Military aviation in Britain can be said to have commenced with the first flight of the military balloon 'Pioneer' on 23rd August 1878 by the Royal Engineers under the direction of Capt James Lethbridge Brooke Templer.
A Balloon Equipment Store was established at Woolwich at this time and a School of Ballooning shortly after. In 1882 the School and Factory moved to Chatham. Balloons were subsequently used during the Boer War in 1899.
Following the first powered flight in Britain by Samuel Franklin Cody on 16th October 1908 the Royal Engineers developed an interest in heavier-than-air machines, and on 1st April 1911 the Balloon Section became the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers comprising No.1 (Airship) Company and No.2 (Aeroplane) Company.
The Royal Flying Corps was established by Royal Warrant on the 13th April 1912. The Central Flying School was formed on the 12th May and the 3 initial squadrons a day later.
The main branches of the RFC were:
The Military Wing - comprising 2 aeroplane squadrons (No.2 and No.3) and one airship/balloon squadron (No.1)
The Naval Wing
The Central Flying School
The Royal Aircraft Factory
Prior to the outbreak of war a further 4 squadrons were formed. No.4 on 12th September 1912, No.5 (26th July 1913), No.6 (31st January 1914), and No.7 (1st May 1914).
On 1st July 1914 the Naval Wing took control of all airships and balloons, and became the Royal Naval Air Service under Admiralty control.
On the outbreak of war on 4th August 1914 the RFC had 147 officers, 1097 men and 179 aeroplanes.
The Royal Flying Corps ceased to exist with the amalgamation of the RFC and RNAS into the Royal Air Force on 1st April 1918.