The Mastery of the Air
William J. Claxton
Part 3 out of 3
capacity up to 4.0 miles, speeds up to 85 miles an hour, and
heights up to 3500 feet, would now be regarded as very elementary
affairs. "Looping the loop" was still a dangerous trick for the
exhibiting airman and not an evolution; while the "nose-dive" was
an uncalculated entry into the next world.
The first important stage in the history of the new arm was
reached in July, 1914, when the wing system was abolished, and
the Royal Naval Air Service became a separate unit of the
Imperial Forces. The first public appearance of the sailor
airmen was at a proposed review of the fleet by the King at a
test mobilization. The King was unable to attend, but the naval
pilots carried out their part of the programme very creditably
considering the polyglot nature of their sea-planes. A few weeks
later and the country was at war.
There can be no doubt that the Great War has had an enormous
forcing influence upon the science of aviation. In times of
peace the old game of private enterprise and official neglect
would possibly have been carried on in well-marked stages. But
with the terrific incentive of victory before them, all
Governments fostered the growth of the new arm by all the means
in their power. It became a race between Allied and enemy
countries as to who first should attain the mastery of the air.
The British nation, as usual, started well behind in the race,
and their handicap would have been increased to a dangerous
extent had Germany not been obsessed by the possibilities of
the air-ship as opposed to the aeroplane. Fortunately for us the
Zeppelin, as has been described in an earlier chapter, failed to
bring about the destruction anticipated by its inventor, and so
we gained breathing space for catching up the enemy in the
building and equipment of aeroplanes and the training of pilots
War has set up its usual screens, and the writer is only
permitted a very vague and impressionistic picture of the work of
the R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. Numerical details and localities must be
rigorously suppressed. Descriptions of the work of the Flying
Service must be almost as bald as those laconic reports sent in
by naval and military airmen to head-quarters. But there is such
an accomplishment as reading between the lines.
The flying men fall naturally into two classes--pilots and
observers. The latter, of course, act as aerial gunners. The
pilots have to pass through three, and observers two, successive
courses of training in aviation. Instruction is very detailed
and thorough as befits a career which, in addition to embracing
the endless problems of flight, demands knowledge of wireless
telegraphy, photography, and machine gunnery.
Many of the officers are drafted into the Royal Flying Corps from
other branches of the Service, but there are also large numbers
of civilians who take up the career. In their case they are
first trained as cadets, and, after qualifying for commissions,
start their training in aviation at one of the many schools
which have now sprung up in all parts of the country.
When the actual flying men are counted in thousands some idea may
be gained of the great organization required for the Corps--the
schools and flying grounds, the training and activities of the
mechanics, the workshops and repair shops, the storage of spare
parts, the motor transport, &c. As in other departments of the
Service, women have come forward and are doing excellent and most
responsible work, especially in the motor-transport section.
A very striking feature of the Corps is the extreme youth of the
members, many of the most daring fighters in the air being mere
boys of twenty.
The Corps has the very pick of the youth and daring and
enterprise of the country. In the days of the old army there
existed certain unwritten laws of precedence as between various
branches of the Service. If such customs still prevail it is
certain that the very newest arm would take pride of place. The
flying man has recaptured some of the glamour and romance which
encircled the knight-errant of old. He breathes the very
atmosphere of dangerous adventure. Life for him is a series of
thrills, any one of which would be sufficient to last the
ordinary humdrum citizen for a lifetime. Small wonder that the
flying man has captured the interest and affection of the people,
and all eyes follow these trim, smart, desperadoes of the air in
their passage through our cities.
As regards the work of the flying man the danger curve seems to
be changing. On the one hand the training is much more severe
and exacting than formerly was the case, and so carries a greater
element of danger. On the other hand on the battle-front
fighting information has in great measure taken the place
of the system of men going up "on their own". They are perhaps
not so liable to meet with a numerical superiority on the part
of enemy machines, which spelt for them almost certain
For a long time the policy of silence and secrecy which screened
"the front" from popular gaze kept us in ignorance of the
achievements of our airmen. But finally the voice of the people
prevailed in their demand for more enlightenment. Names of
regiments began to be mentioned in connection with particular
successes. And in the same way the heroes of the R.F.C. and
R.N.A.S. were allowed to reap some of the laurels they deserved.
It began to be recognized that publication of the name of an
airman who had destroyed a Zeppelin, for instance, did not
constitute any vital information to the enemy. In a recent raid
upon London the names of the two airmen, Captain G. H. Hackwill,
R.F.C., and Lieutenant C. C. Banks, R.F.C., who destroyed a
Gotha, were given out in the House of Commons and saluted with
cheers. In the old days the secretist party would have regarded
this publication as a policy which led the nation in the direct
line of "losing the war".
In the annals of the Flying Service, where dare-devilry is taken
as a matter of course and hairbreadth escapes from death are part
of the daily routine, it is difficult to select adventures for
special mention; but the following episodes will give a general
idea of the work of the airman in war.
The great feat of Sub-Lieutenant R. A. J. Warneford, R.N.A.S.,
who single-handed attacked and destroyed a Zeppelin, has already
been referred to in Chapter XIII. Lieutenant Warneford was the
second on the list of airmen who won the coveted Cross, the first
recipient being Second-Lieutenant Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse, for a
daring and successful bomb-dropping raid upon Courtrai in April,
1915. As has happened in so many cases, the award to Lieutenant
Rhodes-Moorhouse was a posthumous one, the gallant airman having
been mortally wounded during the raid, in spite of which he
managed by flying low to reach his destination and make his
A writer of adventure stories for boys would be hard put to it to
invent any situation more thrilling than that in which
Squadron-Commander Richard Bell Davies, D.S.O., R.N., and Flight
Sub-Lieutenant Gilbert Formby Smylie, R.N., found themselves
while carrying out an air attack upon Ferrijik junction.
Smylie's machine was subjected to such heavy fire that it was
disabled, and the airman was compelled to plane down after
releasing all his bombs but one, which failed to explode. The
moment he alighted he set fire to his machine. Presently Smylie
saw his companion about to descend quite close to the burning
machine. There was infinite danger from the bomb. It was a
question of seconds merely before it must explode. So Smylie
rushed over to the machine, took hasty aim with his revolver, and
exploded the bomb, just before the Commander came within the
danger zone. Meanwhile the enemy had commenced to gather round
the two airmen, whereupon Squadron-Commander Davies coolly took
up the Lieutenant on his machine and flew away with him in safety
back to their lines. Davies, who had already won the D.S.O., was
given the V.C., while his companion in this amazing adventure was
granted the Distinguished Service Cross.
The unexpectedness, to use no stronger term, of life in the
R.F.C. in war-time is well exemplified by the adventure which
befell Major Rees. The pilot of a "fighter", he saw what he took
to be a party of air machines returning from a bombing
expedition. Proceeding to join them in the character of escort,
Major Rees made the unpleasant discovery that he was just about
to join a little party of ten enemy machines. But so far from
being dismayed, the plucky airman actually gave battle to the
whole ten. One he quickly drove "down and out", as the soldiers
say. Attacked by five others, he damaged two of them and
dispersed the remainder. Not content with this, he gave chase to
two more, and only broke off the engagement when he had received
a wound in the thigh. Then he flew home to make the usual
No record of heroism in the air could be complete without
mention of Captain Ball, who has already figured in these pages.
When awarded the V.C. Captain Ball was already the holder of the
following honours: D.S.0., M.C., Cross of a Chevalier of the
Legion of Honour, and the Russian order of St. George. This
heroic boy of twenty was a giant among a company of giants. Here
follows the official account which accompanied his award:--
"Lieutenant (temporary Captain) ALBERT BALL, D.S.O., M.C., late
Notts and Derby Regiment, and R.F.C.
"For most conspicuous and consistent bravery from April 25 to May
6, 1917, during which period Captain Ball took part in twenty-six
combats in the air and destroyed eleven hostile aeroplanes, drove
down two out of control, and formed several others to land.
"In these combats Captain Ball, flying alone, on one occasion
fought six hostile machines, twice he fought five, and once four.
"While leading two other British aeroplanes he attacked an enemy
formation of eight. On each of these occasions he brought down
at least one enemy.
"Several times his aeroplane was badly damaged, once so severely
that but for the most delicate handling his machine would have
collapsed, as nearly all the control wires had been shot away.
On returning with a damaged machine, he had always to be
restrained from immediately going out on another.
"In all Captain Ball has destroyed forty-three German aeroplanes
and one balloon, and has always displayed most exceptional
courage, determination, and skill."
So great was Captain Ball's skill as a fighter in the air that
for a time he was sent back to England to train new pilots in the
schools. But the need for his services at the front was even
greater, and it jumped with his desires, for the whole tone of
his letters breathes the joy he found in the excitements of
flying and fighting. He declares he is having a "topping
time", and exults in boyish fashion at a coming presentation to
Sir Douglas Haig. It is not too much to say that the whole
empire mourned when Captain Ball finally met his death in the air
near La Bassee in May, 1917.
Aeroplanes in the Great War
"Aeroplanes and airships would have given us an enormous
advantage against the Boers. The difficulty of laying ambushes
and traps for isolated columns--a practice at which the enemy
were peculiarly adept--would have been very much greater. Some
at least of the regrettable reverses which marked the early
stages of the campaign could in all probability have been
So wrote Lord Roberts, our veteran field-marshal, in describing
the progress of the Army during recent years. The great soldier
was a man who always looked ahead. After his great and strenuous
career, instead of taking the rest which he had so thoroughly
earned, he spent laborious days travelling up and down the
country, warning the people of danger ahead; exhorting them to
learn to drill and to shoot; thus attempting to lay the
foundation of a great civic army. But his words, alas! fell upon
deaf ears--with results so tragic as hardly to bear dwelling
But even "Bobs", seer and true prophet as he was, could hardly
have foreseen the swift and dramatic development of war in the
air. He had not long been laid to rest when aeroplanes began to
be talked about, and, what is more important, to be built, not in
hundreds but in thousands. At the time of writing, when we are
well into the fourth year of the war, it seems almost impossible
for the mind to go back to the old standards, and to take in the
statement that the number of machines which accompanied the
original Expeditionary Force to France was eighty! Even if one
were not entirely ignorant of the number and disposition of the
aerial fighting forces over the world-wide battle-ground, the
Defence of the Realm Act would prevent us from making public the
information. But when, more than a year ago, America entered the
war, and talked of building 10,000 aeroplanes, no one gasped.
For even in those days one thought of aeroplanes not in hundreds
but in tens of thousands.
Before proceeding to give a few details of the most recent work
of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, mention
must be made of the armament of the aeroplane. In the first
place, it should be stated that the war has gradually evolved
three distinct types of flying machine: (1) the
"general-purposes" aeroplane; (2) the giant bomb dropper; (3) the
small single-seater "fighter".
As the description implies, the first machine fills a variety of
roles, and the duties of its pilots grow more manifold as the war
progresses. "Spotting" for the artillery far behind the enemy's
lines; "searching" for ammunition dumps, for new dispositions by
the enemy of men, material, and guns; attacking a convoy or
bodies of troops on the march; sprinkling new trenches with
machine-gun fire, or having a go at an aerodrome--any wild form
of aerial adventure might be included in the diary of the pilot
of a "general-purposes" machine.
It was in order to clear the air for these activities that the
"fighter" came into being, and received its baptism of fire at
the Battle of the Somme. At first the idea of a machine for
fighting only, was ridiculed. Even the Germans, who, in a
military sense, were awake and plotting when other nations were
dozing in the sunshine of peace, did not think ahead and imagine
the aerial duel between groups of aeroplanes armed with
machine-guns. But soon the mastery of the air became of
paramount importance, and so the fighter was evolved. Nobly,
too, did the men of all nations rise to these heroic and
dangerous opportunities. The Germans were the first to boast of
the exploits of their fighting airmen, and to us in Britain the
names of Immelmann and Bolcke were known long before those of
any of our own fighters. The former claimed not far short of a
hundred victims before he was at last brought low in June, 1916.
His letters to his family were published soon after his death,
and do not err on the side of modesty.
On 11th August, 1915, he writes: "There is not much doing here.
Ten minutes after Bolcke and I go up, there is not an enemy
airman to be seen. The English seem to have lost all pleasure in
flying. They come over very, very seldom."
When allowance has been made for German brag, these statements
throw some light upon the standard of British flying at a
comparatively early date in the war. Certainly no German airman
could have made any such complaint a year later. In 1917 the
German airmen were given all the fighting they required and a bit
Certainly a very different picture is presented by the dismal
letters which Fritz sent home during the great Ypres offensive of
August, 1917. In these letters he bewails the fact that one
after another of his batteries is put out of action owing to the
perfect "spotting" of the British airmen, and arrives at the sad
conclusion that Germany has lost her superiority in the air.
An account has already been given of the skill and prowess of
Captain Ball. On his own count--and he was not the type of man
to exaggerate his prowess--he found he had destroyed fifty
machines, although actually he got the credit for forty-one.
This slight discrepancy may be explained by the scrupulous
care which is taken to check the official returns. The air
fighter, though morally certain of the destruction of a certain
enemy aeroplane, has to bring independent witnesses to
substantiate his claim, and when out "on his own" this is no easy
matter. Without this check, though occasionally it acts harshly
towards the pilot, there might be a tendency to exaggerate enemy
losses, owing to the difficulty of distinguishing between an
aeroplane put out of action and one the pilot of which takes a
sensational "nose dive" to get out of danger.
One of the most striking illustrations of the growth of the
aeroplane as a fighting force is afforded by the great increase
in the heights at which they could scout, take photographs, and
fight. In Sir John French's dispatches mention is made of
bomb-dropping from 3000 feet. In these days the aerial
battleground has been extended to anything up to 20,000 feet.
Indeed, so brisk has been the duel between gun and aeroplane,
that nowadays airmen have often to seek the other margin of
safety, and can defy the anti-aircraft guns only by flying so low
as just to escape the ground. The general armament of a
"fighter" consists of a maxim firing through the propeller, and a
Lewis gun at the rear on a revolving gun-ring.
It is pleasant to record that the Allies kept well ahead of the
enemy in their use of aerial photography. Before a great
offensive some thousands of photographs had to be taken of
enemy dispositions by means of cameras built into the aeroplanes.
Plates were found to stand the rough usage better than films, and
not for the first time in the history of mechanics the man beat
the machine, a skilful operator being found superior to the
ingenious automatic plate-fillers which had been devised.
The counter-measure to this ruthless exposure of plans was
camouflage. As if by magic-tents, huts, dumps, guns began, as it
were, to sink into the scenery. The magicians were men skilled
in the use of brush and paint-pot, and several leading figures in
the world of art lent their services to the military authorities
as directors of this campaign of concealment. In this connection
it is interesting to note that both Admiralty and War Office took
measures to record the pictorial side of the Great War. Special
commissions were given to a notable band of artists working in
their different "lines". An abiding record of the great struggle
will be afforded by the black-and-white work of Muirhead Bone,
James M'Bey, and Charles Pears; the portraits, landscapes, and
seascapes of Sir John Lavery, Philip Connard, Norman Wilkinson,
and Augustus John, who received his commission from the Canadian
The Atmosphere and the Barometer
For the discovery of how to find the atmospheric pressure we are
indebted to an Italian named Torricelli, a pupil of Galileo, who
carried out numerous experiments on the atmosphere toward the
close of the sixteenth century.
Torricelli argued that, as air is a fluid, if it had weight it
could be made to balance another fluid of known weight. In his
experiments he found that if a glass tube about 3 feet in length,
open at one end only, and filled with mercury, were placed
vertically with the open end submerged in a cup of mercury, some
of the mercury in the tube descended into the cup, leaving a
column of mercury about 30 inches in height in the tube. From
this it was deduced that the pressure of air on the surface
of the mercury in the cup forced it up the tube to the height Of
30 inches, and this was so because the weight of a column of air
from the cup to the top of the atmosphere was only equal to that
of a column of mercury of the same base and 30 inches high.
Torricelli's experiment can be easily repeated. Take a glass
tube about 3 feet long, closed at one end and open at the other;
fill it as full as possible with mercury. Then close the open
end with the thumb, and invert the tube in a basin of mercury so
that the open end dips beneath the surface. The mercury in the
tube will be found to fall a short distance, and if the height of
the column from the surface of the mercury in the basin be
measured you will find it will be about 30 inches. As the tube
is closed at the top there is no downward pressure of air at that
point, and the space above the mercury in the tube is quite
empty: it forms a VACUUM. This vacuum is generally known as the
TORRICELLIAN VACUUM, after the name of its discoverer.
Suppose, now, a hole be bored through the top of the tube above
the column of mercury, the mercury will immediately fall in the
tube until it stands at the same level as the mercury in the
basin, because the upward pressure of air through the liquid in
the basin would be counterbalanced by the downward pressure of
the air at the top, and the mercury would fall by its own weight.
A few years later Professor Boyle proposed to use the instrument
to measure the height of mountains. He argued that, since the
pressure of the atmosphere balanced a column of mercury 30 inches
high, it followed that if one could find the weight of the
mercury column one would also find the weight of a column of air
standing on a base of the same size, and stretching away
indefinitely into space. It was found that a column of mercury
in a tube having a sectional area of 1 square inch, and a height
of 30 inches, weighed 15 pounds; therefore the weight of the
atmosphere, or air pressure, at sea-level is about 15 pounds to
the square inch. The ordinary mercury barometer is essentially a
Torricellian tube graduated so that the varying heights of the
mercury column can be used as a measure of the varying
atmospheric pressure due to change of weather or due to
alteration of altitude. If we take a mercury barometer up a hill
we will observe that the mercury falls. The weight of atmosphere
being less as we ascend, the column of mercury supported becomes
Although the atmosphere has been proved to be over 200 miles
high, it has by no means the same density throughout. Like all
gases, air is subject to the law that the density increases
directly as the pressure, and thus the densest and heaviest
layers are those nearest the sea-level, because the air near the
earth's surface has to support the pressure of all the air above
it. As airmen rise into the highest portions of the atmosphere
the height of the column of air above them decreases, and it
follows that, having a shorter column of air to support, those
portions are less dense than those lower down. So rare does the
atmosphere become, when great altitudes are reached, that at a
height of seven miles breathing is well-nigh impossible, and at
far lower altitudes than this airmen have to be supported by
inhalations of oxygen.
One of the greatest altitudes was reached by two famous
balloonists, Messrs. Coxwell and Glaisher. They were over seven
miles in the air when the latter fell unconscious, and the plucky
aeronauts were only saved by Mr. Coxwell pulling the valve line
with his teeth, as all his limbs were disabled.
How an Airman Knows what Height he Reaches
One of the first questions the visitor to an aerodrome, when
watching the altitude tests, asks is: "How is it known that the
airman has risen to a height of so many feet?" Does he guess at
the distance he is above the earth?
If this were so, then it is very evident that there would be
great difficulty in awarding a prize to a number of competitors
each trying to ascend higher than his rivals.
No; the pilot does not guess at his flying height, but he finds
it by a height-recording instrument called the BAROGRAPH.
In the last chapter we saw how the ordinary mercurial barometer
can be used to ascertain fairly accurately the height of
mountains. But the airman does not take a mercurial barometer
up with him. There is for his use another form of barometer much
more suited to his purpose, namely, the barograph, which is
really a development of the aneroid barometer.
The aneroid barometer (Gr. a, not; neros, moist) is so called
because it requires neither mercury, glycerine, water, nor any
other liquid in its construction. It consists essentially of a
small, flat, metallic box made of elastic metal, and from which
the air has been partially exhausted. In the interior there is
an ingenious arrangement of springs and levers, which respond to
atmospheric pressure, and the depression or elevation of the
surface is registered by an index on the dial. As the pressure
of the atmosphere increases, the sides of the box are squeezed in
by the weight of the air, while with a decrease of pressure they
are pressed out again by the springs. By means of a suitable
adjustment the pointer on the dial responds to these movements.
It is moved in one direction for increase of air pressure, and in
the opposite for decreased pressure. The positions of the
figures on the dial are originally obtained by numerous
comparisons with a standard mercurial barometer, and the scale is
graduated to correspond with the mercurial barometer.
From the illustration here given you will notice the pointer and
scale of the "A. G" aero-barograph, which is used by many of
our leading airmen, and which, as we have said, is a development
of the aneroid barometer. The need of a self-registering scale
to a pilot who is competing in an altitude test, or who is trying
to establish a height record, is self-evident. He need not
interfere with the instrument in the slightest; it records and
tells its own story. There is in use a pocket barograph which
weighs only 1 pound, and registers up to 4000 feet.
It is claimed for the "A. G." barograph that it is the most
precise instrument of its kind. Its advantages are that it is
quite portable--it measures only 6 1/4 inches in length, 3 1/2
inches in width, and 2 1/2 inches in depth, with a total weight
of only 14 pounds--and that it is exceptionally accurate and
strong. Some idea of the labour involved in its construction may
be gathered from the fact that this small and
insignificant-looking instrument, fitted in its aluminium case,
costs over L8.
How an Airman finds his Way
In the early days of aviation we frequently heard of an aviator
losing his way, and being compelled to descend some miles from
his required destination. There are on record various instances
where airmen have lost their way when flying over the sea, and
have drifted so far from land that they have been drowned. One
of the most notable of such disasters was that which occurred to
Mr. Hamel in 1914, when he was trying to cross the English
Channel. It is presumed that this unfortunate pilot lost his
bearings in a fog, and that an, accident to his machine, or
a shortage of petrol, caused him to fall in the sea.
There are several reasons why air pilots go out of their course,
even though they are supplied with most efficient compasses. One
cause of misdirection is the prevalence of a strong side wind.
Suppose, for example, an airman intended to fly from Harwich to
Amsterdam. A glance at the map will show that the latter place
is almost due east of Harwich. We will assume that when the
pilot leaves Earth at Harwich the wind is blowing to the east;
that is, behind his back.
Now, however strong a wind may be, and in whatever direction it
blows, it always appears to be blowing full in a pilot's face.
Of course this is due to the fact that the rush of the machine
through the air "makes a wind", as we say. Much the same sort of
thing is experienced on a bicycle; when out cycling we very
generally seem to have a "head" wind.
Suppose during his journey a very strong side wind sprang,up over
the North Sea. The pilot would still keep steering his craft due
east, and it must be remembered that when well out at sea there
would be no familiar landmarks to guide him, so that he would
have to rely solely on his compass. It is highly probable that
he would not feel the change of wind at all, but it is even more
probable that when land was ultimately reached he would be dozens
of miles from his required landing-place.
Quite recently Mr. Alexander Gross, the well-known maker of
aviation instruments, who is even more famous for his excellent
aviation maps, claims to have produced an anti-drift
aero-compass, which has been specially designed for use on
aeroplanes. The chief advantages of this compass are that the
dial is absolutely steady; the needle is extremely sensitive and
shows accurately the most minute change of course; the anti-drift
arrangement checks the slightest deviation from the straight
course; and it is fitted with a revolving sighting arrangement
which is of great importance in the adjustment of the instrument.
Before the airman leaves Earth he sets his compass to the course
to be steered, and during the flight he has only to see that the
two boldly-marked north points--on the dial and on the outer
ring--coincide to know that he is keeping his course. The north
points are luminous, so that they are clearly visible at night.
It is quite possible that if some of our early aviators had
carried such a highly-efficient compass as this, their lives
might have been saved, for they would not have gone so far astray
in their course. The anti-drift compass has been adopted by
various Governments, and it now forms part of the equipment of
the Austrian military aeroplane.
When undertaking cross-country flights over strange land an
airman finds his way by a specially-prepared map which is spread
out before him in an aluminium map case. From the illustration
here given of an aviator's map, you will see that it differs in
many respects from the ordinary map. Most British aviation maps
are made and supplied by Mr Alexander Gross, of the firm of
Many airmen seem to find their way instinctively, so to speak,
and some are much better in picking out landmarks, and
recognizing the country generally, than others. This is the case
even with pedestrians, who have the guidance of sign-posts,
street names, and so on to assist them. However accurately some
people are directed, they appear to have the greatest difficulty
in finding their way, while others, more fortunate, remember
prominent features on the route, and pick out their course as
accurately as does a homing pigeon.
Large sheets of water form admirable "sign-posts" for an airman;
thus at Kempton Park, one of the turning-points in the course
followed in the "Aerial Derby", there are large reservoirs, which
enable the airmen to follow the course at this point with the
greatest ease. Railway lines, forests, rivers and canals, large
towns, prominent structures, such as gasholders, chimney-stalks,
and so on, all assist an airman to find his way.
The First Airman to Fly Upside Down
Visitors to Brooklands aerodrome on 25th September, 1913, saw one
of the greatest sensations in this or any other century, for on
that date a daring French aviator, M. Pegoud, performed the
hazardous feat of flying upside down.
Before we describe the marvellous somersaults which Pegoud made,
two or three thousand feet above the earth, it would be well to
see what was the practical use of it all. If this amazing airman
had been performing some circus trick in the air simply for the
sake of attracting large crowds of people to witness it, and
therefore being the means of bringing great monetary gain both to
him and his patrons, then this chapter would never have been
written. Indeed, such a risk to one's life, if there had been
nothing to learn from it, would have been foolish.
No; Pegoud's thrilling performance must be looked at from an
entirely different standpoint to such feats of daring as the
placing of one's head in the jaws of a lion, the traversing of
Niagara Falls by means of a tight-rope stretched across them, and
other similar senseless acts, which are utterly useless to
Let us see what such a celebrated airman as Mr. Gustav Hamel said
of the pioneer of upside-down flying.
"His looping the loop, his upside-down flights, his general
acrobatic feats in the air are all of the utmost value to pilots
throughout the world. We shall have proof of this, I am sure, in
the near future. Pegoud has shown us what it is possible to do
with a modern machine. In his first attempt to fly upside down
he courted death. Like all pioneers, he was taking liberties
with the unknown elements. No man before him had attempted the
feat. It is true that men have been upside down in the air; but
they were turned over by sudden gusts of wind, and in most cases
were killed. Pegoud is all the time rehearsing accidents and
showing how easy it is for a pilot to recover equilibrium
providing he remains perfectly calm and clear-headed. Any one of
his extraordinary positions might be brought about by adverse
elements. It is quite conceivable that a sudden gust of wind
might turn the machine completely over. Hitherto any pilot in
such circumstances would give himself up for lost. Pegoud has
taught us what to do in such a case. . . . his flights have given
us all a new confidence.
"In a gale the machine might be upset at many different angles.
Pegoud has shown us that it is easily possible to recover from
such predicaments. He has dealt with nearly every kind of
awkward position into which one might be driven in a gale of
wind, or in a flight over mountains where air-currents prevail.
"He has thus gained evidence which will be of the utmost value to
present and future pilots, and prove a factor of signal
importance in the preservation of life in the air."
Such words as these, coming from a man of Mr. Hamel's reputation
as an aviator, clearly show us that M. Pegoud has a life-saving
mission for airmen throughout the world.
Let us stand, in imagination, with the enormous crowd of
spectators who invaded the Surrey aerodrome on 25th September,
and the two following days, in 1913.
What an enormous crowd it was! A line of motor-cars bordered the
track for half a mile, and many of the spectators were busy city
men who had taken a hasty lunch and rushed off down to Weybridge
to see a little French airman risk his life in the air.
Thousands of foot passengers toiled along the dusty road from the
paddock to the hangars, and thousands more, who did not care to
pay the shilling entrance fee, stood closely packed on the high
ground outside the aerodrome.
Biplanes and monoplanes came driving through the air from Hendon,
and airmen of world-wide fame, such as Sopwith, Hamel, Verrier,
and Hucks, had gathered together as disciples of the great
life-saving missionary. Stern critics these! Men who would
ruthlessly expose any "faked" performance if need were!
And where is the little airman while all this crowd is gathering?
Is he very excited? He has never before been in England. We
wonder if his amazing coolness and admirable control over his
nerves will desert him among strange surroundings.
Probably Pegoud was the coolest man in all that vast crowd. He
seemed to want to hide himself from public gaze. Most of his
time, was taken up in signing post-cards for people who had been
fortunate enough to discover him in a little restaurant near
which his shed was situated.
At last his Bleriot monoplane was wheeled out, and he was
strapped, or harnessed, into his seat. "Was the machine a
'freak' monoplane?" we wondered.
We were soon assured that such was not the case. Indeed, as
Pegoud himself says: "I have used a standard type of monoplane
on purpose. Almost every aeroplane, if it is properly balanced,
has just as good a chance as mine, and I lay particular stress on
the fact that there is nothing extraordinary about my machine, so
that no one can say my achievements are in any way faked."
During the preliminary operations his patron, M. Bleriot, stood
beside the machine, and chatted affably with the aviator. At
last the signal was given for his ascent, and in a few moments
Pegoud was climbing with the nose of his machine tilted high in
the air. For about a quarter of an hour he flew round in
ever-widening circles, rising very quietly and steadily until he
had reached an altitude of about 4000 feet. A deep silence
seemed to have settled on the vast crowd nearly a mile below, and
the musical droning of his engine could be plainly heard.
Then his movements began to be eccentric. First, he gave a
wonderful exhibition of banking at right angles. Then, after
about ten minutes, he shut off his engine, pitched downwards and
gracefully righted himself again.
At last the amazing feat began. His left wing was raised, his
right wing dipped, and the nose of the machine dived steeply, and
turned right round with the airman hanging head downwards, and
the wheels of the monoplane uppermost. In this way he travelled
for about a hundred yards, and then slowly righted the machine,
until it assumed its normal position, with the engine again
running. Twice more the performance was repeated, so that he
travelled from one side of the aerodrome to the other--a distance
of about a mile and a half.
Next he descended from 4000 feet to about 1200 feet in four
gigantic loops, and, as one writer said: "He was doing exactly
what the clown in the pantomime does when he climbs to the top of
a staircase and rolls deliberately over and over until he reaches
the ground. But this funny man stopped before he reached the
ground, and took his last flight as gracefully as a Columbine
with outspread skirts."
Time after time Pegoud made a series of S-shaped dives,
somersaults, and spiral descents, until, after an exhibition
which thrilled quite 50,000 people, he planed gently to Earth.
Hitherto Pegoud's somersaults have been made by turning over from
front to back, but the daring aviator, and others who followed
him, afterwards turned over from right to left or from left to
right. Pegoud claimed to have demonstrated that the aeroplane is
uncapsizeable, and that if a parachute be attached to the
fuselage, which is the equivalent of a life boat on board a ship,
then every pilot should feel as safe in a heavier-than-air
machine as in a motor-car.
The First Englishman to Fly Upside Down
After M. Pegoud's exhibition of upside-down flying in this
country it was only to be expected that British aviators would
emulate his daring feat. Indeed, on the same day that the little
Frenchman was turning somersaults in the air at Brooklands Mr.
Hamel was asking M. Bleriot for a machine similar to that used
by Pegoud, so that he might demonstrate to airmen the stability
of the aeroplane in almost all conceivable positions.
However, it was not the daring and skilful Hamel who had the
honour of first following in Pegoud's footsteps, but another
celebrated pilot, Mr. Hucks.
Mr. Hucks was an interested spectator at Brooklands when Pegoud
flew there in September, and he felt that, given similar
conditions, there was no reason why he should not repeat Pegoud's
performance. He therefore talked the matter over with M.
Bleriot, and began practising for his great ordeal.
His first feat was to hang upside-down in a chair supported by a
beam in one of the sheds, so that he would gradually become
accustomed to the novel position. For a time this was not at all
easy. Have you ever tried to stand on your hands with your feet
upwards for any length of time? To realize the difficulty of
being head downwards, just do this, and get someone to hold your
legs. The blood will, of course, "rush to the head", as we say,
and the congestion of the blood-vessels in this part of the body
will make you feel extremely dizzy. Such an occurrence would be
fatal in an aeroplane nearly a mile high in the air at a time
when one requires an especially clear brain to manipulate the
But, strange to say, the airman gradually became used to the
"heels-over-head" position, and, feeling sure of himself, he
determined to start on his perilous undertaking. No one with the
exception of M. Bleriot and the mechanics were present at the Buc
aerodrome, near Versailles, when Mr. Hucks had his monoplane
brought out with the intention of looping the loop.
He quickly rose to a height of 1500 feet, and then, slowly
dipping the nose of his machine, turned right over. For fully
half a minute he flew underneath the monoplane, and then
gradually brought it round to the normal position.
In the afternoon he continued his experiments, but this time at a
height of nearly 3000 feet. At this altitude he was flying quite
steadily, when suddenly he assumed a perpendicular position, and
made a dive of about 600 feet. The horrified spectators thought
that the gallant aviator had lost control of his machine and was
dashing straight to Earth, but quickly he changed his direction
and slowly planed upwards. Then almost as suddenly he turned a
complete somersault. Righting the aeroplane, he rose in a
succession of spiral flights to a height of between 3000 and 3500
feet, and then looped the loop twice in quick succession.
On coming to earth M. Bleriot heartily congratulated the brave
Englishman. Mr. Hucks admitted a little nervousness before
looping the loop; but, as he remarked: "Once I started to go
round my nervousness vanished, and then I knew I was coming out
on top. It is all a question of keeping control of your nerves,
and Pegoud deserved all the credit, for he was the first to risk
his life in flying head downwards."
Mr. Hucks intended to be the first Englishman to fly upside down
in England, but he was forestalled by one of our youngest airmen,
Mr. George Lee Temple. On account of his youth--Mr. Temple was
only twenty-one at the time when he first flew upside-down--he
was known as the "baby airman", but there was probably no more
plucky airman in the world.
There were special difficulties which Mr. Temple had to overcome
that did not exist in the experiments of M. Pegoud or Mr. Hucks.
To start with, his machine--a 50-horse-power Bleriot
monoplane--was said by the makers to be unsuitable for the
performance. Then he could get no assistance from the big
aeroplane firms, who sought to dissuade him from his hazardous
undertaking. Experienced aviators wisely shook their heads and
told the "baby airman" that he should have more practice before
he took such a risk.
But notwithstanding this lack of encouragement he practised hard
for a few days by hanging in an inverted position. Meanwhile his
mechanics were working night and day in strengthening the wings
of the monoplane, and fitting it with a slightly larger elevator.
On 24th November, 1913, he decided to "try his luck" at the
London aerodrome. He was harnessed into his seat, and, bidding
his friends farewell, with the words "wish me luck", he went
aloft. For nearly half an hour he climbed upward, and swooped
over the aerodrome in wide circles, while his friends far below
were watching every action of his machine.
Suddenly an alarming incident occurred. When about a mile high
in the air the machine tipped downwards and rushed towards Earth
at terrific speed. Then the tail of the machine came up, and the
"baby airman" was hanging head downwards.
But at this point the group of airmen standing in the aerodrome
were filled with alarm, for it was quite evident to their
experienced eyes that the monoplane was not under proper control.
Indeed, it was actually side-slipping, and a terrible disaster
appeared imminent. For hundreds of feet the young pilot, still
hanging head downwards, was crashing to Earth, but when down to
about 1200 feet from the ground the machine gradually came round,
and Mr. Temple descended safely to Earth.
The airman afterwards told his friends that for several seconds
he could not get the machine to answer the controls, and for a
time he was falling at a speed of 100 miles an hour. In ordinary
circumstances he thought that a dive of 500 feet after the
upside-down stretch should get him the right way up, but it
really took him nearly 1500 feet. Fortunately, however, he
commenced the dive at a great altitude, and so the distance
side-slipped did not much matter.
It is sad to relate that Mr. Temple lost his life in January,
1914, while flying at Hendon in a treacherous wind. The actual
cause of the accident was never clearly understood. He had not
fully recovered from an attack of influenza, and it was thought
that he fainted and fell over the control lever while descending
near one of the pylons, when the machine "turned turtle", and the
pilot's neck was broken.
Accidents and their Cause
"Another airman killed!" "There'll soon be none of those flying
fellows left!" "Far too risky a game!" "Ought to be stopped by
How many times have we heard these, and similar remarks, when the
newspapers relate the account of some fatality in the air!
People have come to think that flying is a terribly risky
occupation, and that if one wishes to put an end to one's life
one has only to go up in a flying machine. For the last twenty
years some of our great writers have prophesied that the conquest
of the air would be as costly in human life as was that of the
sea, but their prophecies have most certainly been wrong, for in
the wreck of one single vessel, such as that of the Titanic, more
lives were lost than in all the disasters to any form of aerial
Perhaps some of our grandfathers can remember the dread with
which many nervous people entered, or saw their friends enter, a
train. Travellers by the railway eighty or ninety years ago
considered that they took their lives in their hands, so to
speak, when they went on a long journey, and a great sigh of
relief arose in the members of their families when the news came
that the journey was safely ended. In George Stephenson's days
there was considerable opposition to the institution of the
railway, simply on account of the number of accidents which it
was anticipated would take place.
Now we laugh at the fears of our great-grandparents; is it not
probable that our grandchildren will laugh in a similar manner at
our timidity over the aeroplane?
In the case of all recent new inventions in methods of locomotion
there has always been a feeling among certain people that the law
ought to prohibit such inventions from being put into practice.
There used to be bitter opposition to the motor-car, and at first
every mechanically-driven vehicle had to have a man walking in
front with a red flag.
There are risks in all means of transit; indeed, it may be said
that the world is a dangerous place to live in. It is true, too,
that the demons of the air have taken their toll of life from the
young, ambitious, and daring souls. Many of the fatal accidents
have been due to defective work in some part of the machinery,
some to want of that complete knowledge and control that only
experience can give, some even to want of proper care on the part
of the pilot. If a pilot takes ordinary care in controlling his
machine, and if the mechanics who have built the machine have
done their work thoroughly, flying, nowadays, should be
practically as safe as motoring.
The French Aero Club find, from a mass or information which has
been compiled for them with great care, that for every 92,000
miles actually flown by aeroplane during the year 1912, only one
fatal accident had occurred. This, too, in France, where some of
the pilots have been notoriously reckless, and where far more
airmen have been killed than in Britain.
When we examine carefully the statistics dealing with fatal
accidents in aeroplanes we find that the pioneers of flying, such
as the famous Wright Brothers, Bleriot, Farman, Grahame-White,
and so on, were comparatively free from accidents. No doubt, in
some cases, defective machines or treacherous wind gusts caused
the craft to collapse in mid-air. But, as a rule, the first men
to fly were careful to see that every part of the machine was in
order before going up in it, so that they rarely came to grief
through the planes not being sufficiently tightened up, wires
being unduly strained, spars snapping, or bolts becoming loose.
Mr. Grahame-White admirably expresses this when he says: "It is
a melancholy reflection, when one is going through the lists
of aeroplane fatalities, to think how many might have been
avoided. Really the crux of the situation in this connection, as
it appears to me, is this: the first men who flew, having had all
the drudgery and danger of pioneer work, were extremely careful
in all they did; and this fact accounts for the comparatively
large proportion of these very first airmen who have survived.
"But the men who came next in the path of progress, having a
machine ready-made, so to speak, and having nothing to do but to
get into it and fly, did not, in many cases, exercise this saving
grace of caution. And that--at least in my view--is why a good
many of what one may call the second flight of pilots came to
Accidents and their Cause (Cont.)
One of the main causes of aeroplane accidents has been the
breakage of some part of the machine while in the air, due to
defective work in its construction. There is no doubt that
air-craft are far more trustworthy now than they were two or
three years ago. Builders have learned from the mistakes of
their predecessors as well as profited by their own. After
every serious accident there is an official enquiry as to the
probable cause of the accident, and information of inestimable
value has been obtained from such enquiries.
The Royal Aero Club of Great Britain has a special "Accidents
Investigation Committee" whose duty it is to issue a full report
on every fatal accident which occurs to an aeroplane in this
country. As a rule, representatives of the committee visit the
scene of the accident as soon as possible after its occurrence.
Eye-witnesses are called before them to give evidence of the
disaster; the remains of the craft are carefully inspected in
order to discover any flaw in its construction; evidence is taken
as to the nature and velocity of the wind on the day of the
accident, the approximate height at which the aviator was flying,
and, in fact, everything of value that might bear on the cause of
As a good example of an official report we may quote that issued
by the Accidents Investigation Committee of the Royal Aero Club
on the fatal accident which occurred to Colonel Cody and his
passenger on 7th August, 1913.
"The representatives of the Accidents Committee visited the scene
of the accident within a few hours of its occurrence, and made a
careful examination of the wrecked air-craft. Evidence was also
taken from the eye-witnesses of the accident.
"From the consideration of the evidence the Committee regards the
following facts as clearly established:
"1. The air-craft was built at Farnborough, by Mr. S. F. Cody, in
"2. It was a new type, designed for the Daily Mail Hydroplane
Race round Great Britain, but at the time of the accident had a
land chassis instead of floats.
"3. The wind at the time of the accident was about 10 miles per
"4. At about 200 feet from the ground the air-craft buckled up
and fell to the ground. A large piece of the lower left wing,
composing the whole of the front spar between the fuselage and
the first upright, was picked up at least 100 yards from the spot
where the air-craft struck the ground.
"5. The fall of the air-craft was broken considerably by the
trees, to such an extent that the portion of the fuselage
surrounding the seats was practically undamaged.
"6. Neither the pilot nor passenger was strapped in.
"0pinion. The Committee is of opinion that the failure of the
air-craft was due to inherent structural weakness.
"Since that portion of the air-craft in which the pilot and
passenger were seated was undamaged, it is conceivable their
lives might have been saved had they been strapped in."
This occasion was not the only time when the Accidents
Investigation Committee recommended the advisability of the
airman being strapped to his seat. But many airmen absolutely
refuse to wear a belt, just as many cyclists cannot bear to have
their feet made fast to the pedals of their cycles by using
Mention of toe-clips brings us to other accidents which sometimes
befall airmen. As we have seen in a previous chapter, Mr.
Hawker's accident in Ireland was due to his foot slipping over
the rudder bar of his machine. It is thought that the disaster
to Mr. Pickles' machine on "Aerial Derby" day in 1913 was due to
the same cause, and on one occasion Mr. Brock was in great danger
through his foot slipping on the rudder bar while he was
practising some evolutions at the London Aerodome. Machines are
generally flying at a very fast rate, and if the pilot loses
control of the machine when it is near the ground the chances are
that the aeroplane crashes to earth before he can right it. Both
Mr. Hawker and Mr. Pickles were flying low at the time of their
accidents, and so their machines were smashed; fortunately Mr.
Brock was comparatively high up in the air, and though his
machine rocked about and banked in an ominous manner, yet he was
able to gain control just in the nick of time.
To prevent accidents of this kind the rudder bars could be fitted
with pedals to which the pilot's feet could be secured by
toe-clips, as on bicycle pedals. Indeed, some makers of
air-craft have already provided pedals with toe-clips for the
rudder bar. Probably some safety device such as this will soon
be made compulsory on all machines.
We have already remarked that certain pilots do not pay
sufficient heed to the inspection of their machines before making
a flight. The difference between pilots in this respect is
interesting to observe. On the great day at Hendon, in 1913--the
Aerial Derby day--there were over a dozen pilots out with their
From the enclosure one could watch the airmen and their mechanics
as the machines were run out from the hangars on to the flying
ground. One pilot walked beside his mechanics while they were
running the machine to the starting place, and watched his craft
with almost fatherly interest. Before climbing into his seat he
would carefully inspect the spars, bolts, wires, controls, and so
on; then he would adjust his helmet and fasten himself into his
seat with a safety belt.
"Surely with all that preliminary work he is ready to start,"
remarked one of the spectators standing by. But no! the engine
must be run at varying speeds, while the mechanics hold back the
machine. This operation alone took three or four minutes, and
all that the pilot proposed to do was to circle the aerodrome two
or three times. An onlooker asked a mechanic if there were
anything wrong with that particular machine. "No!" was the
reply; "but our governor's very faddy, you know!"
And now for the other extreme! Three mechanics emerged from a
hangar pushing a rather ungainly-looking biplane, which bumped
over the uneven ground. The pilot was some distance behind, with
cigarette in mouth, joking with two or three friends. When the
machine was run out into the open ground he skipped quickly up to
it, climbed into the seat, started the engine, waved a smiling
"good-bye", and was off. For all he knew, that rather rough
jolting of the craft while it was being removed from the hangar
might have broken some wire on which the safety of his machine,
and his life, depended. The excuse cannot be made that his
mechanics had performed this all-important work of inspection,
for their attention was centred on the daring "banking "
evolutions of some audacious pilot in the aerodrome.
Mr. C. G. Grey, the well-known writer on aviation matters, and
the editor of The Aeroplane, says, with regard to the need of
inspection of air-craft:--
"A pilot is simply asking for trouble if he does not go all over
his machine himself at least once a day, and, if possible, every
time he is starting for a flight.
"One seldom hears, in these days, of a broken wheel or axle on a
railway coach, yet at the chief stopping places on our railways a
man goes round each train as it comes in, tapping the tires with
a hammer to detect cracks, feeling the hubs to see if there is
any sign of a hot box, and looking into the grease containers to
see if there is a proper supply of lubricant. There ought to be
a similar inspection of every aeroplane every time it touches the
ground. The jar of even the best of landings may fracture a bolt
holding a wire, so that when the machine goes up again the wire
may fly back and break the propeller, or get tangled in the
control wires, or a strut or socket may crack in landing, and
many other things may happen which careful inspection would
disclose before any harm could occur. Mechanics who inspected
machines regularly would be able to go all over them in a few
minutes, and no time would be wasted. As it is, at any aerodrome
one sees a machine come down, the pilot and passenger (a fare or
a pupil) climb out, the mechanics hang round and smoke
cigarettes, unless they have to perform the arduous duties of
filling up with petrol. In due course another passenger and a
pilot climb in, a mechanic swings the propeller, and away they go
quite happily. If anything casts loose they come down--and it is
truly wonderful how many things can come loose or break in the
air without anyone being killed. If some thing breaks in
landing, and does not actually fall out of place, it is simply a
matter of luck whether anyone happens to see it or not."
This advice, coming from a man with such wide experience of the
theory and practice of flying, should surely be heeded by all
those who engage in deadly combat with the demons of the air. In
the early days of aviation, pilots were unacquainted with the
nature and method of approach of treacherous wind gusts; often
when they were flying along in a steady, regular wind, one of
these gusts would strike their craft on one side, and either
overturn it or cause it to over-bank, so that it crashed to earth
with a swift side-slip through the air.
Happily the experience of those days, though purchased at the
cost of many lives, has taught makers of air-craft to design
their machines on more trustworthy lines. Pilots, too, have made
a scientific study of air eddies, gusts, and so on, and the
danger of flying in a strong or gusty wind is comparatively
Accidents and their Cause (Cont.)
Many people still think that if the engine of an aeroplane should
stop while the machine was in mid-air, a terrible disaster would
happen. All petrol engines may be described as fickle in their
behaviour, and so complicated is their structure that the best of
them are given to stopping without any warning. Aeroplane
engines are far superior in horse-power to those fitted to
motorcars, and consequently their structure is more intricate.
But if an airman's engine suddenly stopped there would be no
reason whatever why he should tumble down head first and break
his neck. Strange to say, too, the higher he was flying the
safer he would be.
All machines have what is called a GLIDING ANGLE. When the
designer plans his machine he considers the distribution of the
weight or the engine, pilot and passengers, of the petrol,
aeronautical instruments, and planes, so that the aeroplane is
built in such a manner that when the engine stops, and the nose
of the machine is turned downwards, the aeroplane of its own
accord takes up its gliding angle and glides to earth.
Gliding angles vary in different machines. If the angle is one
in twelve, this would mean that if the glide wave commenced at a
height of 1 mile, and continued in a straight line, the pilot
would come to earth 12 miles distant. We are all familiar with
the gradients shown on railways. There we see displayed on short
sign-posts such notices as "1 in 50", with the opposite arms of
the post pointing upwards and downwards. This, of course, means
that the slope of the railway at that particular place is 1 foot
in a distance of 50 feet.
One in twelve may be described as the natural gradient which the
machine automatically makes when engine power is cut off. It
will be evident why it is safer for a pilot to fly, say, at four
or five thousand feet high than just over the tree-tops or the
chimney-pots of towns. Suppose, for example, the machine has a
gliding angle of one in twelve, and that when at an altitude of
about a mile the engine should stop. We will assume that at the
time of the stoppage the pilot is over a forest where it is quite
impossible to land. Directly the engine stopped he would change
the angle of the elevating plane, so that the aeroplane would
naturally fall into its gliding angle. The craft would at once
settle itself into a forward and slightly downward glide; and the
airman, from his point of vantage, would be able to see the
extent of the forest. We will assume that the aeroplane is
gliding in a northerly direction, and that the country is almost
as unfavourable for landing there as over the forest itself. In
fact, we will imagine an extreme case, where the airman is over
country quite unsuitable for landing except toward the south;
that is, exactly opposite to the direction in which he starts to
glide. Fortunately, there is no reason why he should not steer
his machine right round in the air, even though the only power is
that derived from the force of gravity. His descent would be in
an immense slope, extending 10 or 12 miles from the place where
the engine stopped working. He would therefore be able to choose
a suitable landing-place and reach earth quite safely.
But supposing the airman to be flying about a hundred yards above
the forest-an occurrence not likely to happen with a skilled
airman, who would probably take an altitude of nearly a mile.
Almost before he could have time to alter his elevating plane,
and certainly long before he could reach open ground, he would be
on the tree-tops.
It is thought that in the near future air-craft will, be fitted
with two or more motors, so that when one fails the other will
keep the machine on its course. This has been found necessary in
Zeppelin air-ships. In an early Zeppelin model, which was
provided with one engine only, the insufficient power caused the
pilot to descend on unfavourable ground, and his vessel was
wrecked. More recent types of Zeppelins are fitted with three or
four engines. Experiments have already been made with the
dual-engine plant for aeroplanes, notably by Messrs. Short
Brothers, of Rochester, and the tests have given every
There is little doubt that if the large passenger aeroplane is
made possible, and if parliamentary powers have to be obtained
for the formation of companies for passenger traffic by
aeroplane, it will be made compulsory to fit machines with two or
more engines, driving three or four distinct propellers. One of
the engines would possibly be of inferior power, and used only in
cases of emergency.
Still another cause of accident, which in some cases has proved
fatal, is the taking of unnecessary risks when in the air. This
has happened more in America and in France than in Great Britain.
An airman may have performed a very difficult and daring feat at
some flying exhibition and the papers belauded his courage. A
rival airman, not wishing to be outdone in skill or courage,
immediately tries either to repeat the performance or to perform
an even more difficult evolution. The result may very well end
in disaster, and
FAMOUS AIRMAN KILLED
is seen on most of the newspaper bills.
The daring of some of our professional airmen is notorious.
There is one particular pilot, whose name is frequently before
us, whom I have in mind when writing this chapter. On several
occasions I have seen him flying over densely-packed crowds, at a
height of about two hundred feet or so. With out the slightest
warning he would make a very sharp and almost vertical dive. The
spectators, thinking that something very serious had happened,
would scatter in all directions, only to see the pilot right his
machine and jokingly wave his hand to them. One trembles to
think what would have been the result if the machine had crashed
to earth, as it might very easily have done. It is interesting
to relate that the risks taken by this pilot, both with regard to
the spectators and himself, formed the subject of comment, and,
for the future, flying over the spectators' heads has been
From 1909 to 1913 about 130 airmen lost their lives in Germany,
France, America, and the British Isles, and of this number the
British loss was between thirty and forty. Strange to say,
nearly all the German fatalities have taken place in air-ships,
which were for some years considered much safer than the
Some Technical Terms used by Aviators
Though this book cannot pretend to go deeply into the technical
side of aviation, there are certain terms and expressions in
everyday use by aviators that it is well to know and understand.
First, as to the machines themselves. You are now able to
distinguish a monoplane from a biplane, and you have been told
the difference between a TRACTOR biplane and a PROPELLER biplane.
In the former type the screw is in front of the pilot; in the
latter it is to the rear of the pilot's seat.
Reference has been previously made to the FUSELAGE, SKIDS,
AILERONS, WARPING CONTROLS, ELEVATING PLANES, and RUDDER of the
various forms of air-craft. We have also spoken of the GLIDING
ANGLE of a machine. Frequently a pilot makes his machine dive at
a much steeper gradient than is given by its natural gliding
angle. When the fall is about one in six the glide is known as a
VOL PLANE; if the descent is made almost vertically it is called
a VOL PIQUE.
In some cases a PANCAKE descent is made. This is caused by such a
decrease of speed that the aeroplane, though still moving
forward, begins to drop downwards. When the pilot finds that
this is taking place, he points the nose of his machine at a much
steeper angle, and so reaches his normal flying speed, and is
able to effect a safe landing. If he were too near the earth he
would not be able to make this sharp dive, and the probability is
that the aeroplane would come down flat, with the possibility of
a damaged chassis. It is considered faulty piloting to make a
pancake descent where there is ample landing space; in certain
restricted areas, however, it is quite necessary to land in this
A far more dangerous occurrence is the SIDE-SLIP. Watch a pilot
vol-planing to earth from a great height with his engine shut
off. The propeller rotates in an irregular manner, sometimes
stopping altogether. When this happens, the skilful pilot forces
the nose of his machine down, and so regains his normal flying
speed; but if he allowed the propeller to stop and at the same
time his forward speed through the air to be considerably
diminished, his machine would probably slip sideways through
the air and crash to earth. In many cases side-slips have taken
place at aerodromes when the pilot has been rounding a pylon with
the nose of his machine pointing upwards.
When a machine flies round a corner very quickly the pilot tilts
it to one side. Such action as this is known as BANKING. This
operation can be witnessed at any aerodrome when speed handicaps
are taking place.
Since upside-down flying came into vogue we have heard a great
deal about NOSE DIVING. This is a headlong dive towards earth
with the nose of the machine pointing vertically downwards. As a
rule the pilot makes a sharp nose dive before he loops the loop.
Sometimes an aeroplane enters a tract of air where there seems to
be no supporting power for the planes; in short, there appears to
be, as it were, a HOLE in the air. Scientifically there is no
such thing as a hole in the air, but airmen are more concerned
with practice than with theory, and they have, for their own
purposes, designated this curious phenomenon an AIR POCKET. In
the early days of aviation, when machines were far less stable
and pilots more quickly lost control of their craft, the air
pocket was greatly dreaded, but nowadays little notice is taken
A violent disturbance in the air is known as a REMOUS. This is
somewhat similar to an eddy in a stream, and it has the effect of
making the machine fly very unsteadily. Remous are probably
caused by electrical disturbances of the atmosphere, which cause
the air streams to meet and mingle, breaking up into filaments
or banding rills of air. The wind--that is, air in motion--far
from being of approximate uniformity, is, under most ordinary
conditions, irregular almost beyond conception, and it is
with such great irregularities in the force of the air streams
that airmen have constantly to contend.
The Future in the Air
Three years before the outbreak of the Great War, the
Master-General of Ordnance, who was in charge of Aeronautics at
the War Office, declared: "We are not yet convinced that either
aeroplanes or air-ships will be of any utility in war".
After four years of war, with its ceaseless struggle between the
Allies and the Central Powers for supremacy in the air, such a
statement makes us rub our eyes as though we had been dreaming.
Seven years--and in its passage the air encircling the globe has
become one gigantic battle area, the British Isles have lost the
age-long security which the seas gave them, and to regain the old
proud unassailable position must build a gigantic aerial fleet--
as greatly superior to that of their neighbours as was, and is,
the British Navy.
Seven years--and the monoplane is on the scrap-heap; the Zeppelin
has come as a giant destroyer--and gone, flying rather
ridiculously before the onslaughts of its tiny foes. In a
recent article the editor of The Aeroplane referred to the
erstwhile terror of the air as follows: "The best of air-ships
is at the mercy of a second-rate aeroplane". Enough to make
Count Zeppelin turn in his grave!
To-day in aerial warfare the air-ship is relegated to the task of
observer. As the "Blimp", the kite-balloon, the coast patrol,
it scouts and takes copious notes; but it leaves the fighting to
a tiny, heavier-than-air machine armed with a Lewis gun, and
destructive attacks to those big bomb-droppers, the British
Handley Page, the German Gotha, the Italian Morane tri-plane.
The war in the air has been fought with varying fortunes. But,
looking back upon four years of war, we may say that, in spite of
a slow start, we have managed to catch up our adversaries, and of
late we have certainly dealt as hard knocks as we have received.
A great spurt of aerial activity marked the opening of the year
1918. From all quarters of the globe came reports, moderate and
almost bald in style, but between the lines of which the average
man could read word-pictures of the skill, prowess, and ceaseless
bravery of the men of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air
Service. Recently there have appeared two official publications
, profusely illustrated with photographs, which give an
excellent idea of the work and training of members of the two
corps. Forewords have been contributed respectively by Lord Hugh
Cecil and Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the Admiralty. These
publications lift a curtain upon not only the activities of the
two Corps, but the tremendous organization now demanded by war in
 The Work and Training of the Royal Flying Corps and The Work
and Training of the Royal Naval Air Service.
All this to-day. To-morrow the Handley Page and Gotha may be
occupying their respective niches in the museum of aerial
antiquities, and we may be all agog over the aerial passenger
service to the United States of America.
For truly, in the science of aviation a day is a generation, and
three months an eon. When the coming of peace turns men's
thoughts to the development of aeroplanes for commerce and
pleasure voyages, no one can foretell what the future may bring
At the time of writing, air attacks are still being directed upon
London. But the enemy find it more and more difficult to
penetrate the barrage. Sometimes a solitary machine gets
through. Frequently the whole squadron of raiding aeroplanes is
turned back at the coast.
As for the military advantage the Germans have derived, after
nearly four years of attacks by air, it may be set down as
practically nil. In raid after raid they missed their so-called
objectives and succeeded only in killing noncombatants. Far
different were the aim and scope of the British air offensives
into Germany and into country occupied by German troops. Railway
junctions, ammunition dumps, enemy billets, submarine bases,
aerodromes--these were the targets for our airmen, who scored
hits by the simple but dangerous plan of flying so low that
misses were almost out of the question.
"Make sure of your objective, even if you have to sit upon it."
Thus is summed up, in popular parlance, the policy of the Royal
Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service. And if justification
were heeded of this strict limitation of aim, it will be found in
the substantial military losses inflicted upon the enemy results
which would never have been attained had our airmen dissipated
their energies on non-military objectives for the purpose of
inspiring terror in the civil population.
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