly/safely.
    I suppose it was somewhat analogous to an Admiral commanding a collection of ships. Each if the ships had its own Captain who was responsible for that ship. I think there are examples of Admirals (ending up at the end of an 'action') being on quite small ships where the Captain of that ship might be very much junior in rank to the Admiral!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Definitely worth reading Jeffords book on the subject through the link above.

    He states that after March 1944 when ANY Aircrew Category could officially be nominated as Aircraft Captain ....

    Even so when there was no longer any constraint on their appointment,non pilot Captains remained a rarity for the rest of WW2

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    My two pennies worth.
    The custom of an observer being a captain originated during WWI and was widespread. I have never analysed this, but it looks the British pilot-captain was an exception rather than the rule. The basis of this was, that the observer must have been an educated man, while the pilot was just a chauffeur.
    Then I recall reading the following. When the Polish AF was reestablished in the UK, it followed the pattern of observer being the senior officer. Therefore observers became aircraft captains and squadron commanders. This led to some frictions, both between the aircrew, as pilots liked the idea, and between Poles and British. Ultimately the British realised that it is not that bad idea, especially when experienced officers were needed, and raised the role of observers. Ultimately, I believe that it became customary that the most senior aircrew, either pilot or observer (later navigator) was the captain, at least in the Polish AF.
    https://www.facebook.com/Franciszek-Grabowski-241360809684411/

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    Yes in the Polish and French Air Forces (+ Luftwaffe) it was normal that the Observer would be the Aircraft Captain.
    In the RAF though - after WW1 we did not have many (any?) Observers (on some 2 seat a/c we had volunteer air gunners and observers - usually a ground tradesman),navigating on larger aircraft was normally done by the 2nd Pilot,many of whom will have completed a specialist Navigation course.
    The RAF entered WW2 woefully short of Observers/Navigators and since the end of WW1 the RAF had become a Pilots Air Force.
    In the RAF it remained the norm that the 1st Pilot regardless of rank remained as the Aircraft Captain.
    Last edited by bvs; 17th March 2020 at 16:14.

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    Franek,
    I fell about laughing when I read your ". . pilot was just a chauffeur."
    We used to often refer to Pilots (out of their hearing!!!!!) in the Equipment Section nomenclature as "Drivers, Airframe, EA, 1".
    And the old Observers (new Navigators) used to like to be known as "Directional Consultants"!!!!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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