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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.

How the War Crates Flew: War-Air Stunts

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

FROM the pages of the June 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.

War-Air Stunts

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

NOW I bet you dumb clucks have been reading about air fighters and duels in the air for a long time. Everybody has. You get thrilled to death when the hero barges head-on into the Hun, gives him a round of tracers and lead, noses her up, falls off on a wing, dives, comes up into an Immelmann and is on a level with his foe again, and they go to it. Dog-fights!

Now if I know you, you just sat there and got a thrill out of the yarn, but the ships were darting through the air so fast and there was so much fighting that you couldn’t follow their movements exactly. You just knew they were doing something, but how they did it, didn’t bother you.

That’s all right because you were not supposed to know the whys and wherefores of the maneuvers. You were just supposed to enjoy the story which you did.

But that’s all over. The next time you read a story you’ll know just exactly what the Red Ace was doing when he did an Immelmann and a barrel roll—and you’ll know why he did it. Then you can check up on all those writer fellows to see if they knew what they were talking about.

Because today, Jack and Jill, you’re going to learn how they did those maneuvers and why. You’ll notice that at the top of this article there’s something that talks about principles and facts and war-air terminology. That’s what you’re gonna get an earful of right now. So wash out your ears.

The Simplest Thing First

Let’s start with the simplest and first thing a war flyer has to learn to do when he gets past the Kiwi stage. He has learned to do ordinary flying, and now he’s getting down to the business of learning how to defend himself and how to whip the other man.

Let’s follow him through one of those famous and exciting dog-fights and see why he does these things. After all, he’s not up there just to furnish thrills for you readers. He’s got business to do.

He’s already off the ground and has gained his ten thousand feet altitude. He’s one of those lone eagle boys who’s out looking for a Hun for an early breakfast. Downstairs the ground is all shell marked and rows of gray trenches look like the canals of Mars to him.

Then, suddenly, out of a cloud above him that looks no bigger than a man’s hand comes that well known little black speck, diving straight down at him. It’s an Albatross! He is being attacked!

Let’s stop right there in the story. We’ll have a look at the “why.”

Don’t Look into the Sun

The German had got the best position to start with. He had got up earlier and had taken up a favorable station. The station was behind a high cloud which in turn was so located in relation to the place he might find an enemy, that the enemy might have little chance to see him. Our hero couldn’t see through a cloud. And the German had borne in mind that the cloud was between that proposed battlefield and the sun. Thus if the American were looking for him, he would look squarely into the sun and this would blind him. You can’t see a tiny speck—in fact you can hardly see anything—when you’re looking into the sun.

But let’s go on with the story. What does our hero do? He sees the Albatross bearing down on him with tracers blazing. So he reverses his controls and makes a sharp turn out of the line of fire. (Fig. 1)

Reversing Controls

What is this reversing controls? No, Jill, it’s not like throwing an automobile into reverse. Airplanes can’t normally go backward in the air. They aren’t crawfish.

What he did was this. He had to make a turn so short and so quickly that in order to do it he had to bank so steeply that the rudder was cross-ways instead of up and down like it should be, and the elevators were up and down instead of crossways. The result of this was that he had to control his ship differently.

The wings were one up and one down instead of horizontal. Therefore, in order to control his ship, where before he would use the rudder, now he had to use the flippers or elevators for that purpose. And vice versa with the rudder. And all this time bullets coming at him!

You would think this would be confusing, wouldn’t you? Well, it is! But the boy had to learn to do it automatically—without even thinking about it, before he could go on and learn all the rest of the things he had to know!

Something to Remember

Reverse control is the important element in any sharp turn which makes it necessary to bank at an angle of more than 45 degrees. Don’t forget that, children, and you’ll have more respect for the poor flyer.

But that’s not all—it’s just the beginning of those little tricks he had to learn. That maneuver can be dangerous, and it always results—when control is lost—in a spin with the power on. And is that dangerous? Ask your Uncle “Spinner” Eddie.

So, in order to get out of such a predicament in case it happened—and it’s sure to happen—you have to deliberately learn to spin your ship and bring it out of a spin. You can’t wait until you accidentally find yourself in a jam to practice getting out of it. You have to know how in advance. It’s something like practicing driving your car over a cliff. They make ships these days that won’t spin, but they are for old-lady passengers and students to ride. A fighting ship must be able to spin, because sometimes you will want to spin it.

      “But Von Hun was on his tail, pouring a deadly volley—”
      “The Red Knight saw death staring him in the face. There was only one means of escape. Shoving the throttle forward to pick up speed, he jammed the stick forward and to the left and kicked the rudder. The ship nosed down into a power spin—”

Now why did our hero do this? Well, children, did you ever try to shoot at a leaping jack rabbit? He has plenty of speed and he’s not going in a very straight line. You can’t tell a second in advance where he’ll be the next second. And when you multiply that by the speed of a ship whirling down like a corkscrew with the motor full on—you’ve got a real job of target practice ahead of you! (Fig. 2)

Our Hero Escapes

So our hero escapes. But the Hun follows him down. He levels off and turns to meet the Von! He squeezes the triggers of the Lewis gun on his stick and sews a seam of lead up the leg of the Von’s Sunday pants. Von Hun is in dangerous territory with the Red Knight headed straight forward. Von Hun, to escape being rammed, falls off on one wing.

What the Von did was a side slip. He wanted to drop below the Red Knight, so he throttled down to lose power, banked his plane so one wing was down and jammed on opposite rudder. The rudder threw the nose down with the wing and headed the ship into a straight dive with one wing low. In order to straighten out he had to level off the wings and there he was all set, but on a lower plane and behind the Red Knight.

The Immelmann

But he climbs rapidly and is again hovering over the Red Knight. But our hero won’t stand for “that. He wants that position himself. So the Red Knight dives to pick up speed and then hauls back the stick. The ship loops in a big up-and-down circle that carries him above Von Hun. And as he comes down in the last part of the loop he manages to get in a burst that dusts off the Von’s uniform.

This is partially effective and Von Hun is trying to get out of the way. So our hero tries it again. He goes into the loop, but at the top of it he sees Von going the other way. To finish the loop will take him further away from Von. So “at the top of the loop he suddenly executes an Immelmann turn,” and is headed for the enemy, guns blazing. (Fig. 3)

What’s this Immelmann thing! Well, at the top of the loop our hero is naturally upside down and as he comes out he will be headed West at a lower altitude. But he wants to stay up there headed East.

So, just before the ship reached the top of the loop our hero pulls the stick back all the way and jams his rudder forward. The effect of this is to turn the wings over and get him right side up with care, just like the first turn of a barrel roll. And there he is headed West a little above the tail of Von Hun.

Which makes the Von sweat under the collar, so the Von eps his tail out of the way by doing a wing-over and coming back to meet The Red Knight. He does this quickly by nosing his ship up sharply and dropping one wing. He canteen keep it up until the ship stalls, at which time he falls off on one wing and completes his turn. He hasn’t lost altitude and he is back facing the way he came from on the same path instead of being over to the left or right.

And it is then that our hero triggers hs weapon and finishes him. He simply outshot the German. You’ll find out about how I did that over in the fiction department—second door to the left.

So you see, my young scallions, all that monkey business about loops and turns and chasing each other’s tails and all that sort of stuff isn’t put in there just to make a holiday for you. Every maneuver is there for a certain purpose, to aid the flyer in getting out of the other’s way, or to get into a favorable position for himself. They’re not stunt flyers just trying to entertain you. They’re in the glorious business of being knights of the air, lone fighters just like the old knights, to kill the enemy. And all those tricks are part of their trade.

How the War Crates Flew: Aerial Armament

Link - Posted by David on November 7, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the May 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.

Aerial Armament

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

NOW if you featherless kiwis will perch yourselves on the back of those chairs across the room, I’ll tell you some things you didn’t know about how all of this aerial warfare started. It would almost make you laugh, but don’t try it while I’m talking.

A few pre-war aviators had been preaching the virtues of the flying machine as a weapon of war, but the lawmakers with their customary brilliance laughed at the idea and dismissed it. However, they got wise to themselves pretty quickly when the guns started booming.

Airplanes, even though they were winged box-cars, proved invaluable for scouting, dropping bombs by hand, and dropping propaganda literature in enemy territory. And during the first months of the war you couldn’t knock down one of these machines either from the ground or from other airplanes! You dodged ’em and liked it.

He Thumbed His Nose At ’Em

You’ll remember that the German, Immelmann, flew low over Paris every afternoon at cocktail time during a certain period early in the war, and dropped small bombs on the Frenchmen’s conks. People in the street fired millions of shots at him with rifles and pistols. Even taxi drivers stopped their machines while they and their passengers got out and peppered away at the old boy, but he just thumbed his nose at them and showed them his tail.

That’s what we had to buck up against. And then Roland Garros got mad and changed the whole show. Here’s how:

Now if your brains aren’t too dusty you’ll remember that old-time French aviator Garros had already become a hero. But the Germans in the air were interfering with his business of diving down upon enemy factories and bridges, etc., so he decided to interfere with them for a change.

Some InventionI

Up until that time the nose of an airplane was the safest blind spot of all, for if any solid substance touched the whirling propeller, the blade was more than likely done for.

But that old pal of mine, Garros, made it about as safe as the action end of a mule. He invented a machine-gun that would fire through the propeller, and on that day on the nose of a ship ceased being a blind spot and became its business end—the opposite one from that of a hornet.

Before the Germans could realize what had happened, little Roland had tickled five of them in the ribs with bullets.

The Boche Took It Over

And while we’re on the subject of mules—the Germans got the horse laugh on him. While Garros was on one of his famous raids his motor conked, and he and his machine fell into the hands of the Germans before he could destroy it. Thus he delivered to his enemy the very device he had perfected for the purpose of destroying them.

They took over his invention and put it to good use, as you will see.

Now stay awake a little longer, sister, and see why this most famous of French flyers made the greatest of all single contributions to aerial warfare.

When the war broke out in 1914 we heroes were armed with a short rifle. Some of us even carried shotguns!

This sounds rather silly, but they were better than no weapons at all. And don’t I know it! They were of very little value, however, because you couldn’t hit the side of a barn with them. The wind blew against the extended barrel when you aimed them and the ship vibrated so much that you couldn’t have hit your own wing with them from your cockpit.

Did you say that carrying a shotgun was silly, Mabel? Well, listen to this:

Why, you dumb chicks—we carried brick-bats—and that’s no kidding.

Silly? The French brought down two German airplanes with these alley apples!

A Brick-Bat Hero

The idea was to get close enough to the other ship to drop or hurl a piece of this Irish confetti through the other man’s propeller and shove his nose in the mud. Your Uncle Dudley was a brick-bat hero.

Then just a month before Garros invented his gun, the French armed their fighting Nieuports with twenty-pound Lewis guns on their upper wings. Take a squint at Figure 1. The gun was mounted parallel with the line of flight and fired over the top of the propeller. It was aimed by pointing the airplane itself, and was fired by the flyer in the cockpit pulling a string. It was a great improvement over brick-bats, and the Germans quickly adopted it. But a magazine held only forty-seven cartridges and when the flyer had used them up he had to make a landing to reload.

Then up pops our hero Mr. Garros! He mounted his new invention on the engine hood so you could get your hands on it. The gun shot through the arc of the propeller blade. He learned by experimenting that only seven per cent of his bullets would hit his propeller. So he protected the propeller blades with steel bands and let ’em hit.

What a Gun!

The bands reduced the efficiency of his propeller but, “Voila!” He had a gun that was a gun. And he sighted it much to the misery of the Germans, until they got their hands on him.

Six months later the Germans, using the Frenchman’s invention, improved it by synchronizing the action of the trigger with the propeller shaft. From that day to this there hasn’t been much picnicking in the air. Now, my little hollow-heads, take out your slates and listen to some arithmetic. You ought to know this without being told.

A Simple Principle

The principle of the synchronising of the machine-gun is very simple. If a single two-blade propeller revolves before the nose of a gun at the rate of 1,500 revolutions a minute, a blade of the propeller will pass the muzzle 3,000 times. But there are also 3,000 empty spaces where there is no propeller blade in front of the gun. Now, if the gun fires 500 shots a minute it is a simple mechanical problem to operate the weapon mechanically from the motor, so that the gun fires once through every sixth of those empty spaces.

The Germans’ well known Fokker was the first ship to blossom out with one of these new-fangled weapons. But the same thing happened to one of Tony’s ships that happened to Garros’. A Fokker sat down to rest among the Allies, and very soon Spads, Camels and all manners of Allied planes adorned themselves with this new decoration. And today it is more in style than ever.

A New Toy For Peelots

It was more than two years before anybody could think of a new toy for the flyers to play with. Again it was a French Ace, who was later to die with fifty-three victories to his credit, second in France only to Rene Fonck, who thought up this cute little gadget.

Georges Guynemer converted the front end of his crank shaft into a hundred-and-fifty-pound cannon! It fired one-pound shells of several types.

Guynemer worked a long time on this gun and did much to perfect it. With it he brought down his forty-ninth, fiftieth, fifty-first and fifty-second antagonists. The shell was too large to be safely fired between the propeller blades, so it was designed to shoot through the hub itself. Look out for it in Figure 2.

The gun was built into the crank case, and its breech and shootingmechanism were within easy reach, while the muzzle of the gun protruded through the hollow propeller shaft for a distance of two inches beyond.

Semi-Automatic

To begin with, it was semi-automatic, the gun ejecting the empty shell, but the pilot reloading. This work required several seconds, and an airplane traveling at 150 miles an hour could be hopping out of tne range at the rate of 220 feet a second. By the time a flyer got his gun loaded he might find positions reversed and his enemy in charge of the situation.

So they worked this out and eventually developed an arm that would fire 120 shells a minute, each weighing a pound and a half. The catch in the use of this gun, however, was that it would shoot 180 pounds of ammunition a minute and itself weighed 150 pounds. It would take a flying freight train to carry enough ammunition to last it very long. Also, all this weight naturally slowed down the machine. A man with a light ship, a twelve-pound gun shooting rifle cartridges could fly circles around him. But when you hit a ship with your cannon that ship stayed hit.

So it was that as soon as the airplane had established itself as a supreme weapon of war, more attention was given to the effectiveness of its guns.

The Hague Convention had agreed that no explosive projectiles of size less than one-pounders should be used in civilized warfare in order to avoid unnecessary human suffering. But very early in the fighting, two American boys in the famous Lafayette Escadrille were shot with explosive machine-gun bullets! The Germans claim that the British first started breaking the rule and that they used them in retaliation. Naturally!

A Strange Weapon

Thus it was that there was a constant search for the best and most destructive weapon. I once tried out the strangest gun that ever perched on a war crate. It was a one-pounder for seaplanes, and it shot a charge out of both ends of the barrel at the same time! And my name is not Ripley! Nor Baron Munchausen!

The barrel was extremely long (see Figure 3) and the shell was inserted in the side at the middle of its length. The regular projectile was aimed downward at an angle while the other one was discharged backward over the ship. The latter consisted of a mixture of heavy grease and very small shot and was for the sole purpose of offsetting the recoil of the gun. On its flight through the air the grease caught fire and destroyed the tiny shot.

Now you kiwis can hop down off your perches and go out and chirp about your knowledge of gunnery. And try to get through talking before I get back next month.

P.S.—You might be interested to know that the Germans had such a hard time holding Roland Garros prisoner that they made him sign a book in the prison office every thirty minutes for two years. But he finally escaped and went back to fight some more.

How the War Crates Flew: Gas Bags

Link - Posted by David on October 10, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the April 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.

Gas Bags

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

PRACTICALLY everyone of you young whipper-snappers that I have run across has the idea that you are living in the golden age which saw man first conquer the air. And for that reason you’re a big-headed and puffed-up lot of gas bags.

We’ll I’m sorry to have to knock the undercarriage out from under you and let a little hellium out of your inflated hides, so to speak.

The truth of the matter is that Napoleon used an aviation unit in his army. In the year 1794 a Captain J.M.J. Coutelle made the first military balloon ascent in the history of warfare. He was the world’s first military balloon observer.

At the Battle of Fleurus in Belgium during that year it was through his work as a spotter for the French artillery that the French won a victory. His observation balloon was in the air for several hours, always out over No-Man’s-Land. Much of the time he flew over the enemy’s army. He used the first hydrogen-inflated balloon, the result of his own experiments.

He later organized the world’s first balloon corps, which Napoleon used in his wars until it was destroyed during his campaign in Egypt. In the seventeen-hundreds, my children!

The First Dirigible

The first dirigible airship, the grandfather of the present Zeppelins and our own great Akron, was designed even before this date. It was the invention of a French army officer and it made use of the small ballonets which are found in the airships of today. This was shortly after the first man ever soared into the air, which happened in 1783. You ground-looping, high-chair aviators probably don’t know it, but this was going on at about the time that America was just drawing its breath after the American Revolution.

Lincoln Used ’Em

I know there’s no use in trying to cram your thick heads full of history because it would go in one ear and out the other, since there is nothing in there to stop it. So, I’ll just mention in passing that during the American Civil War old Abe Lincoln used observation balloons. And here’s something that maybe you know-it-alls didn’t know. Graf Zeppelin was an official observer attached to General Grant’s army! It was here that he made his first ascent, which resulted in his devoting the rest of his life to the dirigible, the first of which he built in 1900.

The skipper says that my job is to tell you ballonets how the war crates flew. (You remember I told you that a ballonet is a gas bag.) So, to tell you how things flew I suppose I’ll have to remind you from time to time why people wanted them to fly. Which brings us down to 1908.

The American government offered $10,000 for a “practicable military means of dirigible aerial navigation.” Such a ship was built and the Army bought it after it was test-flown at thirty miles an hour. It was ninety-six feet long and powered with a twenty-horse-power engine. Instead of having a gondola suspended under the cigar-shaped gas bag, it had an open bridgework, like the skeleton of an uncovered fuselage, upon which the aeronauts ran back and forth like a couple of monkeys in a high cage. The ship was attached to the Signal Corps. See Fig. I.

Now if you are properly humbled, and want to admit that you didn’t know there was such a thing as a flying machine before the World War, I’ll start the lesson proper. And cut out that snoring before I wrap a propeller blade around your neck.

German Dirigibles

The Germans went in for dirigibles in a big way. The whole layout or scheme of the fracas made it possible for them to use lighter-than-air craft to much better advantage than to the Allies. Just in case you don’t happen to have a war map in your pocket, I’ll try to explain the situation so that even you can get a picture of it.

The war was fought in Allied territory. The German armies were away from their home grounds. Therefore all the destruction of cities and towns was felt by Allied countries. The Germans were out to capture their enemy. The Allies’ task was to defend themselves.

Now it was a long way from the heart of Germany to Paris and to London and to the Allied centers which made up the heart of their activity, such as munition works, supply and shipping bases, and centers of population. These things the Germans wanted to destroy, while at the same time they wanted to break the morale of the non-combatant population.

Lighter Than Air

Dirigible balloons were strongly in favor for these purposes. They were self-lifting, or lighter than air, and therefore could stay aloft a great length of time without the danger of making forced landings in enemy territory on account of engine failure.

They were able to carry enormous loads of explosives a great distance, drop them, and return to their bases. Such machines making these long trips under cover of darkness had a great advantage.

They Cost Money!

These big babies cost a lot of money, and when you knocked one of them down you destroyed over a million dollars worth of fighting gear and very likely killed a considerable number of highly trained specialists. So, you see, their bases of operation had to be pretty safely located in a spot where there was little danger of destruction from enemy guns and aircraft. Since the theater of war was not in their home territory the Zeppelin bases were fairly safe from destruction. Only a few of them were successfully raided.

Such was not the case with the Allies, whose territory was always subject to attack. Thus it was that the Germans could, and did, make more use of lighter-than-air craft.

Plenty of Bombardment

During the course of the War the Germans bombarded England with Zeppelins fifty-three times! They raided London, itself, twelve times. In all, their dirigibles dropped 275 tons of bombs on English soil. See Fig. II.

And over fifty air attacks were made directly upon Paris!

Kite balloons also played their own important part in the fighting. These small round and sausage-shaped babies did their invaluable work in spotting. Practically all battle lines had them tugging at their cables high above the fighting while their observers, with binoculars glued to their eyes, reported the results of shell fire upon enemy batteries by telephone.

A Hot Time

Naturally such effective eyes were the centers upon which the enemy would congregate in desperate efforts to blind them. Not being able to maneuver their gas bags, the balloon observers had a plenty hot time of it on either side. Maybe you remember young Frank Luke. That young former cow puncher used to go out and knock down three or four German sausages before breakfast. He ran up a record of over fifty of them lone handed.

The story of balloons during the World War is one that has not been sufficiently told, and by the very nature of it, cannot be. Because the only ones that could have told the story of their individual dramas were killed while that story was being written. But even so, the balloons did furnish many exciting chapters.

One Well Known Incident

Take, for example, one well known incident. The Germans were making their famous drive on Paris, and were within fifty miles of its gates. The Parisians were frantic with fear for the safety of their women and children. They mobilized the now-famous taxicab army as a last means of defense. Their morale was in danger of being snapped by almost anything. The Germans knew they had the Frenchmen where the hair was short. Now was the psychological time to push home the drive.

Creating Panic

Under cover of darkness they seized the opportunity to throw panic into the hearts of the Frenchmen. They loaded one of their giant dirigibles with ton after ton of deadly explosive and sent it through the blackness to drop its burden of disaster into the homes of the defenseless women and children.

A lone French aviator patrolling the night saw the great monster coming. If she poured her deadly cargo upon the city, death and destruction would reign in the streets, the morale of the people would be broken, and defeat would be inevitable. The Germans would sweep the broken-spirited defenders away before them.

Rowboat vs. Battleship

All these things the Frenchman in his tiny monoplane knew. And he knew, too, that the Zeppelin bristled with machine-guns manned by gunners of deadly accuracy. He was in the position of a man in a rowboat going up against a battleship. Thus he soared about the giant, looking for a point of vulnerability. But there was none.

Still, if the Zeppelin reached its objective the cause of France was lost. It must not do that!

A Brave Deed

The Frenchman determined upon a course which should go down in history as one of the bravest individual deeds in the whole War. He circled his tiny monoplane high above the Zeppelin. Then he dived squarely toward its great gas bag with flaming tracer bullets pouring out ahead of him.

He rushed downward toward the balloon with the wind whistling through his struts and his guns roaring.

He increased the speed of his mad dive without veering to the right or left. Answering fire greeted him from the gun traps on top of the gas bag.

But still he held to his course. His screaming machine with its guns blazing tore headlong into the great framework of the hydrogen-filled gas bags of the great ship. There was the rending crash of wood and steel as the little monoplane ripped its way through the monster. And there was a great blinding white flash of fire as his tracer bullets and the flame of his motor ignited those thousands of feet of the inflammable gas. See Fig. III.

Paris Saved!

Then, like a giant blazing meteor, the fiery mass of wreckage plunged down to earth. There was nothing left of the Frenchman nor of the German crew. It was a glorious sacrifice!

But Paris had been saved!

Now both of you readers can wipe away your tears with your shirt tails and go out and tell the world that there are two different kinds of gas bags. Tell ‘em that you are one and that you’ve just heard about the other.

And don’t get too close to a lighted match, because I’ll have something else to tell you next month.

How the War Crates Flew: Aerial Photography

Link - Posted by David on September 5, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the March 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.

Aerial Photography

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

NOW if you two sad-eyed rum-dums can hold your heads up long enough to listen, I want to smack you in the face with a question. No? Well, you’re gonna get the question anyway. Suppose you flew over some of the enemy’s territory yesterday and got acquainted with it till you could call it by its first name. And then you came along over the same ground today—I mean a mile or so over—and—stop interrupting—and today you saw a lot of trees that must have taken forty years to grow—and suppose those trees weren’t there yesterday?

What’s the Answer?

Well, you sleepy-eyed buzzards, to call you a polite name, you’d be seeing something that was mighty interesting to general headquarters. You’d probably fly over again Saturday afternoon and instead of seeing the trees you’d see nothing but a lot of shell holes.

The answer?

Aerial photography! One of the most important branches of the flying service.

Put a couple of ten-gallon funnels in your ears to let the wisdom run in to a place where there’s plenty of room for it, and I’ll tell you about a trip made by one of the war’s outstanding heroes, who must be nameless on account of his becoming modesty. We got orders from G.H.Q., which is the title of the brass hats hired to do nothing but think up crazy ideas to make flyers uncomfortable. They wanted photographs of what we will call sector D-7, because that was the way it was identified on the big maps. So naturally they called on me to do it.

I Get a Camera

I was playing stable boy and jockey to a Sopwith. The so-called experts from the photography shack brought me out a camera—open your eyes long enough to look at the picture in Figure 1, will you? Okay, go back to sleep. I fitted the camera into the conical—not comical—slot it goes into and we climbed to about seven thousand feet, not going any higher because the light was bad.

Now, the sector we wanted to catch had a road bisecting it. I had another pilot at the stick so I could operate the camera (because the brass hats wanted to be sure the pictures were good!) So I had told my pilot to start and follow the road to the end of the sector, then come back parallel to it on the left, then go forward to the left of that, and back again to the left of that. Just like a man plowing a field.

It’s Foolproof

The camera is claimed to be foolproof. Not that that mattered to me, understand. You’ve got eighteen plates stacked in a changing box over the shutter. You have a loading handle which you slide backward and forward and the first plate falls into position. When you get over the spot you’re ready to shoot you pull a string. You tell the spot by looking at the previous pictures that were taken of the same ground.

When the string is pulled you’ve got a picture of a big area over a mile below. You yank the loading handle and the camera ejects the exposed plate into a changing-box underneath and the number two plate falls into place in the camera. You keep up this simple operation until you’ve shot all your plates.

Did I say simple—you simpletons? You’ve got plenty to do and to worry about. You have to get your positions, figure out when the ship is flying dead level so you won’t shoot a picture off to the right or left, and you’ve got to figure out the proper intervals of time between shots, so you’ll cover all the territory. Open your eyes well and look at Figure 2 to see what the ground looks like.

And then another small item might be mentioned in passing. The antiaircraft guns. Those little darlings just dearly love to pop away at you as soon as you are over the German lines.

And here’s the fun in the game of “picture, picture, who’ll get the picture.” You can’t afford to dodge their cute little bursting shells because you have to take all your pictures in a straight line and from the same altitude or they will be worthless. You have to fly straight, count five, pull the string, jerk the reloading lever, count five, pull the string, jerk the reloading lever—and you keep repeating that until I tell you to stop.

Overlapping Pictures

You have to make the pictures so they will overlap on all sides, like they do in Figure 3, then the brass hats put them together to form one big picture of the sector. So, thickheads, if you shot one here and another there, it would be as hard to match them up as a jig-saw puzzle.

Anyway, we get the five pictures on the first spurt across the line, nose her up and over into an Immelmann turn and start on the return voyage. But now we’re having the wind on our tail and are hitting it off at a hundred and fifty miles an hour. And so I’ve got to pull the string, count two, yank the lever, pull the string, and so forth. You can get it through your thick skulls, can’t you, that since we’re going faster, we have to work the camera faster to get the same number of pictures per mile? Good!

We Get a Break

But we get a break on this first return trip. We make a harder target for the archies who are sure burning up a lot of Herr Kaiser’s ammunition. Shells are bursting all around us. Not that I care, but I feel sorry for the pilot up in front. I bet he’s scared to death.

Whew! We’re back over our own lines. That’s great, except we’ve got to make another round trip to get the sector covered.

We act like we’re headed for home and the archies decide to call it a day and go home for a glass of beer. We’ve fooled ’em.

Then They Get Mad

Now we whip around and start plowing another furrow of pictures. The archie crew look kind of cheap at being fooled. Then they get mad and red in the face and call us a lot of schwein and ach du leibers and start sending us bursting greetings by the tons.

Well, I don’t like to talk about myself in too much detail, so I’ll just say that we accomplished the impossible and got back from that round trip.

The O.C. meets us as we settle gently to earth on one wheel and one propeller blade and rushes the camera to the dark room, where the experts develop the plates in about twenty minutes.

Now for Those Trees

Now if you can remember as far back as the beginning of this serious and highly technical discourse you might get some idea of what I meant. About those forty-year-old trees that grew up from acorns overnight, like Jack and the beanstalk.

Yes, they were camouflage to cover big guns that were being moved into place in the sector, but you’re both liars. You didn’t know that until I told you.

I have wasted my time giving you just one of many uses for aerial photography. Thousands of photographs were taken every day, and they enabled the generals to be prepared for attacks that otherwise would have surprised them. They gave exact information as to distance to strategic targets, and told when those targets, ammunition dumps, rail heads and concentration points were effectively incapacitated, as the big-word artists would have it.

Formed a War History

They formed a complete history of the war. They were studied and argued over, they solved impenetrable mysteries. There were thousands of pictures of every conceivable angle of the war. They’ll be valuable in the next war—which is headed this way faster’n a jack rabbit.

So now you two Rip Van Winkles can wake up long enough to try to make up your minds whether you want to shoot the enemy with a Kodak or a machine-gun during the next war. The photographic branch has gone forward just like the rest of aviation in the recent years and it’s going to be even more important.

Now you stay awake a while, while I sleep.

How the War Crates Flew: Guns and Howitzers

Link - Posted by David on August 8, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

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

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Guns and Howitzers

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, February 1934)

BY THIS time, you yeggs—excuse me, my error. I’ll start all over again. By this time, you buzzards must be convinced that we war pilots were very wonderful fellows.

Of course, being a modest old sparrow I can do nothing else but agree with you. However, to be serious for a few moments, the object of this little get-together is to point out that the pilot who was sent to the Front during the last war had to know quite a bit about war activities other than just the flying end.

When you enlisted there was really no way of determining whether you would be okay on pursuit ships, observation ships, or bombers. That being the case, the training you received was more general than specialized.

By that I mean, you were taught at ground school the various duties of all three types of pilots. And upon your flying depended what kind of a squadron you’d be sent to—if any!

For instance, it might so happen that once you had been sent solo you proved yourself to be a knockout on artillery co-operation work. In that case you’d be shipped to an observation squadron. And then again, perhaps, you might be a dead shot. In that case, out you’d go to a pursuit unit.

Get the Idea?

Why waste a swell shot by sticking him at the controls of a bomber? Get the idea?

Naturally, war being just as mixed up as anything else, the right men were not sent to the right squadrons all the time. There were plenty of misfits floating around—birds pushing bombers around when they should be at the controls of a pursuit or an observation ship, and vice versa. However, that sort of stuff was not the fault of the pilot in question.

Just One of Those Things

It was just one of the many, many things that can happen in war. In other words, you were sent where the big shots sent you, and that was that. You couldn’t do anything about it, except weep in your own soup.

I remember a case in particular. There were two friends of mine, one a big bruiser and the other a little half pint portion of man—but plenty scrappy, nevertheless. Well, we all trained together, and when it came time for us to be assigned to squadrons, the big fellow was sent out to a Camel squadron and the little fellow was shipped out to fly Handley-Page bombers.

The funny part of it was that I met them both about six months later, and the big fellow had to have his Camel cockpit made bigger so he could get into it, and the little fellow had to pile leather cushions in his Handley-Page cockpit in order to see over the top of the cowling.

They both came through the war with flying colors, so maybe the big shots guessed right after all.

However, whether they did or not, isn’t any skin off our noses today. What I’m trying to get over to you chipmunks is, that while you were training for the Front you were learning lots of things about war besides flying. In other words, you had to be able to fill any gap at a moment’s notice.

And so, I’m going to yell about one of the extra items we had to get through our heads before they let us go. And that item is ordnance.

Or—what? You heard me, ordnance! And being as how you don’t know what that means, I suppose I’ll have to tell you. The correct definition of ordnance is, the general name for all kinds of weapons and their appliances used in war; especially, artillery.

What’s a Gun—Huh?

That last is what I’m going to talk about—artillery.

There were, generally speaking, three types of artillery used. The first was guns, the second was howitzers, and the third was mortars.

Now wait a minute, keep your shirt on and stop asking questions so soon. I know what’s on your mind. What do I mean by guns? Well, just listen.

A gun was a piece of ordnance, cannon or pieces of artillery that was used foe, long-range fire, or in other words, line fire. A howitzer was a piece of ordnance, cannon or pieces of artillery used for short range destructive fire. And a mortar was a piece of ordnance, cannon or artillery that was used for short range, very high angle of fire bombardment work.

The Long and the Short of It

Now, let’s go into detail one at a time. First, the gun.

Of course, there were various sizes of guns. The smallest being the eighteen-pounder and the largest being the twelve-inch gun. And even bigger than that if you want to count the navel guns they sometimes mounted on mobile platforms. However, regardless of the size of the gun, the bores were all rifled to give the desired twist to the shell as it left the muzzle, so that it would travel through the air the right way.

Naturally, the driving band that circled the shell made it possible for the rifling of the bore of the gun to give a twist to the shell.

As I said, guns were used for long range work or line fire. By line fire I mean just that—the shells exploding in a line area that extended from a point on the near side of the target to a point on the far side of the target. In other words, an oblong target area. To get an exact idea of what I mean, take a squint at Fig. 1.

As the shell of a gun has to travel a long way, it follows that the muzzle velocity (speed of shell as it leaves muzzle of gun) is very high. However, on the other hand, the trajectory and angle of descent are very low. To explain them there big words: trajectory means angle of flight. And angle of descent, of course, means the angle in relation to the ground at which the shell descends.

Effective Range Fire

Guns were more effective on infantry movements. By that I mean, infantry columns moving along roads, field batteries moving into position, trains, railroad stations, ammo dumps, etc. In other words, targets that were either moving or stationary, but were quite a ways behind the enemy lines. See Fig. 2.

Now, I’ll get on with howitzers and you’ll be able to see just what I mean about the effective range fire of guns.

Howitzers ranged in size from four and a half inches to around sixteen inches.

Howitzers Were Accurate!

And, by the way, when I speak of size I mean the diameter of the bore of the gun or howitzer, such as the case may be.

Okay, let’s go! Howitzers were used for short-range destructive work. By that I mean, they were supposed to wipe the target right off the old map. Their range being shorter, they were far more accurate than guns. The main reason being that their area of fire was more square in shape than the area of gun-fire.

To get the point, rest your lamps on Fig. 3.

The range of howitzers being shorter the idea was to drop a shell down on it as perpendicular as possible. To do this, required low muzzle velocity, high trajectory and high angle of descent. The advantage of howitzers was that hills didn’t bother them. Their shells went up high and came down at a steep angle. So if your target was behind a hill range, you didn’t have to worry.

A gun shell that would clear the top of the hill would, of course, go beyond the target. But a howitzer shell would sneak right up over the hill and plop straight down, on the target. Take a peep at Fig. 4 and you get an idea how a howitzer shell went through the air.

Now, when I say that howitzers were for destructive work, don’t get the idea that guns didn’t destroy things. They sure did, and don’t let your cousin Alice tell you otherwise. However, perhaps you noted that howitzers pushed out bigger shells than guns, and that those shells came down straighter on the target.

Well, there you are—howitzer fire was more evenly concentrated than gun-fire, it covered a more even area about the target, and it could nail a target (within its range) regardless of ground formations. Because of its high trajectory and short range it was the bunk for moving targets.
But take an established enemy target, a field battery in position, for instance, or a troop concentration depot, and the old howitzer would give you the best results every time.

The Howitzer’s Kid Brother

A mortar was for trench to trench work. The most famous of all mortars was the Stokes trench mortar. It popped one- or two-pound shells out of your trench and down into the enemy trench. As its range of fire was nothing to write home about, a couple of hundred yards or so, the bore was not rifled, nor was there any driving band on the shell. I suppose that you could really call a trench mortar, a small edition of a howitzer without bore rifling.

Believe it or not, they were fired by dropping the shell into the muzzle. It simply slid down, detonated and came popping out again and on its way over to the enemy trench. Yes, Clarence, you had to get your hand out of the way fast. That is, of course, if you didn’t want to present the enemy with a perfectly good hand. Personally, I never met a soldier yet who didn’t want to hang onto his hands.

And there you have a general idea of artillery used in the last mix-up. Don’t forget there were all kinds of guns and all kinds of howitzers and each kind had a special use in defensive or offensive work.

However, a gun was just as different from a howitzer as a revolver is from a rifle. But both were hot stuff for their own particular type of work.

And now, just a couple of words about artillery work in general and its relation to aircraft. The work can be tabulated as follows—registration on the target for future bombardment, the bombardment itself, wire cutting and trench destruction before an infantry attack, barrage fire during an attack and emergency target work. Registration on a target (range finding) and bombardment of target work were carried out in co-operation with aircraft.

The other classes of work were carried out in co-operation with ground observation or on the initiative of the officer commanding the battery. But no matter what type of work it was, the thing that counted with G.H.Q. was results. And, now that I think of it, the only thing that ever counted with G.H.Q. was results. Nix on explanations—you had to give those big pumpkins results if you wanted to stay out of hot water.

And so there you have one non-flying item that we pilots had to learn by heart. Maybe, if you are all good little children, I’ll tell you about something else that we had to absorb before they let us become Fokker fodder. Goombye!

How the War Crates Flew: Night Flying

Link - Posted by David on July 11, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

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

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Night Flying

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, January 1934)

WELL, I note that both of you sparrows are here again. And I suppose that means I’ve got to do some talking and improve your knowledge as to the activities of myself, and other world renowned heroes, during the late unpleasantness.

This time I’ll gabfest on the advantages, disadvantages, and ups and downs of night flying in the days when girls used to marry uniforms.

A Mean Job

To begin with, let me say that next to daylight bomb raids, night flying was about the meanest and toughest job that the C.O. could pass out to you. You seldom saw what you were banging away at, and the other guy wasn’t any better off.

How-the-some-ever, night flying was not originated with the idea of giving pursuit pilots something else to do. As a matter of fact, pursuit ships didn’t begin to take much part in night flying work until along about the last year of the war.

Generally speaking, night flying, simply meant bombing raids at night. Long range assignments with destinations far behind the enemy lines.

The Germans Started It

To get at the idea from a historical viewpoint, night flying in the world war was really first started by the Germans. How, you ask? With their Zeppelins, stupid. Why certainly! The Zeppelin raids on London and Paris were made under cover of darkness.

The reason for that is, of course, quite obvious. A Zeppelin raid in the daytime would be just too bad for the Zeppelin. It would be spotted long before it reached its objective.

No, Alice, this is not going to be a discourse on Zeppelin raids. So tuck in your bib and pay attention.

I spoke of Zeppelins being first used in night flying work to point out the fact that night flying was fundamentally an offensive maneuver.

How come?

Home Defense Squadrons

VERY well, let me explain the difference. In the daylight your air force raids enemy territory, repels enemy raids into your territory, and also reconnoiters enemy territory. In short there is a definite object for every patrol. But at night there were no scheduled patrols for planes on the receiving end. And by the receiving end, I mean territory that was being raided. To make it a bit more clear than that, flights of ships whose job it was to repel night invaders or raiders, didn’t take to the air until the raiders made the first move. Such squadrons were known as Home Defense Squadrons. And that’s just what they did—defended the fireside against invaders. In other words, in the daytime you flew patrols whether the enemy was there or not. But at night you only flew when the enemy came to call.

Rather than frighten the French and English populace, Zeppelin warfare made them all the more determined to defeat Germany.

Not favoring the construction of Zeppelins, or I should say, lighter-than-air-aircraft, the Allies started to hit back with long range bombing raids (Fig. 1) on German strongholds behind the lines. Most of these raids were conducted by the English, and to them should go everlasting praise for their accomplishments.

Not tor the Chicken-Hearted

A bomb raid at night is not a job for chicken-hearted men. To begin with, you’ve got to have a clear night to see things on the ground. Nowadays with blind flying developed as it is, with airway beacons, and all the rest of it, a pilot can fly from here to there and back again in almost any old kind of weather. But in war days a clear night was very essential.

But as even you two nitwits can see, what was a break for the raiders was also a break for the defenders. In other words, if you could see them, they could also see you.

There were no special hours of the night for bomb raids. The time of take-off really depended upon how far you had to fly before you could let the old “eggs” go whanging down. But the dangers of night bombing raids began just as soon as you opened up the throttle.

Today when a ship takes off at night, the runway is bathed in flood lights, and it’s just about as easy as a daytime take-off. But in war days, you did the best you could and trusted to luck for the rest. There were no flood lights, or any of the other fancy gadgets that you have today. The “runway” was simply the best part of your drome, and it was lighted by parallel rows of oil pots (Fig. 2). The ship simply took off between the two rows.

What They Looked Like

And speaking of oil pots, next time you’re out driving with the girl friend at night (you do, don’t you?) and you come to a spot where they’re digging up the road, take a look at those ball-like things that rim the ditch. They look like a bomb full of oil, and burning at the top. Well, those things are what oil pot flares used to look like during the war.

WELL, as soon as you’ve taken off, the oil pots are doused, because it’s not any help to advertise the location of your drome to any enemy ships that might be upstairs. And after those oil pots go out, the rest is up to you. If there is more than one ship in the raid, each pilot has got to make sure he doesn’t ram into the other guy. To avoid that they usually flew in follow-the-leader-style. Not only did that permit the pilot to see the exhaust flames of the ship ahead, and thus keep his distance, but it also permitted more effective bombing of the objective. When the objective was reached the first plane would drop its bombs and then bank wide and swing for home. The second ship would do the same thing, and after it, the third ship, and so on.

Naturally, while you are heading for your objective the enemy hears you, and he tries to spot you with his searchlights. And when he does, look out, because you’re going to get a shower bath of archie in the next few seconds. When one searchlight gets you, two or three others swing right over with the idea of “boxing” you—fixing you so’s you can’t dodge either way into the darkness, and escape. At such times, good piloting counts plenty, and how.

Of course, most of the time defending ships don’t wait for searchlights to nail you. They come streaking up, using your exhaust flames as a guide to where you are. And in turn your gunners use their exhaust flames as a guide to where the attacking pursuits are.

The Return Trip

Once you’ve let your eggs go, you can bet your shirt that the enemy is going to try his damnedest to get you. And so the return trip is really worse than the journey out. Besides, you’ve got to get the ship down okay.

When the home drome mechanics hear you, they set out landing marks on the drome. These are oil pots set out in a way that will indicate the direction of the ground wind. There were two signs generally used. One was in the shape of a big L, (Fig. 3) the bottom of the L being at the leeward side of the drome. In other words, you landed along the upright part of the L, toward the bottom piece. The idea being that the area formed by the angle was the smoothest part of the field.’
The other sign were lights in the form of a T, (Fig. 4) with the crosspiece being toward the leeward side of the field. And so you simply landed along either side of the leg of the T, toward the cross piece.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well don’t kid yourself, sweetheart. Those oil pots never did blind you with their light, and it took wonderful pilots (like me) to get down without jarring the other guy’s teeth.

Night Pursuit Flying

To get the idea of pursuit flying at night, just reverse what I’ve been telling you about a night bombing raid. The night pursuit ships (or, bats, as your favorite authors like to call them) simply took the air when enemy bombers were announced. Their job consisted of two things. One, to get the bombers.

And the other, to avoid smacking into one of their own men. I never could decide just which job gave me the most gray hair.

Just one more thing, and I’m gone. It’s about sighting landmarks at night. One tough job, children, unless there’s a moon. About the only thing you can really see clearly, is water—rivers, lakes, etc. The rest you guess at. And here’s an interesting item lots of folks don’t know. It was a cinch for German Zeppelins to find either London or Paris at night. Why? Because both cities are on a river, and their metropolitan areas are exactly between two islands in each river, both the Thames and the Seine. They simply hovered over either of those areas and let go. And speaking of “go,” that means me. too! Good evening.

How the War Crates Flew: Flying Comfort

Link - Posted by David on June 13, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the December 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Flying Comfort

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, December 1933)

SO! SOUND asleep, the lot of you, eh? Well, my pin-feathered buzzards, that suits me just fine. In fact, it’s perfect. It gives me an idea of what to chin about this time. For a week I’ve been lying awake nights, tearing out my hair, wondering what I could talk about that would be close to your dear little hearts, and which you’d all understand.

Well, you yourselves gave me the idea. What subject could you better understand than one dealing with comfort?

And so, I will proceed to raise my usually calm and soothing voice above the stentorian chorus of snores, and bellow at you about the art of flying comfort.

We Were Comfortable

Though it breaks my heart to reveal the truth, my conscience forces me to draw aside the veil and show just how comfortable we baldheaded eagles were in the days when the word German was something that made you jump and jump fast.

As your big sisters have probably told you, wartime airdromes were never located in the middle of No-Man’s-Land. In fact, they were usually fifteen to twenty miles behind the lines. Such being the case, we had no fears of waking up and finding German infantrymen plowing through the room. And so, we could add the old home sweet home touch to our abodes and know that it would all still be there when we got back from a gallant patrol.

Sure! We had hutments to live in, blankets and clean sheets. A mess lounge to get plastered in, too. True, the furniture was not all mahogany or birdseye maple. However, it didn’t fall apart, much. And most important of all, my dears, the grub was good. It wasn’t dropped in the mud, and it was cooked (by a cook) in a real stove. There was usually some sort of a piano that worked. And, of course, the ever-present phonograph.

Now, before I mislead you too much, let me explain that the pilots more or less enjoyed solid comfort only as compared to the men holding the line.

I COULD name lots of places that are heaven compared to a wartime airdrome, and not even exaggerate. So, just keep it in your think-box that I’m speaking of flying comfort as compared to infantry or artillery comfort.

Visiting the Neighbors

And so, we were able to install all the little things that helped to make life enjoyable when not in the air. Usually there was a village near-by, with at least one worthwhile estaminet where we could go between patrols or any time when we were off duty. Also, if the field was big enough, more than one squadron used it, with the result that you had neighbors to visit, etc.

IN OTHER words, while an airman was on the ground, it really was a pretty good war.

In the air, though, it was different. And naturally so, because for us, that’s where the war was—in the air.

But here’s the point—we didn’t confine all our efforts for comfort to the time when we were on the ground. We took it along with us when we went up, providing, of course, it didn’t interfere with air scrapping.

That, of course, was the one essential thing to think about. And as a result, the comfort that we tried to get in the air was in reality a type of comfort that actually helped air performance.

Just a Few Examples

For a few examples of what I mean, unbutton your ears to these.

Straight flying—ordinary patroling between two points—is about the most monotonous thing east or west of the Seven Seas. There’s nothing to do but sit and fly, and then sit and fly some more. On a smooth day your legs and arms and neck get so doggone cramped, that you suddenly’ find yourself praying aloud for a flight of enemy ships to drop down on you.

True, you’ve got to keep your eyes open, to spot said enemy ships ahead of time.

And also you’ve got to keep on the alert so that you won’t slide out of formation position. But after awhile at the Front that sort of thing becomes almost mechanical. Like a sixth sense, you might say.

To permit themselves the opportunity to relax, some of the boys had headrests fitted to the top of the fuselage just back of the cockpit. The headrest was just a leather pad streamlined into the top of the fuselage. On some ships, the S.E.5, for example, the headrest was already there. And to show you how queer war pilots can be, some of the guys had the headrest of their S.E.5
taken off, because they said it cramped their necks! (See Fig. A.)

Every Little Thing Counts

ANOTHER little thing that we added for comfort’s sake, was a little box fitted to a fuselage crossbrace inside the cockpit. In ships that had a Lewis gun mounted on the top center section, the box was already there. That is, there were two boxes in which you carried a couple of spare Lewis drums of ammo. So you simply carried one extra drum—and the other was your box.

What for? Why, to keep things in, dummy. What things? Well—that depended upon the pilot’s likes and dislikes. Me, I used to slip a couple of bars of chocolate in, a cloth with which to wipe oil spatterings off my goggles, a couple of nips of this and that in a flask (in case of a cold, you understand), a picture of the current girl friend to gaze at if I felt lonely, a box of matches, and at least one deck of cigarettes.

Cigarettes?

Ah, I knew darn well that buzzard over there in the corner wasn’t asleep! Sure, we carried cigarettes. Why not? No, not to smoke while we were in the air. Nix! Can do, as a stunt. But didn’t as a regular practice.

No, the idea was, in case we got forced down and taken prisoner. Yes, sir, we were that way. Made sure of our comfort—in case. And if you think that’s a funny idea, go get yourself taken prisoner some day, and find out how many smokes the enemy gives you! Yeah, you’!I learn!

If We Were Captured

AND speaking of being taken prisoner. Some of the lads used to sew a small compass and a map or two in the lining of their flying suits. I once heard of a case where that little stunt was the means of a bird escaping an enemy prison camp. Well, all I can say is, that guy sure was lucky, and then some!

In the first place, the enemy wasn’t as dumb as the newspapers try to make them out to be. They knew a few things about fighting a war just as we did.

And searching a captured prisoner for anything that might help or hinder him was something that the Germans did nothing else but. However, for argument’s sake, let’s say that the searching officer was blind in one eye, couldn’t see out of the other, and both hands were cut off. Well, the hero goes to a prison camp, tells the guard to look the other way, and sets off for home. He uses the compass and starts south. Soon it gets darn cold and he meets an Eskimo. Heavens, he’s been walking all these weeks in the opposite direction.

And why? Because that little compass sewed in his flying suit was long ago sent haywire by the metal and ignition system of his engine.

But to get back to that box—comfort box, you could call it—I’ve told you a few of the things I used to lug along. Other guys used to carry other things. One chap, for instance, used to take along pen, paper and envelopes. Sure! Do his letter writing while waiting for action.

No Identification!

However, that was just an unusual stunt. Don’t get the idea that it was general practice. And also don’t get the idea that the box was big enough to hold a couple of spare props and
a tire maybe. And also, take it from me, you did not carry anything that would be valuable to the enemy if captured. I carried the girl friend’s picture, but I didn’t carry any of her letters to me.

No, smart guy, not because I was afraid the ship would catch fire! Simply because they were identification, and might contain information of something seemingly unimportant, but perhaps most important when pieced together with what the enemy might already know.

In other words, we carried in the box, or on our person, nothing that would divulge information to the enemy.

I Call It Laziness

MAYBE you’d call this next item comfort, but I call it just plumb laziness. It was a flight leader’s trick. As you know, a flight leader has to keep his eye on the ships back of him, just as much as the other lads have to keep their eyes on him.

So this bird, in order to save wear and tear on his neck, got hold of a piece of looking glass and fastened it near the top of his right rear center section strut. Yup, a rear view mirror for airplanes. And believe it or not, the thing worked swell—so he claimed! (See Fig. B.)

Another idea for comfort, and a thing that was mighty useful in a dog scrap, was a pair of shoulder straps fastened to the sides of the cockpit seat. (See Fig. C.) As you know, every ship had the regular safety belt that fastened about your waist. That was okay for level flight, but should you get hung in a loop, gravity would start to slide you out and pull your feet off the rudder bar.

So we installed two straps; one that came up the back and over the right shoulder and down the left side of the seat, and the other came up over the left shoulder, crossed the other at your chest, and down to the right side of the seat. Thus you were held back by the safety belt, and held down on your seat by the double straps. Naturally, snap fastenings were used, in case you had to get clear fast—like in thr event of a forced landing.

It’s All How You Look At It

Yup, our motto was, comfort east or west of No-Man’s-Land. Of course, it wasn’t like home. We did get our feet wet now and then. However, in case the Grim Reaper ever reached out for us, we kind of planned it so we’d at least die on a full stomach. For the lads on the ground shoving about the trenches, such was not the case. They had to take it on the chin day and night.

Yet, after all, it’s the way you look at it. The doughboy in the trench looks up at the aviator and says, “Cripes, that damn fool up there with nothing to hang onto!” And the pilot looks down and says, “Cripes, that damn fool down there with nothing but mud to sit on!” And, so what? As far as I’m concerned, it’s, so long!

How the War Crates Flew: Things to Inspect

Link - Posted by David on April 18, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the November 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Things to Inspect

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, November 1933)

A WHILE back I told you buzzards a few things about knocking engines. In other words, some reasons why the engines of the old war crates used to pass out oil us now and then, and sort of leave us in the soup. Well, today I’m going to talk about things that could happen to the plane, and likewise put us in the soup.

I believe I’ve only mentioned this fact about seven million times, so I’ll just say it again—taking good care of your ship was about fifty percent of the war pilot’s job. Now, when I say, taking good care of your ship, I don’t mean being easy with it when you’re in a dog scrap. At a time like that it’s a case of your life or the other chaps, and naturally you have to take a lot of chances that you wouldn’t take if you were just buzzing around on a little joy hop. And when I speak of taking a lot of chances I mean forcing your ship to execute maneuvers that it may not be able to stand—and as a result, tear itself apart in mid-air.

Good Pilots Don’t Take Chances

But here’s the point—good pilots didn’t take chances with their ships! And why? Well, buzzards, for this reason. A good war pilot knew his ship from prop boss to tail skid. He knew from experience in the cockpil just what it would do, and just what it wouldn’t do. And how come he knew all that? For the simple reason that he cared for it as a mother would care for a new-born babe. And naturally enough! Gosh almighty, a war pilot’s ship was the difference between life and death for him.

But enough of that stuff. What we are chinning about right now, is what used to happen to war crates, and why it did happen.

Three Important Parts

GENERALLY speaking, there are three parts of an airplane that can fail and as a result cause a lot of trouble, to say nothing of causing the death of the pilot. And those three parts are, the wing fittings, the landing gear (undercarriage) and the controls. As I said in the beginning, we’ve already talked about the engine, so we’ll leave that very important part out of this meeting.

Okay, first the wing fittings.

In a biplane (and all pursuit ships at the end of the war were biplanes) there were at least four, and in many cases eight, wing fittings, or wing bolts as they were sometimes called. And if you want to count in the aileron bolts, that’s eight more.

Now just a minute, don’t get so doggone impatient. I know what you are going to ask. Just what is a wing fitting, eh? Well, a wing fitting, or wing bolt, or wing attachment bolt (all the same thing) is simply the bolt hinge by which a wing is fastened to something else.

Take the top span of a biplane, for example. It is made up of three parts. They are, the left top wing, the center section, and the right top wing. Now, the center section is solid.

BY THAT I mean it is attached to the fuselage by struts and cross bracing wires. But the left and right top wings are hinge bolted to it on their respective sides (Fig. 1). The inner end of the wing is a solid rib. (Not holed out for lightness like the rest of the ribs in the wing.) Into that solid rib is fitted the forward and rear spars of the wing. The same thing is true of the spars in the center section. So that makes re-enforced solid pieces coming together. In other words, something strong against which you can fasten the hinge fittings.

Hinge Fittings Varied

Now the hinge fittings varied in different types of ships. But the one used quite a lot was like the one in Fig. 2. As you can see, the two parts of the hinge simply slide together and the bolt is slipped through the holes and held in place by a cotter pin at the rear end of the bolt.

With reference to the lower wings, the idea of attachment is exactly the same. Except, of course, you fasten the left and right lower wings to the left and right lower longerons of the fuselage. In some planes, though, the left and right lower wings were all one piece. That is, the spars extended right through the fuselage, and the whole thing could be fastened solidly to the fuselage.

If the wings are hinged, why don’t they fall down? Because of the wing struts and wing cross bracing wires.

No Danger of Sagging

AERODYNAMICALLY speaking, the top and lower wings of a biplane are a solid piece in themselves. When the struts are put in, and the wings are tightened up there is no sagging strain on the wing attachments. So although they may only be fastened to the body of the ship, and to the center section, by small bolts, there is no danger of them sagging in flight or on the ground and pulling the wing fastenings loose.

No, not if the pilot of that ship knows his onions and has a good rigger (name given to the mechanic that is responsible for the rigging of the ship). However, if the pilot is slipshod, and the rigger doesn’t give a darn, a lot of things can happen. To begin with, the wing fastening bolts should be put in from front to rear, and the cotterpin should be in place. If not, then engine vibration is apt to shake the bolt out, and if it does—wham, your wing tears itself off.

Another thing, the cross bracing wires between the wings should be neither too loose nor too tight. If they are too tight, extra strain cahsed by violent maneuvering in a dog scrap might make them part. And if enough of them do that, your wings will just naturally fold up on you, and you’ll get no more of mother’s cooking.

The Turnbuckle

AS YOU probably know, the cross bracing wires are adjusted by turnbuckles. And a turnbuckle is simply a rod, tapered at both ends, a hole through it in the middle (to enable twisting), and a threaded hole at each end.

For the idea look at Fig. 3. The turnbuckles are fastened by wire at one end to the strut stubbs and the other end is fastened to the wire that is to do the bracing. Naturally, excess strain, vibration, etc., can make turnbuckles untwist a bit. And the result is a slack bracing wire.

And so, with reference to the wings there are several things that the good pilot takes care of and inspects every time he lands after a scrap. And lots of other times, too. He makes sure the bolts are in right. He makes sure that the locking cotter pins are in the bolts. He makes sure that the turnbuckles have not untwisted. And last but not least he makes sure that all those parts have enough grease on them and have not become rusted (and thus weakened) by exposure.

If he doesn’t do those things, he will be flying a weakened ship, that looks strong enough on the surface, but which will fold up on him some day.

The second part of the ship that needs constant watching is the landing gear or undercarriage.

What “Split Axle’’ Means

THE ships of today have what are known as split axle landing gears, and most all of them are equipped with Aero shock absorbers. By split axle we mean just that—the axle is in two parts, hinged in the middle, with the middle part higher than the two ends, so that the axle can spread outward due to the weight of the ship above it.

But, the war crates had solid axles with a wheel at each end. The axle went through vertical slots in the landing gear struts, and was held in place at the lower end of the slot by rubber cords. Thus when a ship landed the axle would try to travel up the slot in the landing gear struts, but the rubber cord would tend to hold it back. And the result was that most of the shock in landing was absorbed by the wound rubber cording stretching. Perhaps you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about by glancing at Fig. 4.

Of course, the wheel was fastened to the axle by a nut with locking cotterpin. The axle was stationary and the wheel revolver about it.

Now, a bad landing could weaken the rubber cording. A bum pilot might leave the locking cotter pin out of the nut on the end of the axle. A bum pilot might forget to change the rubber cording when it got too old for good use. And a bum pilot might weaken his landing gear cross bracing wires and not trouble about it.

Here’s What Could Happen

AND if he did, here’s what could and probably would happen. He might lose a wheel when taking off from bumpy ground.

His whole undercarriage might fold up on him sometime when he made a bad landing. A wheel might buckle when making a cross-wind landing. And if the rubber on one side gave way, the ship would be flung over that way when he landed, even if it was a good landing. And the result of any one of those things happening would be a nasty ground loop, if not a direct crash.

And just to show how dumb even yours truly can be, I’ll admit that once I lost a wheel while taking a Spad off. What happened? Well, a Spad always lands like two tons of brick, even with two wheels on—and with one gone, well, I plowed up enough of that drome to plant a year’s supply of potatoes, and it was a couple of weeks before all the skin grew back on my face.

And now for the third, and yes, the most important part to keep your eye on. Naturally, I mean the controls.

You can have a bum engine, you can have a badly rigged ship, and you can have a weakened undercarriage, yet somehow you can manage to get down, and probably walk away from the wreck. But—and that’s a big but—if your controls go cockeyed, you might just as well buy yourself a oneway ticket to the Pearly Gates. Or at least become resigned to a long stay in a little white cot in some hospital.

As I told you sometime ago, the controls of an airplane consist of the rudder bar and the joystick. The rudder bar works the rudder, and the joystick works the elevators and the ailerons. Naturally, they work them by the means of wires. To the right side of the rudder is a wire that leads back to the horn on the right side of the rudder. The same thing on the left side. Now, from the joystick four wires lead back to the elevators. Two for the top and bottom of the right elevator, and two for the top and bottom of the left elevator. Also from the joystick, wires lead out to the ailerons.

Now, just how many control wires were used, and how they were lead out to the various control surfaces, depended upon the type of machine. But, on any type of ship, turnbuckles were used for tightening or slackening, pulleys were used where the wire had to go around a bend, and leather guides were used wherever the wire unavoidably rubbed against something.

Wires Constantly Moved

Naturally it follows that the wires were constantly being moved while in flight. That means that some of them were constantly sliding around on pulleys, and others were constantly rubbing against leather guides.

Contact means friction, and friction means wear. Added to that was the strain of violent maneuvering, the full force of which was instantly transmitted to the turnbuckles and the wire eyes. (See Fig. 3.)

Now if the pilot did not take constant care of his controls he was simply flirting with his life. For example, take the pulleys. (Fig. 5.) Dirt, grease and other things such as dope flakes, could very easily jam them so that they would not turn. As a result the wire would slide around it, instead of the pulley revolving with the wire. Naturally the wire couldn’t stand that very long—and suddenly it would give way, and the pilot would be helpless to use his ailerons.

In other words, lateral stability would be all lost. In most planes the pulleys were inside the wing, and you got at them by unlacing a bit of the fabric. Doing that little thing was tiresome, but lordy how important!

The leather guides wore out very quickly and if they were not replaced with new guides you might find that your control wire was rubbing against a fuselage cross-bracing wire. And you can figure out for yourself what happens when steel cable rubs against steel cable. An example of where and how leather guides were used will be noted in Fig. 6.

And as for the turnbuckles and wire eyes. Well, the same points hold true for them as for cross-bracing wire turnbuckles. Get the wires too tight and a savage loop might part them. Let them get rusty and the eyes might pull out of the turnbuckles, or the turnbuckle itself give way. And so you make sure that there is plenty of grease on them to insure no rust.

AND that, incidentally, goes for the control wires themselves. They should always have a light coating of grease to prevent rust. And for a thorough inspection, the good pilot always runs his fingers along the wires, to see if they have become weakened by a strand or two parting. And when your finger suddenly gets a pin prick, stop, look and be a bright boy. Take out the whole wire and replace it with a new one. One strand breaking does not mean death is coming to you. It simply means that the wire has been weakened just that much—and maybe the other strands will let go when you’re ten thousand feet up.

Pay Attention, Buzzards!

Well, you’re all asleep now, so I guess I’ll go home. But remember this (if it’s possible) your engine is important, but so is the ship itself. It may seem like a waste of time to crawl all over it with an eagle eye each time before you go up. But listen to me, buzzards, I’ve seen plenty who figured it a waste of time, and took a chance. Well, they lost. I’m a scare-cat—I hate to take chances—maybe that’s why I’m still able to admire the trees and the flowers and other things in life on this man’s planet!

How the War Crates Flew: Why It Flies

Link - Posted by David on February 8, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the May 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Why It Flys

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, May 1933)

ALL RIGHT, you buzzards, sit up and take a good look at that young chap sitting over there on the right side of the room. See him? Well, take a second look, because there is one intelligent young man. You said it! Why is he so bright? Well, wait until I read you a letter that I just got from him—

Dear Uncle Wash-Out:

    I’ve been listening to your chin-jests since they first began many months ago. I don’t suppose that your head can get any bigger, so I’ll risk saying that I have enjoyed every word, including the periods and quotation marks.

    And so, I’m going to take advantage of your offer to ask a question. Here it is. The title of your chin-fests is, “How the War Crates Flew.” Well, how did they? In other words, Uncle Wash-Out, just what makes an airplane fly?

    Here’s hoping that you’ll give us some dope regarding the technical side of the actual flight of an airplane.

                                Hopefully yours,
                                    Charles Barringer.

Well, here I am, Charlie, in the flesh, and all set to grant you your wish. So pay attention and never mind if some of these other buzzards fall asleep. It’s bright lads like you that I like to help out. The others can go walk into a revving prop if they want to. Guess we’ll never miss them, much.

And, so here we go.

The air that we breathe and feel and know is all around us has weight, and it exerts pressure in all directions. Now, the action of air on a kite results in the air being compressed underneath it, and a vaccum being formed above it. That action causes the kite to rise for the simple reason that there is increased pressure on the underneath side and decreased pressure above. To get a good idea of all that, take a look at Fig.1.

FLIGHT is secured by drawing, or propelling, an inclined plane through the air, with the plane inclined upwards and toward the direction of motion. When I speak of plane in that instance I mean a flat plane, not an airplane.

Now, that plane going through the air has four forces working upon it. And those four forces are Lift, Drift, Gravity, and Thrust.

Lift, as the word itself explains, is the tendency for the plane to rise. And that tendency, as I explained above, is the result of increased pressure underneath the plane, and decreased pressure above.

Drift, or as it is often called, Resistance, is the reaction due to the action of propelling a plane through the air, thus retarding its motion. Drift is caused by the eddies of air which hinder the forward motion. You might almost call it a backward suction or drag. And then, too, there is drift, or resistance, caused by the frontal area presented toward the line of flight. To decrease drift as much as possible the thing to do, of course, is to streamline the object that goes through the air.
Take a ball for instance. Fig.2. The air slips around the ball all right, but the vacuum at the rear causes air eddies and these eddies more or less try to suck the ball backwards. And that, of course, hinders the forward flight of the ball.

Now take a look at Fig.3. We have put streamlining on the back of the ball. The result is that the air stream follows along the streamlining, and as a result of there being no vacuum, no eddies are formed to try and drag the ball backwards. Of course, you must understand that I’m speaking generally. There is not as yet, an airplane wing of one hundred percent non-drag efficiency. There is still a small vacuum and there are still eddies caused by that vacuum. But streamlining reduces air resistance to a minimum. And of course not only are the wings of a plane streamlined, but every other part of it. However, what I’m pointing out is how streamlining helps to reduce resistance or drift.

The third force is Gravity, or to be brief, the magnetic attraction of the earth to all things on it and above it, for at least a distance of fifty miles, maybe more. Scientists have not yet determined exactly how high above the earth the force of gravity extends. However, we know that this thing called gravity is an invisible force that draws things earthward.

Thrust is the forward force applied to the plane by the engine actuated by the propeller. Now the prop may push the plane through the air, or it may pull it, but no matter which it does the action is referred to as “thrust.”

What’s that? Each of those four forces has its opposite? Right you are. Good lad, for figuring that out. Huh? What does he mean? All right, listen.

In plain words the four forces are, upward, downward, forward, and backward. The thrust has its opposite, which of course is drift. And lift has its opposite which is gravity.

NOW, when the engine is off and the plane is on the ground, drift overcomes thrust and gravity overcomes lift. In other words there is no thrust or lift, which is only natural.

And so we start the engine, run it up full out and what happens? Thrust starts to overcome drift, and lift starts to overcome gravity. Eventually the action of lift overcoming gravity points the nose of the plane into the air and the plane rises. Now, so long as your engine is on, the thrust remains the same, regardless of forward speed. However, the greater the forward speed the greater the action of drift.

Maybe that last confused you a bit. How could thrust remain the same, and yet have forward speed increase so that drift increases also? Well, it’s this way. If you were flying into the wind your prop would be trying just as hard to pull you forward, but your speed over the ground would be reduced, and naturally the drift increased. But if you were flying with the wind your ground speed would be increased (because the wind helped blow you along), even though the thrust remained the same.

You probably noted that I put emphasis on the words, ground speed. Well, an airplane in flight always has two speeds. One is air-speed and the other is ground-speed. Now, take a look at Fig.4. A lot of folks get mixed up about the speed of an airplane. And as we all know, a lot of fiction authors go a bit haywire about it. However, as you will note from the figure, air speed is always the same. That is, of course, provided that you keep the throttle in the same place. And I might mention right here that air speed means the speed at which the wings pass through the air. No matter whether it is fifty miles an hour or five hundred miles an hour, it will stay the same in level flight. But the ground speed, the speed at which the plane travels over the ground, is always changing. If there is a twenty-mile wind and you fly into it, your ground speed is reduced twenty miles per hour. And if you fly with that wind your ground speed is increased twenty miles an hour.

So remember, when some one says, “This ship will do 200 m.p.h.,” that he means that the wings will go through the air at that rate of speed. Its speed over the ground will depend upon whether he flies with the wind, or against it.

Now in case you get the idea that I’m suggesting that well-known airplane speed records don’t mean a thing, just let me clear up that point. A straight-away record is taken from the average of two flights with the wind and two flights against it. Therefore the thing is balanced and you get the speed of the plane as though it were flying in still air. And the same holds true for a closed course speed record. One half of the course would be with the wind, and the other half would be against the wind. Get the idea?

BUT we happen to be up in the air just now, and talking about the four forces that are having their own individual effect upon the flight of our ship.

We said that thrust remains the same regardless of speed, but that drift increases, with increased forward speed. Right! Now, it is only natural that drift increases also as the forward speed is reduced. And when the drift is greater than the thrust what happens? It means that gravity has also become greater than lift. The result is that the plane goes earthward. If such a thing happened suddenly and the increase of drift and gravity over thrust and lift was of a great amount, the plane would naturally stall, and thrust and lift would be non-existant for the moment. In other words the plane would start toward earth, out of control until your falling speed became great enough to be flying speed.

That may sound a little complicated. But what I mean is that a plane stalls because drift has become greater than thrust and gravity has become greater than lift.

Huh? What about gliding down?

Now keep your shirt on. I can’t say everything in the same breath. I’m coming to that point right now.

You are flying along and you decide to land. Well, the first thing you do is throttle your engine. That, of course, is an automatic decreasing of your thrust. If you carried straight on at level flight drift would soon take complete charge of thrust and gravity would take complete charge of lift—and you would stall. So you point the nose downward, and let drift gradually overcome thrust and gravity to gradually overcome lift. Of course you take care of that sort of thing with your gliding angle. And then when you get right close to the ground you level off and go straight forward. That, of course, causes drift to overcome thrust (which now is simply gliding speed) at a faster rate. And the same with gravity overcoming lift. Presently thrust and lift become practically non-existant, and your plane stalls—but—you are only a couple of feet off the ground so you simply settle on the ground with no damage done. So in theory, every airplane landing is a stall—drift and gravity, having completely overcome thrust and lift.

Now, that is the general action of the four forces, thrust, lift, draft, and gravity, upon an airplane on the ground and in the air. And, therefore, it means that an airplane flies when thrust is equal to drift, and lift is equal to gravity. When those things are equal momentum carries the plane on. Increased thrust means increased air speed. And increased lift, means increased climbing angle.

Now, before I toss you all out, I’m going to say a few words about the design of airplane wings in regard to lift and drift.

THE length of a wing is called the span. And the width of a wing is called the cord. The relation of the span to the cord is known as the “aspect ratio of a wing.” A square wing would have a low aspect ratio. Whereas a narrow wing would have a high aspect ratio. See Fig.5. Now a high aspect ratio is better than a low aspect ratio for the simple reason that it gives the same amount of lift with less drift.

Now a flat wing, as we know, would have a lot of drift, regardless of its lift. So to lessen the drift the wing is itself streamlined. In other words it is changed from a flat wing to a cambered wing. And because it is cambered the air pressure on its underneath surface is at right angles to it. See Fig.6.

The curvature of a wing determines its lifting efficiency. (We are disregarding streamlining and drift for the moment.) A flat wing has less air pressure beneath, and as a result less upward lift suction on top. As the wing is curved more, both of those things increase. Naturally there is a limit, and aeronautical engineers are continually experimenting for the correct camber of the wings of the planes they design. But the curvature, particularly the curvature at the top is a mighty important item regarding the lifting efficiency of the wing. In the old days it was believed that a wing got its greatest lift from the bottom of the wing. But the wing design developments of recent years have proved that almost sixty-five percent of the lift of a wing is from the top. So camber is not something to toss out the window. Upon it depends maximum lift efficiency, in accordance with the correct angle of incidence (angle of wing toward line of flight).

And so, you might say that the wings of an airplane are the most important. You can always get a good engine, and you can always build a good fuselage, and the other things that go with it. But when you come to the wings, you have a real job on your hands. They have got to be strong enough to stay on when you are going full out. They have got to have maximum lift for the weight they are carrying, and they’ve got to have minimum drift, because you get more drift from your wings than from any other part of the ship.

But after all, drift is only one of the forces you’ve got to think about. There are three others, as I told you—lift, thrust, and gravity. Keep them all in mind, when you design that plane. And remember, thrust has got to equal drift, and lift has got to equal gravity, or you’ll never fly in a hundred thousand years!

How the War Crates Flew: Dizzy Doings

Link - Posted by David on January 11, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the April 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Dizzy Doings

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, April 1933)

WELL, being as how you buzzards are still kind of young, far be it from me to try and shove too much knowledge into your heads. So I guess I’ll devote this chin-fest to dizzy doings of war days. Naturally, we heroes, who restored France for American tourists, were only human after all. Which is but another way of admitting that now and then we cut loose from the conventional type of war flying, and had a little fun for ourselves.

Of course, nowadays, it wouldn’t exactly be called fun. As a matter of fact, it would be called rank violation of Department of Commerce (Aeronautics Branch) rules and regulation. But in the old days when you tried dizzy stunts, just for the heck of it, the only risk you ran, outside of handing in your chips to the grave digger, was maybe a burning up by the C.O. in case you missed calculations and wrapped your ship around a tree, or an estaminet, or something. But it was good fun, anyway, and as I look backward over the years I can visualize again some of the darndest, dizziest plane stunts imaginable.

And so, put your note-books and pencils away, and lean back—and don’t snore too loud. As a matter of fact, you’d better stay awake, because I’ll probably slip in a technical explanation here and there as I go along. And if you miss it—well, it’ll just be too bad for you, and how!

One of the most miraculous, and dizziest, and funniest stunts I ever saw pulled, happened at an airdrome in England. As a matter of fact it was at London Colney Airdrome, about seventeen miles north of London. There were several large-sized hangars on that field. One of them was set at right angle to the others. By that I mean that both ends opened onto God’s free air. There were no obstructions at the front or the rear. Well, one day one of the boys thought up the swell idea of “shooting” the hangar, as he called it. He had all the ships taken out and both the front and rear doors rolled wide open. And then he took a ship up and came down and flew through the empty hangar.

Naturally, the rest of us had to take a crack at it ourselves. There was a reasonable amount of clearance all around as you went through the hangar, so it wasn’t particularly tough. And besides, none of us had just gone solo the day before. We had a few solo hours under our belts, you know.

WELL, from that day on, “shooting” the empty hangar became a regular part of a follow-the-leader game. But, one day one of the boys (I won’t mention his name as he is alive and still eating three squares a day) decided to shoot the hangar all by himself. When he took off it was empty, and both front and rear doors rolled back. But, it so happened that a grease ball, not knowing the pilot’s intention, rolled the rear doors to within about ten feet of being shut. Just why he ever did it, we never found out. But I’m positive that it wasn’t on purpose. That particular grease-ball was too dumb to ever do anything on purpose.

Of course you can guess the rest. Down comes our boy friend toward the front end, which was open. Well, imagine his embarrassment when he gets inside! Naturally there is nothing to do but keep going. Which he does, heading for the ten-foot opening. And he goes through, hell bent for election. The result is, that he leaves his wings inside the hangar, and comes out into the open like a launching torpedo. However, the good Lord must have been riding the cockpit with him, because he streaks across the field and finally rams into a stone wall on the far side. We pick him up out of the wreck, out cold. But in an hour or so he’s all set again to carry on with the war. Needless to say, he never tried the stunt again! Those of us that were there, and saw him go in with wings on and come out with them off, haven’t stopped laughing yet!

Perhaps the dizziest, and yes, the dumbest stunt ever tried, was pulled off shortly after the signing of the Armistice. As the squadrons were moved up toward the Rhine and the Army of Occupation, some of us were made ferry pilots, and given the job of flying all obsolete planes to Lille for dismantling and ultimate destruction. New types had been sent out to replace them, so rather than fly them all the way back to England it was decided to concentrate the bunch at Lille, salvage the instruments, and maybe a few parts of the engines, and burn up what was left. Well, we ferry pilots went all over France collecting these ships, and some of them were in pretty good shape. As a result we held what was called a “Fly the Fabric Off” contest. Five or ten of us would each select a pretty good ship that was doomed for the bonfire. Then we’d take a knife and slit the leading edge of the wing fabric on the lower wings in several places. Then we’d take the ship up and stunt it with the idea of trying to-make the prop-wash catch under the slits and rip the fabric off in strips. The winner was the one who landed with the most ripped fabric trailing back off his wings. And believe me, buzzards, there was plenty and don’t think there wasn’t. The strangest part of it all, perhaps, was the fact that during the two weeks that we conducted the contests (before the C.O. at the field clamped the lid down on our dizzy actions) not a single one of us crashed, or even ruffled the part in his hair.

OH, all right, all right, I know! Luck is always with fools and drunks, and we weren’t drunk at the time.

But speaking of drinking. Here is a story that I can vouch for as being true, although I was not an eye witness. And, incidentally, it is not a yarn of which war birds can be particularly proud. But it actually did happen, and I never did pose as a war pilot who wore a halo around his head; so I’ll tell it to you.

It seems that a certain squadron had had a terrible binge, and one peelot took about five times as much as was good for him. Well, that pilot was down for an early morning show, and his orderly had the devil’s own job trying to wake him up out of his cognac slumber. Finally, with the pilot mumbling incoherent protests, they carried him out to his ship, dumped him in the cockpit and told him to get going. Perhaps he was partly revived, or perhaps it was flying instinct, but at any rate he took off with the flight, went over the lines, got into a scrap, nailed a Hun and came back. When he landed he stumbled out of the ship, and reeled into his hutment and went back to sleep. About two hours later he came tearing out, goggles and helmet in one hand, and sidcot suit half on. He tore for the hangar line, didn’t see any ships on the tarmac, and whirled on the Flight Sergeant—and bawled hell out of him for not waking him up in time for the dawn patrol! To this day (he’s still alive) that pilot has no recollection whatsoever of making that flight and shooting down a Hun!

And there you are. Take it or leave it! I won’t be sore, either way!

Many times dizzy and funny things happen when the pilot in question is trying to do the best he knows how. Your own dear Uncle Wash-out was the innocent victim of such an event on one occasion.

Now, never mind that wise-crack, you! Perhaps it was on more than one occasion. But I’m just chinning about this one, see?

It happened when I was with the squadron in Egypt, the year after the war. We’d been sent down there from Germany to—! Heck, this isn’t a personal history, so let that part go. Anyway, we were stationed at a field called Abukir, just north of Alexandria. And one of our jobs was to keep watch over an evacuated drome at a place called Amiria, way the heck out on the desert. There was stuff there that the Bedouins (desert gypsies) might steal, so we took turns staying at the place and guarding it. It would be two pilots, with a two-seater, nine men and one non-com for two weeks at a time. The relief would be made by ground transport for the men, and by air for the pilots.

WELL, one time my buzzard buddy decided to ride back with the men. So I took the air route telling him to be sure and get my battered suitcase into the lorry. And, of course, when he finally arrived at our home field, some ten hours after I did, he confessed that he’d forgotten all about my suitcase. Well, that wasn’t a serious enough crime to cut his throat for, so I left him alone and next morning took one of our spare “play-jobs”—a single seater Sopwith Pup that we used to play around with—and flew out to Amiria to collect my suitcase. There is still plenty of room in the cockpit of a Sopwith Pup even when I’m in it, so instead of going to the trouble of lashing the suit case to the center section struts, I simply tossed it in the seat and used it as a back rest.

A Sop-Pup is rigged to climb all the time, so I got off the ground without really realizing just what was going to happen. But when I got back to my home drome I sure realized—and how! And it was just this—because of the suitcase at my back I could not get the stick back far enough for leveling off and landing, tail down. I could glide down all right, but the only way I could get it leveled off was to shove the throttle forward, and let the inherent climbing qualities of the ship bring the nose up. But even then I couldn’t do that close enough to the ground for even a “pancake” landing.

AND there I was, in the air and unable to land. I tried ten thousand, million times to reach my hand around behind me and pry the suitcase overboard. But the Devil, himself, must have been sitting on it. It was with me, and was darn well going to stay with me. I circled the field for over an hour, and no soap. By that time the entire squadron was grouped on the tarmac wondering why your Uncle Wash-out loved the air so much that he stayed up, when eggs and bacon and coffee-cognac were waiting for him in the mess.

Well, to make a long story much sooner, I finally convinced myself that me and a crash had to get together eventually, so why not now? Of course, after some three years of war flying, I’d been able to get this thing called crashing right down to a science. So I figured the best way, and decided that a lone date palm on the edge of the drome was the one and only answer to my prayer. So I glided for it as slow as I could. I practically loafed through the air. And by the time I reached it I was just about ready to stall. I’d maneuvered so that my left wing-tips would catch the trunk, about ten feet up; they did, and the result was exactly as I had figured. The wings wrapped themselves about the trunk, and the rest of the plane, with me still in it, revolved about the trunk until the whole business “mushed” onto the ground. There was no Murad handy to light up, so I simply climbed out of the wreckage and pulled out that damned suitcase after me. Not a scratch on me. I was hardly even shaken up. But the plane was a mess; just matchwood. Real clever, eh. Oh, yeah? Well, you should have been there to hear what my C.O. told me! It took him ten minutes, and he didn’t use the same word twice! After that I carried my toothbrush in my sidcot suit instead of in a suitcase.

LIKE all the other branches of armed service the flying end was no exception when it came to pulling dumb things. One of the dumbest that impressed me the most, was the way the “powers-that-were” selected pilots for different types of work. If you weighed nine hundred pounds and stood eight feet, six inches tall, you were usually assigned to scout work in ships that you could practically carry under your arm. But if you were of midget proportions they put you on a twin engined bomber that would take you from Sunday to Thursday to get into.

Of course, when I say “usually” I’m really stretching it a bit. However, there were several cases of the right pilot being assigned to the wrong ship. So the idea is worth the yarn, anyway.

IT’S a yarn about an old buzzard buddy of mine who was so small that he had to reach up to touch the top of a straw hat on the ground. Honest, he was knee high to a grasshopper. But don’t worry, the lad was plenty dynamite when Huns came around. Anyway, the big boys must have looked at him through a magnifying glass because they selected him for day bombing, and sent him out to the field where I was busting up ships. Well, it became my job to teach him to fly. Even in the good old training ship, the “Avro,” he had to use two cushions in order to be able to see over the forward cockpit rim. And even then he had the Devil’s own job trying to reach the rudder bar. But he was one game guy, and he learned fast, I’m telling you. His first solo was perfect, and he continued to do damn fine work in the air.

And then one day, Fate must have given him a kick in the slats. He was up-stairs just practising when, zingo! . . . both his cushions slid off the seat! He couldn’t get them back on, and he couldn’t see over the cockpit rim except by standing up. And when he stood up, he naturally couldn’t get his feet on the rudder bar. Well, the lad sure was in one hell of a fix. But he did the best he could. He throttled the gun, went out of sight in the cockpit to tap the rudder, and got the ship headed down toward the field. Talk about your one-arm paper hangers! That lad was a dozen of them rolled into one. But unfortunately, it wasn’t the day for medals for him. He made a valiant attempt at a pancake landing, but by the time he could get the ship set, the airdrome had slid past him . . . and down he came, level as a billiard table, and right smack onto the roof of the squadron office. And, my dear little buzzards, the C.O. in the flesh was inside. The result was one squadron office gone to hell, one Avro gone also, one midget pilot unhurt but frothing at the mouth, and one C.O. with ten years off his life, and not knowing whether to commit murder, or laugh it off.

P. S. He laughed it off. He was that kind of a reglar guy.

And, then there was the case of a. . . .

OH, oh! Here’s our C.O. and the glint in his eye doesn’t indicate that he’s going to do any laughing. If he asks questions, just tell him that I was explaining the wing co-efficient of an S.E.5 as a means of determining the lift-drift ratio of the U.S.S. Akron. Maybe he’ll believe you at that! S’long!

How the War Crates Flew: Just How Fast?

Link - Posted by David on December 14, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the March 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Just How Fast?

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, March 1933)

WELL, my Fledglings—er, sorry, I should have said Buzzards! Well, anyway, the chin-fest this time is going to be one which I am afraid will shoot a pet belief of yours all to pieces. By the time I get through, you birds will be calling your Uncle Washout all sorts of nasty names, and the main one will be—“liar”! But I’ve been called that by dumber buzzards than you (yes, there are a few I think) so don’t build up any hopes of getting my goat. A Sopwith Camel got that, years ago! However, I’m warning you in advance. If you don’t believe me, then get up and walk out. It’s all the same with me. But, if you do stay, keep your traps zippered up until I’ve emphasized the final period and quotation marks.

I’ve been planning to chin this tune to you for some time, but I’ve delayed doing it until we got to know each other a little better. That is, rather, until I got to know you a little better! Well, I’ve found, according to your letters, that your bark is worse than your bite. And so figuring that though you may toss things my way, when I’m through, my one and only life won’t be hanging in the balance.

So, here it comes. Ever read anything like this?

“Slamming the stick over and stepping hard on left rudder, Jim Collins, keen-eyed eagle of Uncle Sam’s brood, spun around on wing-tip and went thundering straight for the Fokker at a speed well over 200 m.p.h. His twin Vickers yammered harshly, and—”

AND horse collar to you, Jim Collins! And also, horse collar to you, Mr. Author, who lets that sort of stuff drip off your typewriter keys!

You guessed it, Buzzards! I’m going to chin about the speed of all the war flying crates that I and 9,999,999 other dumb peelots made famous. Yeah, I can see that look slipping into your eyes, already. But go ahead—I’m going to chin the truth, the whole truth, so help me!

Jim Collins, or any other pilot during the late mix-up, never went even 200 m.p.h. in level flight. Now when I say, the late mix-up, I’m talking about the World War. Perhaps there’s been another since then, and no one has told me about it. But the World War I mean, is the one that took place between 1914-1918. And during those years no war crate, Yank, British, French, German or Ethiopian, came within 50 miles of a top speed of 200 m.p.h!

All right, all right, sit down! Let’s start right in with the year of 1914 and take a look at the records year by year.

The War, as you all know, and if you don’t, I’m telling you, started in August, 1914. Now up to that date the speed record for land planes was 105 m.p.h., made by Maurice Prevost when he won the Gordon Bennett Cup Race held in France, September 29, 1913. And the speed record for seaplanes was 86.8 m.p.h., made by C. Howard Pixton wrhen he won the Jacques Schneider Maritime Aviation Cup Race (original name of the present Schneider Trophy Contest) held on the Bay of Monaco in March 1913.

Therefore we enter the World War with a top speed of 105 m.p.h. But, don’t overlook the fact that that was the top speed of the fastest racing plane. Not a military ship loaded with guns, ammo, and a bomb or two here and there, but a racing ship stripped of everything possible that would hinder forward progress, and with an engine tuned up for that one race!

Okay, now we turn to the records.

The British sent to the front in the 1914 period, first, the well-known Avro, powered with a Gnome or Le Rhone with a top speed of 65-70 m.p.h. Then there was the B.E. (Bleriot and later the British Experimental) powered with a Renault, that knocked off about 50 m.p.h. Another was the Gnome powered Vickers that slid along at 60-65 m.p.h. And of course the Handley-Page Bomber that had two Rolls-Royce engines, and thundered forward at about 80 m.p.h. Those ships were all two-seaters, or over, and were the vanguard of British ships in France.

Now the French had their good old two-seater Breguet that bent your whiskers back at 55-60 m.p.h. They also had the Bleriot (same as the British) that clicked at around 55 m.p.h. The well-known Caudron that mushed onward at about the same speed. And ditto for the Maurice Farman, the Morane and the early Nieuport. All were two-seaters or bombers save the Bleriot, the Morane and the Nieuport.

AND the Germans? Well, they had the Albatross scout with a Mercedes and. 65-70 m.p.h. to its credit. Then there was the two-seater Aviatik that clicked at around 70-75 m.p.h. And the Taube single-seater monoplane with an Argus engine that could only hit 50 m.p.h. and not go boom!

So taking it all in all the Germans had a general edge of about 5 m.p.h. over the French and British save for the Handley-Page with its twin engine speed of 80 m.p.h. But taking the general top speed average we find it to be around 65 m.p.h. in the first year of the war, or, to be pretty near exact, some 40 m.p.h. below the then existing world’s speed record for all types of aircraft.

Now, in case you think I’m going to go on listing all the various planes year by year, you’re crazy. Such a thing would fill this whole mag. And the C.O. tells me that there are some swell yarns he wants to put in, and for me to go easy on the space. But, I’ve started this fight, and I’m going to finish it by tracing the increase of war plane top speed right through to 1919. I’ll do it by sighting performances of the various leading and famous crates.

Naturally, no World War power made a ship one year, and then tossed it in the ash can for an entirely different design the next. True, that was done in a few cases. But what I’m driving at is that not only were new designs brought out, but the old ones were improved upon. As an example we find the original British Bristol with a Gnome in the nose in 1914 doing around 70 m.p.h., and in 1917 with a Rolls-Royce and a few improvements it did 105 m.p.h.

BUT we’re getting ahead of our chinning. Let’s go back to 1915. That year was really the year that aerial warfare got under way. Prior to then, war flying consisted of reconnaissance and bombing work. But in 1915 the boys got their hands on aerial guns and the works started popping.

The British jacked up the speeds of their old ships a little bit and sent out the first DH single-seater (DH2 Pusher) that could hit 95 m.p.h. That same year the first Sopwith Scout came out with 90 m.p.h. Then there was the first Martinsyde single-seater that made 95 m.p.h. And the fastest of all, the. famous Bristol “Bullet” that did just about 100 m.p.h.

Meanwhile the French got 90 m.p.h. out of a new Nieuport. Some 70 m.p.h. out of a Bleriot scout. And about 5 m.p.h. more out of a new Caudron single-seater. The French seemed to be a bit conservative in their speed figures that year.

That year saw the introduction of the first Fokker. It was called the “Eindecker” and was a single-seater monoplane powered with an Oberursel engine, and had a top speed of 95 m.p.h. The Germans boosted their Albatross speed up to 80 m.p.h. And that was about all they did.

So we see that in the second year of the war England has most of the speed honors. But, believe it or not, the fastest speed is still 5 m.p.h. below the record set in 1913.

However, in 1916, the scrapping nations pulled up their socks and got to work on the idea of shoving their planes through the air at a real good clip.

The British pushed their Avro single-seater up to 100 m.p.h. They came out with a new Bristol that did 105 m.p.h. They made a redesigned Martinsyde do 110 m.p.h. And they sent out the first S.E. an S.E.4 (not S.E.5) that did close to 100 m.p.h. But their greatest achievement was the new DH4 that did around 125 m.p.h. That ship was the fastest of its time.

THE French did a little better by themselves as regards speed in 1916. The most important item was that they came out with the first of the famous Spad pursuit ships. This job, which was powered with a Hispano-Suiza engine, as were all Spads, knocked off 105 m.p.h. The new Caudron twin-engine bomber did 85 m.p.h. which was pretty good for a crate of its size. And the fixed-up Nieuport equaled the top speed of the Spad.

Of course, 1916 was a big year for the Germans. The first Fokker of the famous D series saw front line service that year. Naturally, it was the Dl, and powered with a Mercedes it was good for 105 m.p.h. The Aviatik, with a Benz in the nose had the same speed. And the New Benz-powered Albatross hit the same clip, also. But strange as it may seem, the honey of German ships that year, as far as speed was concerned, was the Benz powered Halberstadt single-seater. The first Halberstadt that year was powered with an Argus and could do 105 m.p.h. But when they stuck a Benz in the nose the ship went up and buzzed along at a nice clip of 120 m.p.h.

And so, at the end of that year we find the British and the Germans pretty much on a par for speed honors, with the French tagging along slightly behind. And not only that, we find that the existing speed record for all types of aircraft has received a good swift kick in the ailerons!

Now, before we step into 1917, let me put a word in for good luck. I have been chinning about the speed of war crates. I have not made any mention of the maneuverability of war crates. So just bear that in mind as we talk on. Speed was an asset, but not the whole thing. So don’t get the idea that just because the French had slower ships that they were doing the poorest job. Far from it, believe you me! In a dog-fight a highly maneuverable ship can trim the pants off a faster ship any day in the week, assuming, of course, that the pilots are equal in skill. So don’t let your grandmother tell you different.

AND so for 1917, the year when supremacy of the air was finally decided for once and for all in the World war.

Perhaps the greatest contribution to the art of smacking things out of the sky that year was made by the British when they sent out to France the Famous Bristol Fighter. The job of that year was powered with a 200 hp. Hissi or a 200 hp. Sunbeam, and it slid along, with full load at 120 m.p.h. Next in line was the well-known DH9 with a Napier-Lion engine. This ship, also a two-seater, could do 110 m.p.h. And then came two of the most famous airplanes ever built. First the S.E.5. at 125 m.p.h., and the Sopwith Camel at 120 m.p.h. Both ships were pursuit jobs, as you all know. And—but why chin more? You know all about their history.

To match the British contributions the French brought out a new Nieuport that could do about 120 under full steam with a Gnome in the nose, and about 115 with a Hisso. In addition to that they stuck a 200 hp. Hisso in a redesigned Spad and got a top speed of 125 m.p.h.

Of course the Germans weren’t asleep, either. The first was their new Mercedes-powered Albatross that clicked at 125 m.p.h. The next was the souped-up Aviatik that made the same speed. Then the Fokker D4 at 120 m.p.h. and later the D5 at 125 m.p.h. And last, but not least, the famous Pfalz with a speed of 120.

And so we find England and Germany hitting it off neck and neck, with the edge in favor of England, due to its higher topspeed average for all types. And particularly due to the introduction of two brand new pursuit ships, the S.E.5, and the Sopwith Camel.

All of which brings us up to 1918 and the final showdown.

As usual, England got the jump by bringing out two brand new types, and improving on all the others. The new types were first the Sopwith Dolphin, a high altitude ship that could do 130 m.p.h., and the Sopwith Snipe that could do a shade over 140 m.p.h. with luck. This ship was considered by many to be the fastest thing in France at the end of the war. It came out about three months before the Armistice was signed. The principle improvement on other British designs was that made on the S.E. series. The S.E.5a came out at 135 m.p.h. Then, too, there was the D.H.9a with an American Liberty engine (two-seater) that did 125 m.p.h. And the Bristol Fighter was put up to 130 m.p.h.

The French simply boosted up the speeds of old designs. They got the Spad up to 135. And they got the Nieuport up to around 130. Outside of that, they slammed into the enemy with what they already had.

The Germans worked on the Albatross scout and got 135 m.p.h. out of it. They also came out with the famous Fokker D7, a ship that was credited with 140 m.p.h. as a top speed. And they also came out with the Fokker Triplane with a speed of about 135 m.p.h. The only other ship improved upon was the Pfalz, which was boosted up to 130 m.p.h.

And there, Buzzards, you have the straight dope on the speed of war flying crates. Mark you! I’m speaking of speed at level flight, not diving speed! That was something different. But when you speak of airplane speed, you speak of speed from here to there, not from up there down to here.

AND so—eh, what’s that? I knew it, I knew it! Why didn’t I speak of Yank planes? Well, here’s why, Buzzard, and be surprised if you will. There was not a single American designed and manufactured ship in action in France during the War. True, there was the American Liberty D.H.9a, but that was fundamentally a British De Haviland design. If the war had lasted longer, the American Thomas-Morse might have seen service over Hunland.

One more thing. What was the fastest thing in the air in France? The Sopwith Snipe, you say? Wrong, Buzzard, wrong! It was the tip of a propeller blade. The tip of a nine foot prop at 1800 revs traveled a shade over the nine and one half miles per minute! Figure it out for yourself, or ask Dad, he knows! S’long.

How the War Crates Flew: Bombs and Bombing

Link - Posted by David on October 5, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the February 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Bombs and Bombing

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters,February 1933)

SIT down, you buzzards, and stay down! Any side remarks and I’ll. . . . Huh? What’s that? Why am I all steamed up? Well, just take a look at this letter. The darn thing explains itself.

Dear Uncle Wash-out:
    I think SKY FIGHTERS is a pretty swell magazine even if it does contain your stuff. But I’m just kidding about the last part. I guess you’ll do all right.
    However, here is a complaint. Wasn’t there anything else besides pursuit ships in the World War? Or were they the only ones you knew how to fly? Seems to me that I’ve read some slick yarns in this mag that had to do with bombing raids. Do you know anything about the technical side of bombing, or are you just plain dumb about that sort of thing?

Henry Craveil

Now, if Henry lived just across the street I’d sure step over and bend a couple of one hundred and twenty pound bombs over his dome. But he happens to live out in Oregon, and that’s too much of a walk for me. So I’ve just got to swallow that there insult, and try to fix Henry up the best I can. And while I’m doing it you other crash hounds can pin back your ears and get a brain full.

Yes, I’ve shoved a few bombers around in my day, and have dropped a couple of eggs here and there. Now don’t go asking me what I hit, because I promised the C.O. of this mag never to tell a lie, and I’m not going to break that promise just to maintain my glorious reputation with you birds.

But, shut up! Let’s get serious.

World War airplanes were divided into three general classes. They were pursuit planes, observation planes, and bombing planes. Of the three classes the pursuit ship was the only one that could perform all three functions. Now, when I say that, I don’t mean to imply that it was a waste of time to have observation ships and bombers in action. Naturally, each type of ship could perform its own particular job better than either of the other two. However, a pursuit ship could serve as a scouting plane, an observation plane, and also drop a total of about eighty to one hundred pounds of bombs. An observation plane could do its job of reconnaissance and drop bombs as well. And perhaps in a pinch serve as a pursuit ship. I say that because the well-known Bristol Fighter could outfly almost any pursuit ship, at least from the standpoint of speed. Another one, too, was the British DH9 powered with the Liberty or Rolls-Royce engine.

But for the sake of this chinfest we’ll say that the general run of observation ships were not good in pursuit work. The bombers, of course, were ships built for the job that the name implies—bombing. However, they could also function as observation ships, for the very plain reason that observing means seeing things with the eyes. And the crew of a bomber naturally didn’t fly with their eyes closed. However, no bomber in the World War could serve as a pursuit job, no matter how much cognac the pilot put under his belt.

LISTEN, buzzard, sit down! What?

What’s all this got to do with bomb dropping?

The answer is, nothing in particular. However, I’ve been using up breath with the idea of first pointing out how the particular job of each of the three general classes of ships used during the war overlapped each other. One of your favorite authors might tell of a pursuit job bombing a place. And you might say, “Horse-feathers! Bombers did that sort of thing!” So I’m just putting in a few words or two to save the authors’ hides. I passed out a couple of cracks at them at other chinfests, so I’ll get back in their good graces now by proving the authenticity of some of the stuff they write. Sure the emphasis is on the “some”! Think an honest war-chicken like me would back ‘em up in everything they said? Huh! I want to go to heaven sometime, you know!

Oh, yes, about bombs.

WELL, as I know, and you should know by now, an aerial bomb is, fundamentally speaking, a container full of high explosive that will detonate and explode when it comes in contact with the ground after its travel through the air. There are all kinds of sizes, shapes and mechanical functions of bombs. However, there are two features that are incorporated in any type of aerial bomb. One is to travel nose first, and the other, to detonate and explode upon contact with an object, or in the case of delayed detonation, to explode after the bomb has penetrated its objective.

In order that bombs will drop nose first, they are of course made heavier at the nose. In other words, pear shaped. To get the idea look at Fig. 1. Now, in order that the bomb will maintain directional stability (not wobble around, or go end over end) the bomb is fitted with rudders, or vanes as they are called. There may be three or four vanes, set equal distances apart at the rear end of the bomb, or I should say, the tail of the bomb. These vanes, when passing through the air, tend to keep the bomb going straight, just as the feathered vanes at the end of an arrow keep the arrow to a straight path of travel. See Fig. 2.

THERE are various ways to make a bomb explode once it strikes its objective. There are, generally speaking, certain types of bombs that have the detonator in the nose. Others have it in the tail. And still others have a detonator in both the nose and tail.

Now, of course, it is not a good idea to have bombs all set to explode when in the bomb racks of your ship. In other words they should be fitted with some sort of a safety device that will keep them from detonating themselves until they have struck the objective. Of the type of bomb I’m talking about (which was used quite generally during the war) there were two kinds of safety devices. The first was a safety pin that had to be yanked out before the detonator could strike the explosive. An idea of this safety pin can be obtained from Fig. 3. Just as in a hand grenade there was a pin that had to be pulled out before you threw the grenade.

The other safety device was a little propeller attached to the end of the detonator. If the fuse was at the tail of the bomb and the bomb exploded by the detonator traveling downward, the detonator rod was threaded so that the little propeller revolving in the air stream would eventually spin free of the rod and allow the detonator to snap down when the bomb
struck. In case you birds are still dumb about that point, take a look at Fig. 4.

Naturally, if the detonator was in the nose the little propeller was fastened to the detonator so that the air stream would spin it around and allow the detonator to move up where it could hit the fuse when the bomb struck, as in Fig. 5. And, of course, you can figure for yourself how the propellers would be set in relation to the detonating pins when-there was a detonator at each end of the bomb.

NOW, just to clear up those two safety devices, let me say that the little propellers do not function until the bomb is traveling through the air, after it has left the ship.

Yes, yes, I know. Why didn’t the little props untwist when the bomb was going through the air and still attached to the bomb rack?

Well, smarty, because there was a second pin, attached to the bomb-rack, that stuck between the little prop blades and thus stopped them from revolving. And the first safety pin that I spoke about, that passed straight through the detonating rod and prevented it from moving, even though the props were off, was also attached to the bomb-rack. So you see, when the bomb was released both safety pins were pulled loose (or rather, the bomb pulled loose from the safety pins) and the bomb went sailing down with its little props spinning, so that the detonators could do their stuff when the bombs struck.

THERE is no need of going into the explosive side of bombs. Different combinations of chemicals and powders made different kinds of explosives. We won’t try to give you a talk on chemistry today. However, there is one point I want to speak of—that’s the item of delayed explosions. For instance, if you are bombing troops and other things on the surface of the ground, you want a bomb that will explode instantly and hurl its death dealing messengers in all directions. But if the bomb must first go through armament, etc., before it can do any worthwhile damage, you naturally have got to have a bomb that will explode after contact. It’s the same principle as shells from artillery guns. And its worked out by a system of delayed fusing. In other words the bomb strikes, the detonator hits the fuse, but the main body of the explosive does not go off instantly. Of course you must realize that when I speak of a delayed explosion I don’t mean an explosion that comes five or ten minutes after the bomb strikes. A delay of one quarter of a second is long enough.

Now, just one more thing before we talk about actual bombing. The bombs that we are chinning about now are aerial bombs that are used for destructive purposes. In short, bombs that will blow the pants off your enemy, and him along with them. But, of course, there are other kinds of aerial bombs. One is the parachute bomb that you release so that it will strike and light up the surrounding country in case you are making a night landing. And the other type is the flare bomb that is used for signalling purposes. Both types arc more or less electrically operated. In other words the bomb is ignited as it passes through the air.

Like many other functions of airplanes, bombing is often all planned out ahead of time. That is, bombing of a certain objective by bombing planes. Let us say that Brigade has issued an order to a bombing squadron to try and knock the daylights out of a railhead back of the enemy lines. The first thing to figure out is what types of bombs to use. In other words instantaneous or delayed action bombs. Then comes the selection of the time to make the raid (whether daylight or at night) and how many planes to use.

NATURALLY the bombers must have a pursuit escort. Some scrapping ships to keep away the enemy should he stick his nose in and try to upset the apple cart. That, of course, is arranged by Brigade. The pursuit ships will meet the bombers at a predetermined point, escort them over, and escort them back—we hope!

Now, it must be figured out before hand, as near as possible, just how the bombing is to be done. Shall it be one ship at a time, or all at once. However, no matter what Is decided, the accuracy of dropping the bombs depends upon the speed of your plane, your altitude and the direction of the wind. By plotting those three items you can set your bomb sight so that you will have a fair chance of hitting your objective. Bomb sights of today have been worked out so that they are pretty accurate. In the late war they weren’t so good, although the boys did a darn fine job with what they had.

SOME of you buzzards think that all a bomber does is fly over its target and drop a bomb, and fly away. That’s all wrong. A bomb is released before you reach the target. And if you have set your bomb sight correctly the bomb strikes the target when the plane is directly over said target. See Fig. 6.

You ask why, eh? Well here’s why.

The plane is traveling through the air. That means that every part of the plane has a certain amount of momentum. In other words, anything that leaves the plane travels forward a certain distance before gravity can take full charge. Naturally, gravity has its effect the instant the bomb is released, but it takes full charge gradually so the downward path of the bomb is curved. (As shown in Fig. 6.) Therefore the bomb must be released before the target is reached, as it travels forward as it travels downward.

Now, if the plane is traveling into the wind its actual ground speed is reduced, though, of course, air speed (the speed at which the wings pass through the air) is constant. It follows then that when the bomb is released its forward travel will also be reduced by wind resistance, and it must therefore be released when the plane is closer to the target, than it would be if the plane was flying with the wind. Naturally when the wind speed is estimated and calculated, the altitude at which to fly is then determined. Or rather the best altitude at which to fly. In other words if it takes eight seconds for your bomb to drop from a bombing altitude of 1000 feet and your plane travels ground speed at the rate of two thousand feet in eight seconds, you must set your bomb sight so that the target will be in the “finder” (center of the sight) when you are two thousand feet away from the target. To sum it all up, you estimate wind speed and direction, then set your sight in accordance with the number of seconds it will take the bomb to drop from a stipulated altitude. Then you bomb from that altitude. And if you wipe out the objective, maybe we’ll give you a medal!

THE releasing of a bomb is simple. As the nose must drop first, the bomb is put in the rack, nose forward. It is gripped by what are called “toggles” at the nose and the tail. By pulling the toggle release, which is simply a lever in the cockpit with a wire leading down to the toggle catches, the catches are opened and the weight of the bomb itself makes it drop free. Some planes had individual bomb-racks under the wings. Each bomb could be released separately or all the whole works at once. The big bombers had vertical racks. In other words the bombs were placed one upon the other. When the lowest one was released, the one above it automatically dropped into the lowest one’s place.

Bombing by bombers and some observation ships was an art all its own. In pursuit ships bombing was a hit-and-miss affair. First, you oniy had about twenty pound bombs. Just enough for “surface” damage, such as in trench straffing. Second, you had no sights (though modern pursuit ships have bomb sights). And third, you often released your bombs on pursuit ships without any idea of hitting anything. That was, of course, when some enemy pursuit ships I jumped on you, and you wanted to reduce the weight of your ship, and thus increase its maneuverability qualities.

So there, Henry, you insulting buzzard, is some dope on bombs and bombing. And by the look in the C.O.’s eye I think he’s about set to drop an egg on your Uncle Wash-Out—so consider me gone!!

How the War Crates Flew: Top Man Wins… Maybe!

Link - Posted by David on September 7, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the January 1933 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Top Man Wins… Maybe!

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, January 1933)

WELL, I’ve had you upstarts under my wing for so long now that I guess I can’t call you fledglings any longer. Of course there are some of you who are worse than fledglings. But still some others of you have been paying attention, and have actually learned a thing or two about this business of war flying, and what have you. So from now on I’ll consider you all as promoted to the next grade, and call you buzzards. But, mind you, any cracks out of turn, or any funny business, and back you all go to the rank of fledgling. And take it from Uncle Wash-Out, there ain’t nothing lower in a pilot’s estimation than a fledgling. Okay, buzzard—here we go!

A few chinfests back (the C.O. of this mag will give you the exact date) I told you the hows and whys of Getting Your Hun. The main point I leaned on was the great amount of preparation before you even took your crate into the air. Well, this time I’m going to deal with technical points after you get upstairs and spot your man.

Now, read this over.

“Spandaus guns yammered savagely and twin streams of fire reached out for the Yank ship. But the pilot in that Yank plane was not to be caught napping. Slamming into a half roll, he immediately came out of it and zoomed up to cartwheel over and go plunging straight down on the German ship, his Vickers singing their song of death. It was all over then, for the Yank was top man, and top man always wins!”

Does that sound familiar? Sure it does! You’ve read something more or less like that in fifty different stories. But here is where I step into the picture and maybe make myself the nasty antipathy of a whole lot of your favorite authors. And maybe before I get through, the C.O. of this mag will toss me into the klink and get a greaseball to double for me. But, come what may, I’ve got to be honest with you buzzards. In these chinfests I’ve got to stick to the technical truth. In others words, I’ve got to be on the up-and-up. Now, don’t get the idea that I’m only trying to pick your stories apart. That’s not the idea. I’m just going to elaborate on points that your authors didn’t have time to enlarge upon. Their stuff is fiction—action—boom-boom stuff—and all the rest of it. But my stuff is straight stuff. Oh, maybe dry in spots, but the true dope.

Okay, lean on this. Top man in a scrap does not always win!

The method of getting an enemy ship depends upon a lot of things. The most important thing is what kind of a ship it is. In other words, you don’t go after two-seaters the the way you go after a pursuit ship. And you don’t go after a pursuit ship the way you go after a bomber. And you don’t go after any of them the way you go after a balloon.

Of course, there is one item that applies to them all. That is, getting the old machine-gun bullets in where they will do the most damage. But thinking about it and accomplishing it are two different things.

Now, for example, let’s take the case of two pursuit ships scrapping it out. Let us say that the Hun comes in from the east, and you come in from the west. You are both at the same altitude and you spot each other at the same time.

WELL, naturally, both of you will start to climb. The more altitude you have the more advantage you have. (Don’t forget, now, I’m talking about pursuit ships.) Why is altitude an advantage? Well, buzzards, as I’ve told you many times before, a pursuit ship pilot can only shoot his guns in one direction—forward. Therefore, he has no protection at the rear. It stands to reason, then, that the ship with the most altitude has the better chance of maneuvering down on the other’s tail, or as it is often called, his blind spot.

But in this case we’re talking about, we’ll say that neither you nor your enemy get greater altitude. You draw close together at the same level. Well, you both probably take nose to nose shots at each other. Scoring any damage that way is not common occurrence for the simple reason that you are both protected by a wall of metal. And that wall of metal is your engine. Also, a plane coming dead on to you presents a mighty small target. If you don’t think so, well, the next time you go up fly nose to nose with some other ship and take a good look for yourself. Fig. 1.

WELL, you can bring your enemy down by flying right into him. But that would mean curtains for you, too. And, besides, ten times out of ten, your enemy doesn’t want to cash in that way. So he pulls out of the way at the last minute. Usually he zooms up in a climbing turn, hoping to drop down on your tail. Well, you beat him to it and do the same thing yourself. And what’s the result? You have both gained altitude, and you have dropped into what the boys used to call the ring-around-rosey, or the tail chase tail formation.

Take a look at Fig. 2, and you’ll see what I mean. You both are on the outside of circle, headed in opposite directions, and chasing each other’s tail around in the air. Naturally, you both are trying to get around faster than the other so that you can plant a nice little telling burst in the other’s tail. But you find out that the other ship has just as much speed as you have, and the result is that you both stay on opposite sides of a big invisible circle.

All right, buzzards, I know what you’re going to ask. So sit down, and I’ll tell you. Why not shorten the diameter of your circle? In other words, why not bank more sharply? Well, it’s a swell idea if you can do it. And if you can, why of course you have a beautiful broadside shot at your enemy. But just remember that your enemy isn’t flying around and reading a copy of SKY FIGHTERS. Not by a long shot. If he’s a good pilot he’s trying to pull the same stunt on you!

WELL, of course you can’t keep on going around in a circle all the time. If you keep it up long enough you’ll both starve to death. So someone has to break the circle—bust up the ring-around-rosey idea. But whoever breaks it has got to be quick and careful. Once you pull out of it your opponent has a couple of precious seconds in which he can whip around and let you have it.

One of the best ways to do that (as proven in the late Big Fuss) was to pull up and over toward the inside of the ring. In other words, you try to climb up and come down on top of your man. His defense against that is to do the same thing himself (and bring both of you right back where you were) or else to whip over and down and then up. The idea being to get you from underneath before you can bring your guns down to train on him.

RIGHT there is a good example of what I said at the beginning. If your enemy should be successful in whipping down and up before you whipped up and down, why it would be a case of top man getting it in the neck.

In view of the fact that I’ve illustrated my top man idea I’ll end this scrap by saying that you catch him napping and shoot his pants off, and his life along with them. That, of course, is the final thing in every scrap—I mean, that one or the other pulls a surprise maneuver that catches the other napping and allows the chance for the killing burst.

But before I speak about observation ships, I want to point out another example of top man not winning. Suppose when you break the circle by zooming up and over and your enemy slams into a quick half-roll and dives away. Well, of course, he takes a chance that you may be able to slide around and get him. But he has a few precious seconds in which to get up a lot of diving speed, before you are in a position to dive after him. The result, of course, is that you are top man, but your enemy is diving away from you, putting air space between you and him, which means a longer range shot for you. And not only that—he presents a rotten target. He is edge on to the ground, and you’d be surprised how a ship diving away from you seems to melt in with things below on the ground. The ground is dark and the outline of parts of the ship presented to you are also dark. In other words, the ship forms no silhouette, like it would if there was a background of sky or clouds. To get the idea, look at Fig. 3.

And now for the two-seater ships.

YOU are patroling around and suddenly you see an enemy two-seater taking pictures behind the lines. Naughty! naughty! That pair of young men must be taught a very lasting lesson right pronto! So you go down after them. But do you drop down on their tail?

Well, if you do and they see you coming, you won’t need to worry any more about how you’re going to pay your losses in that poker game in the mess last night. And why? Well, buzzards, there is an observer in that two-seater, parked in the rear cockpit. And when he left his home drome he took along at least one, and probably two, guns mounted on a swivel mounting that enables him to shoot in any direction except forward and down. And you can bet your sweet life that he still has them with him. So, if you come piling down from the rear and he sees you, well, you’re just going to get a whole mouthful of bullets that won’t taste good.

OF COURSE, there is an exception to everything, and it is possible to pile down on an enemy two-seater from the rear, and pop it right out of the sky. But such a case is only when the occupants of that two-seater are napping, or are too busy doing something else, and therefore fail to see you before your bullets are slapping into them. Such an occurrence could happen, if you got the sun at your back. In that case its brilliance would blot you out of their sight.

But enough of what you shouldn’t do. Let’s get on with what you should do.

In this case we’ll say that it is not a surprise attack. The enemy sees you coming. Well, no matter what angle you come down from, you will be in their range of fire. And naturally you cannot come down to their level though out of range, and then bore in from the side, for the simple reason that a two-seater doesn’t have to go into any ring-around-rosey maneuver. It doesn’t, because the observer can train his guns on you while the pilot flies the ship dead ahead.

All right, buzzards, all right! I’m getting to it, so keep quiet.

The thing to do is to attack the two-seater in its blind spot. And the blind spot of a two-seater is the area underneath the ship, extending from the prop to the tail skid. Neither pilot nor observer can bring their guns to train on any part of that area. And so the idea is to dive down under the two-seater and come up at it from underneath. In other words, hang on your prop and plant your burst right smack through the floorboards of that two-seater. And no matter which way, he goes, you just try and keep in that blind spot. Fig. 4.

And so I murmur again—what do you mean, top man always wins?

Now for bombers. And are those babies tough! Present-day bombers, as you buzzards probably know, have about as many blind spots as a goldfish bowl. And the old wartime bombers didn’t have so many themselves. About the only blind area they presented to attacking planes was directly under the forward parts of the ship, and close up under the wings.

And so you won’t be misled, let me tell you that the best way to get one of those big babies was to take along a couple of your squadron pals with you. The idea being that while a couple of you worried the occupants of the bomber the rest would pile in from the side they weren’t looking at, and get in your shots. But should you be alone, the best way was to take your pot shots from underneath. Top man wins, eh? Oh, yeah?

NOW, before I rush myself away from you, I’ll just mention a word or two about top man and balloons. Getting a balloon is a job that really is ninety-nine and nine-tenths surprise. You have several factors against you. First, the men in the balloon are keeping a sharp eye out for you. Second, the ground defense of that bag is also keeping a sharp watch for you. Third, it is possible for the bag to be hauled down before you can close in on it. Fourth, you can be exposed to terrific fire from the ground. Therefore, the bigger the surprise, the better chance you have of getting the bag.

LET’S say you pile down on it, and miss. Meantime you are diving through lead hell—that lead hell doesn’t miss. Well, you may be top man, but it’s curtains, unless luck is with you and you can fly clear before you’re struck in a fatal spot.

Well, let’s attack another way. Fly close to the ground (making it hard for the men in the bag to spot you against the ground, and completely hidden from the bag’s ground forces), then at the last moment zoom up at it and let drive. Your shots go home and the bag goes blooey. It was top man, wasn’t it? And in the meantime you are top man to the ground forces, and they may nail you before you can zoom out of range. Fig. 5.

So, as I said at the beginning—it depends upon a lot of conditions and cirmustances whether the top man wins or loses. In most scraps it is favorable to be top man—but that rule does not hold good all of the time—and don’t let Santa Claus tell you that it does!

How the War Crates Flew: Konking Engines

Link - Posted by David on July 6, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the November 1932 number of Sky Fighters:

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’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. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Konking Engines

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, December 1932)

ALRIGHT, YOU FLEDGLINGS, sit up and pay attention! – Huh? What am I sore about? Well, I’m not exactly sore, just a little bit nettled, if you get what I mean. Its this way. A flatspinning fledgling out Arkansas way (I won’t mention his name) has sent me a letter that calls for a light in any country. Yup, its little short of an insult to all us wonderful war pilots.

He says in part:

    I have been reading air magazines for a long time, and although I enjoy the stories, particularly Air Fighters yarns, there is one thing that gives me a pain in the neck. Why, does the Hero always have his engine go blooey just when he’s all set to knock some Fokker out of the sky?
    Did you war pilots ever inspect your engines, or were you just too darn lazy? In other words, there were too many forced landings in the World War to suit me. I’ll bet I’d have kept the old crate going, if I had been over there!

Now I ask you, is that conceit, or is that conceit? However, in view of the fact that some of you other babes-in-wings have hinted at the same thing, I’m going to devote this meeting to konked engines, and how they got that way. If I get too technical, its just too bad for you. So button back your ears!

Before I start, though, I’ll stick in a word about forced landings in general. No pilot ever asked or prayed for one! And we’ve all had them. Right from me, the greatest, down to you, the poorest. A few years ago the papers were full of news about H.M. Prince of Wales falling off his horse. People began to get the idea that the Prince did not know how to ride, which was certainly the wrong idea. Mr. Will Rogers cleared that point up when he asked, “What’s the Prince going to do when his horse stumbles and falls, stay up there?” Well, that also goes for pilots with konked engines. What are they going to do? Walk around on the clouds while the ship glides down?

But to get real serious. Many forced landings during the late war were due to carelessness on the part of the pilot. But an equal number were just tough luck. We’ll pass over the carelessness part and just deal with the tough luck. In short, what were the things that made the old power plant give up?

All the answers to that would fill up this whole magazine a couple of times. So we’ll just deal with the major causes. Like in an automobile engine there are three important things in an airplane engine. The oiling system, the carburation system and the ignition system. All three are absolutely indispensable to the proper functioning of the engine, and the failure of any one of them will cause the other two to fold up.

Take the carburation system. The gas used during the war was usually the best that could be turned out. It was high test, AA, No.1, etc. But, the facilities for storing it at the squadron, often were not of the best. Careful as the pilot and mechanics might be, a few drops of water sometimes got into the gas tank. Eventually those drops of water got into the carburetor. Water being heavier than gas, they collected around the base of the needle valve and prevented gas from being sucked through into the cylinder head. Naturally, the engine stopped because it was gas starved.

Sometimes those drops of water didn’t get as far as the carburetor. They got stuck in a bend in the feed line—a bend that went upwards. The result was that the carburetor was blocked off from gas.

IN EITHER case, the line and the carburetor had to be blown free of water before the engine would hit on all six, or twelve. Now I’ll admit that sometimes the suction of your engine was great enough to suck the water clear, but lots of times it wasn’t. So you’d have to land and clear out the line on the ground.

And another thing. Air engines during the war, were comparatively speaking, mighty delicate pieces of machinery. Just let a few specks of dirt get in with the gas (all gas was strained into the tank as a precaution against that) and sure as the Lord made little apples, those specks of dirt would find their way into the carburetor and gum up the works. Most times they’d get under the needle valve seat, and keep it open, with the result that the carburetor would flood, and your engine would be gassed to death.

And one more thing about gas and carburetors. Vibration from violent maneuvering, to get the heck away from that Hun, would shake loose some of the feed line joints. The next thing you knew the raw gas would be spilling out into God’s open spaces, instead of into the carburetor. And I’m not even saying a word about a Spandaus bullet nicking a feed line, or puncturing your gas tank.

Now, take the oiling system. Most air engines during the war were oiled by what was known as the splash system. Your engine of today is oiled by force feed, or a combination of splash and force feed. In the war engines the big end bearing of the piston slapped down into a sump full of oil and splashed oil all over the place. Oil reached the parts missed by the splash by working its way by centrifugal force through hollowed out channels. Of course, with force feed, you have an oil pump working off the cam shaft, that pumps oil to all necessary parts of the engine. However, with the war engines the oiling system was often put on the blink just the way the gas system was. In other words, some dirt would lodge itself in one of those hollowed out channels, block off an important bearing, and cause said bearing to burn out, due to lack of lubrication. And it did not have to be actual dirt either. A little gob of crusted grease would do the trick. True, engine failure, due to the failing of the oiling system was not particularly common. At least not in my experience. However, it did happen. And nine times out of ten, all the care in the world would not have prevented it.

There’s one thing you fledglings sometimes forget. That is, that the war crates were built and flown eighteen to twenty years ago. In other words, the ships you toot around today, have incorporated in them almost twenty years of aeronautical progress.

Now don’t get me wrong. As I said at another meeting, I’m not trying to give you the impression that we war pilots were supermen, etc. I’m just trying to bring to light a few of the things we bucked up against when you fledglings were doing flat spins in your cribs.

AND now for some words about the ignition system. Believe it or not, eighty per cent of the troubles that happen to your automobile are due to the ignition. If you doubt that, ask the first automotive ignition specialist you meet. The same thing held true with air engines. In your car you have battery ignition. In the war crates you had magneto ignition. Of course you have to interrupt me, and ask why? Well, a battery is additional weight for one thing. And for another, there was no ignition battery during the war that could stand being tipped upside down without the electrolite (liquid content of a wet battery) spilling out.

Yes, I know, I know! There were dry batteries to be sure, and planes that had wireless sending sets used them. But, you cannot recharge a dry cell. And that would call for new batteries darn near every patrol. And that would be too expensive for any government, even though said government had decided not to pay their war debts!

NOW I could get so technical that you’d go ground looping, but I’ll spare you, and just deal with ignition troubles in general. The first, and a very common one—spark plugs quitting. In most cases it was due to the plugs getting carboned up. The gas used in war crates was, as I have told you, very high test. In other words, it ignited, and how! Now, if the rings in the piston are not so good, and the oil ring fails to wipe the cylinder walls clear of all excess oil on the downward stroke, that oil is going to be burned when the vaporized gas is ignited. The result, of course, is carbon that collects on the spark plug points. Presently the gap between the points is closed up with carbon and the plug stops firing. Of course one plug going out does not necessarily mean a forced landing. But it means a loss of maximum power and a ragged engine. I once had the actual experience of getting back home with three plugs quitting on me. But that was in a rotary engine, and the inertia of the revolving cylinders aided by the six other firing plugs (a 9-cylinder Bentely engine) enabled me to make the grade, thank goodness! However, in a stationary engine, more than one plug quitting means that you’ll have a forced landing, nine times out of ten.

Of course the major part of an ignition system is made up of wires. Each wire, naturally has a definite purpose, else it wouldn’t be used. Therefore, if any one of them gets loose, it stands to reason that something is going to happen And something does. Any spark plug wires that shake loose and hit against the engine block instantly short circuit the cylinder for which they were intended. And let the engine ground wire work loose and the whole system goes on the blink. Now, when I say ground wire, I don’t mean a wire leading to the ground, terra-firma in other words. All ignition systems have a definite course of travel for that invisible thing called electricity. In your car it starts from the battery and goes right through your engine and back to the battery again. The path of return is called the “Ground.” In other words it has got to get back where it started. The part of it that is spent is made up for by the generator. To be more definite, the current starts from the battery, is maintained by the generator which also shoots it back to recharge the battery again. In the airplane engine of the war days, the magneto functioned as the battery, and generator combined. It still does in a lot of today’s ships. If wet batteries are used they are used mostly for lighting in the cabin, etc. After all, a battery is added weight, and a magneto gives a hotter spark, so naturally, everything is in favor of magneto ignition in airplane engines, instead of battery ignition.

Now, of course, one could say that constant inspection of your engine and its various parts would go a long ways toward preventing any of the faults of which I have been talking, coming to pass. And to a certain extent, that is true. And it is also true that we inspected our ships before each patrol until we were blue in the face. But in those days all the little kinks had not been ironed out of engines, and their construction was not of the best, so things did happen. I don’t mean to say that we had forced landings every time we took off. Far from it. But we did have plenty. Some of us, more than our share, perhaps. But we never prayed for them, and we did everything possible to prevent them. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a perfect aero engine. Our experiences during the war were ground work for engineers to work upon. So the next time your hero gets a konked engine just as he’s going to blast that Fokker apart, just bear in mind that he hasn’t got a 1932 aero engine up there in the nose. Either that, or else the author forces the poor bird down so that he can be taken prisoner and later escapes with valuable information swiped right off the Kaiser’s desktop.

But anyway, keep on writing in your questions fledglings, because, after all, I don’t get really and truly nettled when you take cracks at us broken-down eagles who used to make three-point landings . . . upside down! Cheese it! . . . The C.O. of this magazine!

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