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How the War Crates Flew: Personal Gear

Link - Posted by David on February 20, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the July 1934 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing Lt. Edward McCrae to conduct a technical department each month. It is Lt. Mcrae’s idea to tell us the underlying principles and facts concerning expressions and ideas of air-war terminology. Each month he will enlarge upon some particular statement in the stories of this magazine. Lt. MaCrae is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot, but also because he is the editor of this fine magazine.

Personal Gear

by Lt. Edward McCrae (Sky Fighters, July 1934)

DO YOUSE boys and youse goils remember the little ditty which goes:

      The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things,
      Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.

Anyway, I was sitting back in my study and looking at all the souvenirs hanging around on the walls and my mind got to wandering back to the days when we collected those scalps. Did you ever sit and let your mind wander and see just how it jumps from one unrelated subject to another? That’s the way I was doing.

More Than Cold Facts

I took a notion to jot down the things as they came to me, and when I got through I looked at what I had written and it just occurred to me that though they were interesting, most of them were in themselves of such little importance that people hadn’t written about them, but that on the other hand they were bits that go to fill in the chinks of war-air history. A kind of seasoning that makes the whole stew more intimate.

They make you feel like you have a more personal knowledge of flying than just the cold facts of airplanes.

Differences in Headgear

They’re the little personal touches. Like this:

Look at those helmets hanging on the tips of that propeller. Who has ever thought to mention little differences in headgear? Look at Fig. 1. First, there’s an old crash helmet. That is a German one. It looks like a mixing bowl. It is padded inside and has a padded rim around it. The leather is heavy—sole leather. You got plenty of crashes in those days and that old inverted bowl probably saved its wearer getting many a bump. It may have saved his life a few times.

And look at that “Gosport,” the one with the rubber tubing which runs from one helmet to the other. That was invented by an instructor who took the tubing from his air speed indicator and rigged up the helmet so he could give orders to his pupil. They’ve been standard training equipment ever since.

And look at that funny looking little gadget. Know what that is? It’s the upper end of a silk stocking belonging to the flyer’s best girl. It’s made into a skull cap to wear under the helmet at the right. It keeps your hair from getting soaked with motor oil and keeps your hair from whipping into tangled knots, keeps your head warm and brings you luck—if your girl’s true to you. If she’s not—better get another one from some other gal.

And the rag that’s tied to the top of the helmet in the left and stands out backward like a knight’s plume serves the purpose of wiping the grease off your goggles when they get blurred. Oil pipes are always cracking from vibration or being shot in two, and it’s handy to wipe hot oil off so you can see where you’re going.

Some Uniforms!

And that reminds me of the time when Ross came back to the field spattered with oil after a dog-fight and landed just in time to stand inspection by a visiting brass hat. Although we were attached to the British we had to wear the American type uniform at that time.

You had to wear a starched collar and the tunic had a stand-up collar. They jumped on Ross for having his collar unbuttoned. And Ross was plenty hot under the collar, anyway. So he risked a court-martial, and did he tell off that big bug about making men fly while being choked to death by a uniform.

It may be a coincidence, but Ross didn’t get into trouble for sassing a big shot, and it wasn’t long before we wore soft shirts, and still later the whole uniform was changed. A man can wear one now and not have his jugular vein sawed in two. See the difference in Fig. 2.

Ross just blew up and got off his chest a lot of things we were all griping about. We were Americans and proud of it, but we took an awful licking from the Brass Hats. The British were teaching us to fly and treated us like gentlemen. But our own big bosses figured we rated lower than dishwashers, apparently.

Them Was the Days—Nix!

They were against giving us commissions, and even took our flight pay away from us. That’s the way the army feels about flying. They object to there being a separate Flying Corps like the other major countries have. They want to run the flying show, but they want to handle it like they do the ground forces. That’s like trying to make a man a good swordsman by making him take pistol practice. You can’t make a good flyer by teaching him to march and stand at attention in a choker collar while the big shots strut in front of him.

But we made out in spite of our handicaps. We had to figure out a lot of tricks and do things the books don’t teach. Like the time Sprague had the magneto shot to pieces in his Camel.

We were in a bad way; couldn’t get replacements. And we didn’t have an extra magneto on the field. Sprague knew that a mag on a certain type German ship would do the work, so he went out and found a German and crashed him inside our lines and got himself a German and a magneto.

The Wonder Boy

Which reminds me of Sprague, the wonder boy. He was very young, but he’d been everywhere in the world and he made a specialty of being able to look out for himself. Earlier in the war he’d been shot down by a famous German ace, but that German, popularly credited with being a great sportsman, followed him down and kept pouring lead into him. The result was that he lost a leg just below the knee.

You’d think that would stop a man—but not Sprague. He pulled the wires some way and was back flying a ship with only one good leg. He had a gear rigged up on the rudder pedal so he could control it with one foot. Then while he was at it he went one better. He fixed up a little harness that attached to the stump of his leg and from that to the stick, and that boy could steer a ship with both hands free! He always carried a few hand grenades with him when he went out to fight.

Mystery Leg

But that wooden leg was the thing that had the whole western front puzzled. I knew him and got to find out about the mystery. It was just the length of his service boot which he had had built around it. When he got into his ship he would unstrap it and rig his leg to the steering apparatus. He ran up a lot of notches on his joystick in about this way. Germans, like the Allies, would try to get between the enemy and the sun, and then dive down on you while you couldn’t sec them for the glare.

However, you can hold your thumb up between your eye and the sun, so the sun is hidden by your thumbnail and you can see anything in the sky except it is directly in that small blind spot in front of the sun. But you can’t fly all day with your fist up in the air and staring at the sun.

What a Trick!

So Sprague painted a tiny black spot on one eye of his goggles, a spot just big enough to hide the sun itself, and with it he could keep a close lookout in the direction of the sun. Then he’d fly along in dangerous territory, but keep a sharp watch into the sun. A Heinie would dart down, figuring that Sprague would be unable to see him, and Sprague would fly along as though he didn’t know the German was coming—until the very last minute.

The German would be so confident of his kill that he wouldn’t be quite as alert as he should be. Poor Germans. More than twenty made that mistake before one of them downed Sprague, and made him a prisoner.

He Thought of Everything

And now back to the prison camp where they marched Sprague. And next morning Sprague was back with us! That boy thought of everything in advance. He couldn’t see any use in wasting all that space in that wooden leg of his.

The result was that it was a regular kit bag, fitted out for all purposes. When he showed me how he had hollowed it out and packed it, I saw, among other things, a small pair of wire clippers; a map of the sector we were flying in; some Swiss money in bills (Swiss because of their neutrality, and useful in case he had to escape from the interior of Germany and work his way back to French soil); a bottle of malted milk tablets; a flint and steel to light a fire; a tiny bottle of poison tablets; a package of Bull Durham smoking tobacco and papers, and a hand grenade!

That might sound to you youngsters—wipe your nose, Charlie—like a silly collection of things. But, as I said, Sprague was captured by a German—and was back home before morning.

Take a look at the list. See Fig. 3. He didn’t have to use everything in it, but you can see where he might have needed them. As it was, they threw him into a barbed wire enclosure with other prisoners to await transportation back into the main prison concentration camps. He cut his way out with the wire clippers under cover of darkness.

Swiss Money Useful

The map would have come in handy if they had carried him farther back of the lines. If they had carried him all the way to Germany and he had been able to escape, he would have tried to make his way to neutral Switzerland. He could have kept concealed, have built a fire with his flint and steel, to keep from freezing, he had emergency rations and even the makings of cigarettes. Having Swiss money, he could have bought things in places where they weren’t neutral because they all recognized Swiss neutrality.

And the bottle of poison? You never can tell in a war when perhaps death would be better than some of the things you have to go through—particularly if the enemy is trying to get information out of you that would spell disaster to your friends and your country.

Not Junk At All

And the hand grenade! You could blast your way out of a prison with one of those pineapples, or you could stop half a dozen men pursuing you. Sprague was partial to those little handfuls of explosive, and he managed to get them someway wherever he was, even though they weren’t issued to flyers. One time he did a loop over a man in a dog-fight and dropped one of the nuggets into the German’s cockpit. It rained tiny bits of Albatross and Hun for several minutes after that.

So, you see, you knot heads, that leg didn’t contain a junk shop after all. Most of us carried as much of that kind of gear as we thought we could hide—but we didn’t all have wooden legs. And so, sometimes, we were caught without some of these handy, all but essential, objects.

“At Target 808″ by O.B. Myers

Link - Posted by David on February 16, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a story from the pen of a prolific pulp author O.B. Myers! Myers was a pilot himself, flying with the 147th Aero Squadron and carrying two credited victories and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Bat Armstrong and Chuck Pearce were tired of réglage work in an old Sopwith behind enemy lines. But when a new, speedy S.E.5 is stolen, they manage to prove it’s not how fast your ship is, but knowing where you are—and hopefully that’s not “At Target 808!” From the pages of the January 1933 number of Flying Aces!

Down upon that swiftly moving Fokker dived the ancient Sop Strutter—and the Fokker fled. But those two Yanks should have guessed that tohen a speedy German scout ran from a clumsy observation crate, danger lay ahead—a danger greater than Spandau bullets!

Heroes of the Air: Capt. A. Beauchamp-Proctor

Link - Posted by David on February 12, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

WHEN Flying, the new weekly paper of all things aviation, started up in England in 1938, amongst the articles and stories and photo features was an illustrative feature called “Heroes of the Air.” It was a full page illustration by S. Drigin of the events surrounding how the pictured Ace got their Victoria Cross along with a brief explanatory note.

Russian born Serge Drigin became a successful illustrator in the UK in the 1920s with his work regularly appearing in such British magazines as The Detective Magazine, Modern Boy and Chums. He is probably best known for his startling covers for Scoops, Air Stories, War Stories, Fantasy and others in the 30s.

From the 16 July 1938 issue of Flying:

CAPT. A. BEAUCHAMP-PROCTOR. V.C., DESTROYING A GERMAN KITE BALLOON, 1918

CAPTAIN ANDREW BEAUCHAMP-PROCTOR, who was a South African, served in France with the renowned 84 Squadron, where he won many decorations. He flew an S.E.5A. Like Albert Ball, he was awarded the V.C. for continuous bravery over a long period, not for one particular action. Very little is known about this valorous air fighter, so let us quote from the London Gazette of November 30, 1918. “Between August 8, 1918 and October 8, 1918, this officer proved himself victor in twenty-six decisive combats, destroying twelve kite balloons, ten enemy aircraft, and driving down four other enemy aircraft completely out of control. . . . Captain Beauchamp-Proctor’s work in attacking enemy troops on the ground and in reconnaissance has been almost unsurpassed in its brilliancy, and as such has made an impression on those serving in his squadron and those around him that will not be easily forgotten.” Unhappily this gallant officer lost his life in a crash after the war. On June 21 he was practising for the R.A.F. display, when his machine went into a spin and crashed before he had time to get it under control. In this way ended the career of one who had cheated death so many times in aerial combat.

The Pulp Plagiarism Scandal of 1929

Link - Posted by David on February 5, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

IF FRIDAY’S story seemed a little familiar to you, there may be a reason for that. The entire story was plagiarized from another. In this case it was Ben Conlon’s “Flyers of Fortune” (Air Trails, July 1929). Yes, Carter’s “Fortune Flyers” was a virtual word for word rip off of Conlon’s earlier story.

Everything seemed to be going Robert A. Carter’s way. A former Canadian war time ace, he was Married in 1925, with a girl born the following year, the former Canadian war time ace had found a way to profit off his past experiences by not only editing two of Fiction House’s Aviation pulps—Air Stories and Wings, but he was also getting his own stories in including a 14 part series on “How to Become a Pilot” that ran in both magazines.

Toward the end of 1928, it all started to unravel.

Turns out that loving wife and child was more of a ball and chain to Carter who found he preferred the company of his friends over them. As the Port Chester Daily Item reported on January 12th:

Alimony of $35 a week and counsel fees of $500 must be paid to Mrs. Michelena Carter, of 88 Chatswood Avenue, Larchmont, by her husband, Robert A. Carter, editor of aeronautical fiction magazines, according to award made here by Supreme Court Justice George H. Taylor, Jr., in Special Term. The award was made by default as no opposition was presented by the husband.
      According to the wife’s complaint, she married Carter on August 6, 1925, at Catskill and they have lived since in this county. There is one child, Mary Elizabeth, born November 17, 1926.
      Carter, according to his wife, is thirty years of age and is employed by the Fiction House, Inc., 271 Madison Avenue, New York City. as editor of two aeronautical fiction magazines, “Wings” and “Air Stories.” He receives a salary of $40 weekly, she alleges, and from $25 to $60 for each story he furnishes the magazines.
      Basing her plea for separation on the grounds of cruelty and abandonment, Mrs. Carter alleges that without cause or provocation, Carter absented himself from their Larchmont home for several nights a week from August to December of last year. Even the Christmas holiday was spent away from home, she says, her husband telling her he preferred to spend his time with friends.
      On December 28th, she says, he packed his clothes and left with the statement that he did not intend to return and that he was “through” with her. She alleges that he left no money for her needs, that her baby is ill, and that she is without funds with which to purchase medicines or the services of a physician.
      The alimony awarded is pending the trial of the separation action.

Although the home life may have fallen apart, his writing career seemed to flourish as he started to see print in other titles—Aces, Air Trails, Flying Aces and War Birds. Which is good, since Carter and his estranged wife entered into a stipulation on June 4th whereby he was to pay $40 weekly out of his $100 weekly earnings as a magazine writer and the daring hero of many magazine exploits in the air.

He lived up to the agreement for two weeks before disappearing sight unseen.

Maybe this is why he was so hard to pin down and seemed a little cagey in that Air Trail’s biographical piece from November 1929. Or maybe it was the fact that he had already plagiarized several stories and submitted them to his boss at Fiction House, John B. Kelly as his own! And with the publication of the December 1929 issue of Wings, it all hit the fan!

The Pulp Plagiarism Scandal of 1929
The Stories in Question. The opening pages of Ben Conlon’s “Flyers of Fortune” (Air Trails, July 1929) and Robert A. Carter’s “Fortune Flyers” (Wings, December 1929)

The Port Chester Daily Item reports (on the front page!):

When the Muse failed and he resorted to plagiarism to keep the candle burning at both ends Robert A. Carter, thirty-two, self styled World War aviator, who is well known in Harrison and Rye, let himself in for plenty of trouble. He was lodged in the Tombs Prison in New York City today, charged with grand larceny as the result of a confession that he copied aviation stories verbatim from one magazine and sold them to another.
      The specific instance on which the charge is based concerns the story “Flyers of Fortune,” by Ben Conlin, published in “Air Trails.” Carter is alleged to have copied it word for word and sold it to the magazine “Wings” under the title “Fortune Flyers.” For it he received $240 from John B. Kelly, head of Fiction House, Inc., of 271 Madison Avenue, New York City.
      Carter, who formerly lived in Harrison, was arrested by a detective from the office of Assistant District Attorney Edward Laughlin at his home, 25 East 30th Street. He was indicted by the grand Jury on a grand larceny charge and a bench warrant issued for his arrest. The Indictment was based mainly on a written confession to Kelly, in which Carter admitted having plagiarized the story as well as two others.
      According to Kelly, Carter came to him about two and a half years ago and asked for a job. He said be had served in the Royal Flying Corps in Italy during the war and thought he could write stories of his experiences. He was given a Job and his stories, when published, were enthusiastically received. He was soon made managing editor of “Wings” and a little later arranged a broadcast from the Hotel Roosevelt in which he introduced several famous wa races. He also did some work for a Brooklyn station and later represented himself as the director, which was the first Intimation that Kelly had of his duplicity.

Kelly estimated Carter managed to extract $1,100 from the company through his plagiaristic efforts.

After his apprehension, it was discovered that fiction filching was the most remunerative, but not the exclusive manner of his making a living. Two Manhattan hotels had $850 worth of bad bills against him.

Convicted of the charges petty larceny, Plagiarist Carter was sentenced to serve not less than six months, nor more than three years in the penitentiary.

The 1930 US Census lists Robert A. Carter as an inmate of Cell Block A at the Hart Island Reformatory Prison in the Bronx.

This story was big news. Although it never received large splashy headlines, Carter’s plagiarism was reported in papers as if it had just happened well into 1932. It even made Time magazine—twice! Once in the 23 December 1929 issue and a more detailed piece two months later in the 24 February 1930 issue.

“Fortune Flyers” by Robert Carter

Link - Posted by David on February 2, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a exciting air adventure from the pen of Robert Carter. Carter was a decorated WWI aviator who flew Bristol Fighters along the Italian front and poured this experience into the pulp stories he wrote from 1927 to 1929 for magazines like Aces, Air Trails, Air Stories, Battle Stories, War Birds and Wings.

When Webb Foster sacrifices his new plane to save a man in trouble, a wealthy Mr. Charlton hires him on to pilot his new plane on his expedition to Biplane Island to find a fortune in gold! From the December 1929 Wings, it’s Robert Carter’s “Fortune Flyers!”

Treasure waits under tropic seas. High in the skies above the Spanish Main, Webb Foster peers down upon coral reefs. And buccaneers of the air fly to do murder for hidden gold. . . .

 

As a bonus, here’s a brief biographical sketch of Carter from Air Trails’ November 1929 “Landing Field” Column:

THIS month we’ve dragged another one of Air Trails’ pilot-writers out of his cockpit so that you folks can take a look at him. It’s hard to get these flying fellows to pose for their pictures. Most of them are so darned camera shy that you have to chase them all over the sky and shoot their props off before they’ll come down and act sensible. But sometimes you can catch them off guard.

We got Robert Carter out to lunch the other day and said: “How about telling the folks something about yourself?” This was the fiftieth time we’d asked him the same question; but each time before he’d stalled us. Most pilots can stall just like a motor with a bug in the gas lines. But this time Carter sort of grinned and said he’d see about it. He’d just come back from a flight out to meet one of the big transatlantic liners. He’d flown in and around and over a fog bank as big as all outdoors, and for once his motor was working in good shape. He didn’t stall.

The very next day he sent us a slip of paper about two by three inches in size with a few details of his life written on it. It wasn’t much, but it was something. He also enclosed a picture of himself in a service uniform. Our staff artist made a line drawing of it.

Robert Carter is a Southerner by birth, and a Georgia Tech graduate. We want to say here that that’s a good start for any man. We’ve seen the Georgia Tech football team in action. They don’t make ‘em any better than you’ll find ‘em down where the Georgia peaches grow.

When the World War started it didn’t take Robert Carter long to get in it. He flew a Bristol Fighter on the Italian front—a tricky little two-place ship, death on landing, and powered with a water-cooled motor. He taught a good many Italians how to fly. Then he got into the thick of the fighting, was shot down once and received some painful wounds during a night bombardment.

At the end of the war Carter came home with a limp, ten dollars in his pocket, and a decoration. He has fifteen hundred air hours logged and certified too. Carter is a regular fellow. He tried to forget his war experience; but no one would let him. Some bright editor insisted that he write air stories. He did, and there you are.

Like the other men who are writing for Air Trails, his stories ring true because he knows a joy stick from the clutch on a tin lizzie. He doesn’t need to take a ride in a carnival shoot-the-chutes to get air action and “atmosphere.”