Dr Edward Bujak of Harlaxton College, the British Campus of the University of Evansville, Indiana, will discuss ‘Reckless Fellows: The Officers and Gentlemen of the Royal Flying Corps’ as part of the RAF Museum’s First World War in the Air Lunchtime Lecture Series.


The Royal Flying Corps was established in 1912. Six years later the pilots of the new Royal Air Force (est. April 1918) had, to quote Michael Paris and Joanna Bourke, emerged as the heroic alternatives to the squalor and anonymity of the trenches.

Airmen were a new technocratic elite, flying one of the icons of modernity, but in the First World War, they also embodied the popular illusion that the callous business of air-to-air combat was chivalrous. 

Within this illusion, however, pilots were publicly refining their skill and technological prowess while testing their individual courage and nerve. This combination of skill and nerve led to the contemporary association of good flying with good horsemanship.

The pioneering Edwardian flying officer in this new crack cavalry of the air had obvious associations with the traditional, aristocratic officer elite, epitomized by the fox-hunting cavalryman. Moreover, as the Corps expanded in 1915 and 1916 these highly polished ex-cavalry officers provided an ideal role model for the young public schoolboy pilots lauded by Sir Walter Raleigh. 

However, by 1917, and certainly by 1918 as the Corps expanded further, the pool of gentleman pilots became more cosmopolitan with pupils coming from across Britain and the British Empire and from all social backgrounds – potentially tilting the balance toward a new technocracy.

However, their training aerodromes studded an English countryside owned by a landed aristocracy who went foxhunting throughout the war. This geographical proximity to the fox-hunting world of the English country house perpetuated the role model of the dashing cavalryman and the reckless fox hunter among pupil pilots seeking to transform both their social and self-identity, to become more than ‘temporary gentlemen’, by training to become airmen and a modern ‘winged aristocracy’.


This lecture will be held in the RAF Museum lecture theatre at 12:30PM on Friday 12 February 2016.


This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy, we just need some basic contact information.



Dr Edward Bujak is Senior Lecturer in British Studies and History at Harlaxton College, the British Campus of the University of Evansville, Indiana. In 1998, he received his PhD from the University of East Anglia. In 2007, he published England’s Rural Realms: Landownership and the Agricultural Revolution. Most recently he published Reckless Fellows: The Gentlemen of the Royal Flying Corps (2015).


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