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How the War Crates Flew: Tricky Ships

Link - Posted by David on June 8, 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.

Tricky Ships

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, November 1932)

POWERLESS to do a single thing about it, the members of the 23rd pursuits watched the lone Camel flatspinning down to total destruction. Its pilot was plainly visible, battling the controls. But his frantic efforts were to no avail. Seconds later the nose struck, flames leaped skyward, and another pilot was added to the long list of tricky ship victims. . . .

And that, fledglings, was the way more than one Hun-getter checked in his chips during the late war . . . a victim of a tricky ship, not Spandaus lead. Now, don’t go getting the idea that those lads were dumb pilots, else they wouldn’t have allowed their crates to throw them. That’s not the idea at all. More than a few crack pilots got into trouble with a tricky ship and lost the decision. What we are going to try and point out this meeting is that during the late war a peelot had to be a heads-up peelot for reasons other than those manufactured in Germany.

Present day ships are so well designed and constructed that you can almost go to sleep and let them fly on by themselves. They are steady as a rock even in pretty punk weather, and when anything does happen there is always the good old ’chute-pack on your back. All you have to do is step overboard, count six and pull the ring. But the war crates? Ah, there you have something different . . . mighty different, and don’t you forget it! In the first place, they were all designs of 1914-1918 vintage, naturally. Designers didn’t know as much then as they do now. And, there were no parachutes for pilots. The Germans started using ’chutes during the last year of the war, but the Yanks, English and French never had them except for balloon work.

That statement may surprise you, after some of the war-air yarns that you’ve been reading. But it happens to be a fact, and any war peelot will check on that statement.

But to get back to the business of these tricky ships. That questionasking fledgling over there in the corner looks like he’s ready to burst with curiosity, so I’ll talk fast and maybe choke him off.

JUST for the heck of it, we’ll take some of the war crates, one by one, and elaborate on their tricky features and peculiarities.

Of course, the Sopwith Camel is the first on the list. Of all the tricky ships that crossed over No-Man’s-Land the Camel was the trickiest of them all. A wonderful stunting crate, and great stuff in a dog scrap, but my, my, how you had to watch that baby and check its tendency to throw you for a flock of wooden kimonos!

The Camel was powered with a Clerget, Le Rhone, and later for high altitude work, with a 210 Bentely. All three were rotary engines. And all three gave the ship its nasty desire to flip over and down on right wing and into a tight spin. It was propeller torque that did that. As I explained at another meeting, propeller torque is a tendency for a ship to go in the opposite direction to the rotation of the propeller blades. In a Camel the prop rotated from right to left (standing in front of the prop). Therefore the ship would try to swing to the right (the pilot’s right when in the cockpit). Naturally, the way to counteract that was to keep on a bit of left rudder all the time. In other words, when you wanted to make a right bank you really eased up a bit on left rudder and let the torque carry you around, instead of actually putting on right rudder. The Camel was also rigged to whip around on a dime, and that helped the engine torque idea all the more. There was no dihedral on the top wings, but there was about two degrees on the bottom ones.

What’s that? What’s dihedral?

Well, Fledgling, dihedral of airplane wings is the angle of a wing upwards and outwards to the horizontal. In other words, if a wing is pefectly flat it has no dihedral, but if it tilts upwards it has. No dihedral reduces the horizontal stability of a plane, and in this way. The area under a tilted flat wing is the same on either side of the fuselage. But when there is dihedral the area (called horizontal equivalent) becomes increased on the down-tilted side and increased on the up-tilted side. Therefore the natural reaction is for the plane to right itself to an even keel.

Naturally the dihedral on the lower wings of a Camel was put there so that the ship wouldn’t fly completely wild, but still be a fast maneuvering ship. Never having experienced such a thing, I can’t go on record definitely, but I would say that flying a Camel with no dihedral on any of the wings would be just like going down a mountain road at midnight, with both headlights on the blink. You’d just hang on and pray that you didn’t hit anything.

WHENEVER a pilot slipped up in alertness and engine torque whipped a Camel over on its right wing, it always fell into a tight spin. Now a spin is nothing to get grayhaired about, even in a Camel, if you have altitude. BUT, the camel was so darn sensitive to the controls that when you took it out of a spin you had to be mighty careful lest it didn’t flip right over into a spin in the opposite direction. In case you don’t know, you stop a plane from spinning by moving the controls as though you wanted the ship to spin in the other direction. But as soon as the ship stopped spinning the original way, you checked its tendency to flop over on the opposite side, and began to get the nose up. In a Camel split-second checking was in order. You couldn’t take your time about it. The instant the ship stopped spinning you had to check and get the nose up, else you went spinning down in the opposite direction, and had the whole darn job to do all over again.

THERE was also another tricky feature of the Camel, and one which cost many lives. That was the tendency of the ship to go past the vertical when diving.

You would start a steep dive in a Camel and unless you watched the ship the nose would start to swing back to the rear, and before you knew it you were diving backwards as though you were going to pull an outside loop. The way to get out of that was to pull the stick back so that the nose would start moving forward, and then when you got vertical again to slowly ease the nose up. But it was right at that moment when a lot of chaps checked out of the world, and for this reason. When a Camel’s nose starts back toward the vertical, after being past it, it comes slowly at first but as it reaches the vertical it develops a vicious tendency to whip upward in a zoom. If you don’t check that and hold the ship steady in a vertical dive, and ease up slowly, why, the result is that you lose your wings. The savage up-thrust of the plane, with the top surfaces of the ship broadside to the line of motion, just wipes the wings off as though they were so much paper.

Now, if you’ve been listening to me, instead of falling asleep like that fledgling over there, why, you’ll realize that both of the principal tricky features of a Camel can be hooked up together. But, in case you don’t, it’s like this. You’re buzzing along, and start to make a right bank, a split-arc turn. You take off too much left rudder, and zowie, engine torque whips you over to the right and into a spin. You start to take it out, don’t check it in time and zowie, it flops over into an opposite spin. You start to take it out, check it this time, but before you realize it you’re diving past the vertical before you’ve had time to start getting the nose up. Well, you try to get the nose forward to the vertical, and then when it gets to the vertical you don’t hold it steady. Zowie the plane zooms up, the wings come off, and zowie . . . no more peeloting for you in this world! Now, do you get the idea?

ANOTHER tricky ship that Sopwith also made was the Sopwith Pup. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t what you’d call a dangerous ship. It was simply a crate that made you stay awake if you cared anything about seeing the girl friend again. It was a very small job, and naturally very light. And being light, it floated like a feather. And as it floated like a feather, the job of landing was just that much more difficult. Time and time again (until you got the hang of things) a greenhorn pilot would overshoot the field. Of course that’s okay provided the engine is still functioning. You simply feed it the hop, go around and try again. But in the event of a forced landing, why, the story was different. You only had one chance then, and if you didn’t make good you were just out of luck. The Pup came out before the Camel but was used mostly for training purposes. It was so small and light that it couldn’t stand the gaff in a dog-scrap.

In the early part of 1918 the Sopwith outfit came out with a ship called the Snipe. It was an improvement on the Camel, and was intended for high altitude work. Only two Snipe squadrons got out to France before the Armistice, and those only for a few weeks. But they certainly knocked the pants off the Fokkers, which proves what swell ships they were. The first model was known as the Unmodified Snipe. It was the tricky job. The fuselage was barrel shaped and the rudder and tail surfaces a bit too small. The result was that when you got into a spin it was the task of your life-time to get it out. The reason for that was this. The fuselage being so big and the tail surfaces so small, the slip-stream didn’t strike all of the surfaces. When the ship went into a spin an air-lock would be formed between the rudder and the elevators. That would practically render the controls useless. In other words the tail surfaces were so blanketed by the size of the fuselage that they wouldn’t get the proper grip on the air. (Fig. 2.) Once the ship got into a spin it was difficult to present a flat spin developing when you tried to take it out. It was practically impossible to come out of a flat spin. What you had to do was go back into a tight spin again and make another try to get past the flat spinning point. Just so’s you won’t be too confused about my jabbering, a tight spin is when the wings revolve about the fuselage as the axis. And a flat spin is when the plane pivots around the nose in a gyroscopic motion. In other words, the plane is at a slight angle to the vertical and the whole plane goes swinging around in a circle, sidewise.

Yeah, no fooling, a spin in an Unmodified Snipe was not so hot. We speak from experience about that item. One day during a joyhop we slipped into a spin at ten thousand feet, and it took us just eight thousand feet to get out of it. Another two thousand feet and yours truly wouldn’t be here chinning with you fledglings.

Later that fault was corrected in what was called the Modified Snipe. The elevators were made a bit bigger and the ship had a balanced rudder and balanced ailerons. And if you don’t know what those things are, why, just take a look at Fig. 3.

THE well known Spad might be called a tricky ship because it was more or less a flying brick, and didn’t have much of a gliding angle. Naturally, all that means that the Spad was heavy, and it was, darned heavy in proportion to the wing surface. Under full power it was a sweet ship, but when you cut the gun you had to look out. The nose just plopped right down and you started diving hellbent. In the event of a forced landing you had to decide on your field mighty quick, because you didn’t have much time to think it over. You just naturally lost ground too fast. We once had a Spad forced landing. The engine konked at two thousand feet and we were just able to make two and one-half gliding turns to get into a field. But, of course, maybe a GOOD pilot could have made five. Now, you know what we think of us!

Speaking of landing reminds me of the Sopwith Dolphin, a high altitude scout that came out in 1918. The cockpit was right under the top wing. In fact we got into it through an opening in the wing. It was a smooth job until it came time to land . . . then, hold her Newt! If you ground looped it was just too bad. Why? Well, you usually went over on your back, and there you were, head down in the cockpit and no way to get out because the opening in the top wing was right smack against the ground. And if the ship caught fire . . . well, you can figure that out for yourself! After several chaps got burned alive or had their necks broken, braces were put on the top wing so as to give the peelot exit room when he needed it.

A LOT of your heros in this mag fly the good old S.E.5 and S.E.5a, but we can’t list either as a tricky ship, because it was only tricky when the peelot was just plane dumb. We mean this. The S.E. had what was known as an adjustable tail plane. In other words, from the cockpit you could adjust the tail plane (section to which the elevators are attached), so that it would tilt up or down. In other words, you could make the ship nose heavy or tail heavy, just as you wished. When taking off you would tilt the tail plane upward and that would help you get into the air sooner. And in landing you’d do the same thing because the reaction would be for the nose to go up, and thus you would have less trouble getting the tail down for a nice three point landing. But when you forgot about that tail-plane the ship got real tricky. For instance, you might pile into an S.E., slam home the juice and go tearing across the field. If the tail-plane happened to be tilted down you’d probably dig your prop into the ground. Another case is when you’re landing and over-shoot the field. Well, you feed the hop to go around again, and pull back the stick to get more altitude. Well, if the tail plane has been tilted up, as it should be for a landing, why, you’ll just go zooming up quicker than you expected, and if you don’t re-adjust the tail plane you’ll find yourself on your back at a rather low altitude for that sort of thing. So, of course, S.E. peelots remembered that they had a tail-plane just like they remembered they had an engine in the nose!

WELL, here comes that hard-boiled C.O. of this mag, and the look in his eye says, scram. But before I do, just let me lip another word or two. Don’t get the idea that we bohunks who flew the war crates were supermen. Far from it, believe you, me! But some of the ships were tricky, as I’ve been explaining, and the war peelot who went to sleep on the job, or didn’t keep his mind on the race, was asking for a lot of trouble that wasn’t German-made, either. But even a dumb peelot could handle them okay, if he paid attention to his knitting. And the very fact that we used to fly them, and are still alive, proves the above statement beyond all possible argument.

And the same to you! S’long!

How the War Crates Flew: Getting Your Hun

Link - Posted by David on May 11, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the October 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.

Getting Your Hun

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, October 1932)

PETE BANKS, of the 65th Pursuits, flashed into a screaming half roll, and went thundering down to pour burst after burst into the checkered Fokker. . . .

And then the story goes on to tell how Pete finally got his Fokker and returned home to be made round-shouldered by all the medals they pinned on him. But, if the truth be known, Pete, I wouldn’t pin a medal on you. Sure, I’d tell you that you were a swell guy for getting that Hun. And then I’d turn around and ask you why you wasted so much costly ammunition. Huh? What’s that? Oh, it was just that way in the story. Well, then I guess that it would be a pretty good idea if we told these fledglings here a little about the technical side of getting Huns.

Now, just so’s we’ll get off on the right foot we’ll make this statement. In the final analysis the only thing that really counts is getting your Hun. If you can bring him down by tossing tomatoes at him, why so much the better. But during the late war the recognized method was shooting them down with nice stinging bullets. However, there are ways and ways to get an enemy ship.

And, believe it or not, you do a big part of the job of getting an enemy ship before you leave the ground. What’s that? Why, you ask? Well, give me time to tell you about it. Just sit still, and don’t be fussing around so much.

Now let us say that we are flying an S.E.5a, powered with a 210 hp. Hisso-Viper engine. On that kind of ship we’d have two Vickers guns mounted on the engine cowling and geared to shoot between the revolving propeller blades. And, mounted on the top center section, we’d have a single Lewis gun that fired over the top of the propeller blades. Now, right here I want to put in a word about that Lewis gun. The Lewis machine gun, which was an aerial adaptation of the regular infantry machine gun, was never geared to fire between the propeller blades. It just couldn’t be done, for technical reasons we won’t take time to mention here. So if you ever read in a story where it was done, why you can just put it down that the author was thinking about the Vickers gun when he was writing the yarn.

Okay, let’s get on. We have three guns, a Lewis and two Vickers. The Lewis is fed by a drum that contains ninety-seven rounds. And the Vickers are fed by belts that contain a varying number of rounds. The usual number carried was about six hundred rounds in each belt. Now for the two Vickers that would make a total of around twelve hundred rounds. And on the Lewis there would be a drum of ninety-seven rounds. And in containers in the cockpit the pilot would carry two extra drums. So the total number of shots that the pilot could wham at a Hun plane was around fifteen hundred.

Whether you think so or not, the Vickers guns were finished for the day once the belts were run through. And that was for the simple reason that you didn’t carry extra belts. But, when a drum of bullets on the Lewis gun were used up, why, you could take off the empty drum and take one of the spare full drums and stick it on. Doing that was a simple job yet you had to watch yourself, else the drum would go sailing back over the tail plane. Here’s how you did it. The Lewis was mounted so that the end of the barrel slipped down into a snap catch. When that snap catch was released (by pulling a wire that lead down into the cockpit) the gun would tilt back on its mounting to a forty-five degree angle. In other words, the rear end of the gun would tilt down toward you sitting in the cockpit. In that way you could reach the drum with your hand. First you stuck your hand up and slipped four fingers under the leather handle in the center of the top of the drum. Then with your thumb you pressed a little sliding catch at the bottom of one side of the handle. Doing that, released the drum from the post it’s mounted on. And then you lifted the drum clear of the post and brought it back toward you, being careful to keep the front part of the drum tilted toward the prop wash. If you didn’t the wind would get under the underneath part of the drum and force the drum and your arm back and the drum would go sailing away.

BUT we got the empty drum off alright, so we’ll grab up one of the full drums in the cockpit container and put it back on the gun by simply reversing the operation. In other words, tilt it toward the prop wash, fit it down over the post and release the catch. Then we load the gun by pulling back the loading handle on the side of the gun. And then we shove up the rear of the gun so that the end of the barrel slips down into the snap catch. And then she’s all set to fire ninety-seven more rounds.

Well, so much for that. But let’s go back to where we haven’t loaded the guns. We’re still on the ground, and in the armament hut checking our guns to make sure that everything is in good working order. Now what we’ll do is load the belts and the drums. On the table in front of us we have a pile of regular bullets, a pile of tracer bullets, and a pile of incendiary bullets. And right close to us we have a dummy gun barrel. We load the belts in this order. First a regular bullet, then a tracer bullet, and then an incendiary bullet. And so on in that order until the belts and the drums are full. But let me say right here that every pilot had different ideas about what kind of bullets he’d carry. Some loaded two regular to one tracer and so forth. And of course if you were going after balloons you’d put in lots of explosive bullets. But before you put in any bullet, regardless of what kind it was, you’d first fit it into the dummy barrel to make sure that it would fit. In short, you personally inspected every single round that you intended to fire at some Hun ship. You might think that that was a waste of time, if you had a good armament officer. But, don’t forget, those little bullets and your little ship were the difference between life and death for you. So naturally you personally looked over everything, just in case.

Well, let’s say that the guns are loaded, the ship inspected, and that you are sailing over Hunland in quest of another bird for your bag.

Ah, you spot a dark speck off to the left and on the same level as you. You squint at it a moment and by knowing the silhouettes of German ships you can tell what type it is. This time it’s a Fokker. So you start to climb because in a dog fight the top man has the advantage. Why? Well, because a pursuit job can only fire one way . . . straight forward. Therefore his blind spot is his tail. And if you are above him it’s a darn sight easier to drop down on his tail than it is to try and climb up to it, for the simple reason that while you’re climbing up, he’s dropping down on you.

Well, for the sake of this chin-fest let’s say that you get above him a few hundred feet or so. He spots you coming and tries to get away. Now you’re all set to dive down on his tail and fire. You slide your fingers up to the gun release levers on the joystick and maneuver your ship until you get him in your sights.

And we’ll stop right there for a second while we talk about the gun sights.

There were two kinds of sights used. (See Sept. “Sky Fighters.”) One was called the telescopic sight, and the other the right sight. The telescopic sight was a tube about twelve inches long mounted parallel to the two Vickers guns. At one end it had the ring sight markings on the lens so that you sighted the same as you would if using the regular ring sight. Now, the ring sight was in two parts, the ring and the bead. The ring part was a metal ring about three inches across mounted on a post at the rear of the gun. The post continued into the ring to form a quarter inch ring in the center. And mounted on end of the barrel of the gun was a post that tapered up into a red colored bead.

What was that? What do you mean mounted on the gun? Good boy, I wondered if you’d trip me up on that. When you use only one gun the sights are mounted on that gun, usually. But when you use two guns, as we have in this case, the sights are mounted between the guns.

But about that ring sight. When you sight so that the red bead forward is square in the quarter inch ring at the rear it means that your guns (the Lewis included) are aimed at everything that that red bead is on. Now, you have three paths of fire, the two Vickers and the Lewis. Naturally you want those three paths of fire to converge at a certain point. The point determined upon is dependent upon the whims of the pilot. But the average distance is about two hundred yards from the nose of the plane. And so the guns are tilted or moved sidewise to effect that range. That is done on the ground of course, and the guns fastened securely in the desired position.

Alright, alright, I’m coming to it. What about the large ring? Well, here’s the idea of that. The average war plane had a speed of about 100 m.p.h. Now, let us say that a Hun ship is flying across your sights. If you waited until the red bead was on him and then fired, why, he would be past your bullets by the time they reached him. But if you fired when the outer ring was cutting his cockpit, why, he and the bullets would meet. In other words, the outer ring enabled you to take care of what was termed deflection . . . his speed against the speed of your bullets and the distance they have to travel. Naturally, pilot judgment has to be put into play in every case. But as a sort of standard gauge the ring sight is set so that a ship crossing your path two hundred yards distant will reach the center of the ring at the same time as your bullets, provided you fire when the outer ring is cutting the enemy’s cockpit.

Of course that is assuming that the Hun ship is flying at right angles to you. If he is diving down past the front of you his speed is greater. Therefore you would open fire when he was outside the ring to make sure that he dived into your burst of shots. And if he was climbing up in front of you, his speed would be slower. Therefore you would let him get inside the ring before you opened fire.

In other words, you really look through a ring at the enemy ship and open fire when he has reached the correct spot in that ring. And naturally you place him in the ring, outside it, or on it, as the case may be, so that he is headed toward the center.

A little while back I mentioned about the telescopic sight having the ring sight markings. Well, that’s just what I meant. Marked on the rear lens of the telescopic sight is the ring sight. So you use the telescopic sight just the same way.

Now, naturally, if you took out time to get your Hun this way or that in your sights, he might fool you and keep you chasing around the air all day long. In a scrap you can’t be accurate about that. You take a snap sight and fire, and your tracer bullets (which leave a tiny trail of phosphorous smoke) will give you an idea of where your other shots are going. But tracers start to go cockeyed after about two hundred yards of travel, so that is why the average effective range is about two hundred yards. Beyond that point your tracer bullets aren’t worth a darn. They burn as they go through the air and after a while their path of travel ceases to be straight.

AND now let’s get back to this Fokker we’re after. We start down in a dive and fire . . . and miss. The Fokker skids out of the line of fire. So we follow him around and let drive every time we get him in our sights. And of course all the time we are trying to stick on his tail . . . above him and behind him. But, we do not let our guns keep firing all the time. Our guns will fire about six hundred rounds a minute. So when you figure that out, if we fire for a minute steady we are all out of shots, with exception, of course, of our two extra Lewis drums of ninety-seven rounds each. But we haven’t had time to change the drums, because that’s a tough job to do when you are twisting around in a scrap and making sure that friend Hun doesn’t get on your tail.

So, naturally, we scrap with the idea of making every round count. Of course, every round doesn’t count. But we work that way nevertheless. And so we fire short bursts of, say, ten or twenty rounds at a time. But the idea of Pete Bank pouring burst after burst into that checkered Fokker is out! If he does that he’s wasting shots because if the checkered Fokker is in his sights, one burst will probably do the trick. And if it doesn’t, it means that Pete is just shooting cockeyed.

Now, don’t get the idea that bullet economy was the sole watchword of war pilots. It wasn’t. Yet, at the same time every pilot knew just how many rounds he had to fire. Some did act like Pete Banks, and go crazy and let the whole works go. But the great majority didn’t shoot until they were darn sure they had something to shoot at. And to make as certain as possible that they were going to hit what they shot at, they used the old sights just as much as they could.

When you think it over it really doesn’t take much to send a plane swirling down out of the sky. One little incendiary bullet in the gas tank will do the trick. Or one little bullet right in the skull of your enemy will do it too. Or a nice little burst of ten or a dozen that riddles the engine, or splits the prop will get desired results also. It’s all a combination of marksmanship and flying ability. Some of the greatest aces in the World War were terrible pilots, but they were perfect shots. They could knock the whiskers off a Hun at any distance, and that’s what counted. The Hun might outfly them, but once they got in just one crack, it was all over for the other fellow.

And I guess that it’s all over for us, for the present.

How the War Crates Flew: Take-Off Chin Music

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

FROM the pages of the September 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.

Take-Off Chin Music

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, September 1932)

“CHUCK” SEAVER, two fisted Skipper of the 56th Pursuits, legged into the cockpit of his Camel, rammed the throttle open wide, and went thundering across the drome to zoom up over the bordering trees. . . .

How many times have you read that in a yarn? Sure, plenty! But how many times have you actually seen it done in real life? You’re right, never! What’s that? . . . why not? Well, listen, Fledgling, next time the old man lets you take the car out for a spin, just shift into low and jam the accelerator all the way to the floorboards and see what happens! Sure, if you don’t tear the gears out, the car will stall on you anyway. Of course there are no transmission gears on a plane, but to shoot a full load of hop to an airplane engine from a standing start would cause it to konk out every time.

And, as a matter of fact, there were several things for Chuck to do before he took off. What about revving up his engine to see that the oil and engine temperature was okay? What about signaling to the grease-balls to pull the chocks away from in front of the wheels? And what about taking a look at the wind-sock to see which direction was correct for a take off? And what about a lot of things?

But that’s the idea of this month’s meeting. That question-asking Fledgling is here again, and he’s just loaded up to the eyes with questions. He shot ’em along to me air-mail, and I’ve got ’em all here. What he wants to know is all about the trick hobbies, hunches and superstitions, etc., of pilots during the war. And as a lot of you other clucks asked the same thing, I suppose I might just as well begin my chin-music right here and now.

Of course I can only give you some of the high points. If I were to chin about all the idiosyncrasies of pilots, I’d be chinning until the next Armistice. War pilots, you know, were a funny breed, so you’ll have to take it or leave it.

But to get started, let’s begin with a peelot having coffee, and maybe a small shot of cognac in the mess before taking off on a dawn patrol.

Well, it’s time to go, so he wanders out to his ship on the line. The mecs have got the engine started, and the prop is ticking over nice and easy like. Our peelot has on his Sidcot suit. You know, one of them teddy-bear things all lined with wool. If it’s winter he’s probably wearing knee-high, rubber-soled sheep skin boots. And may be he’s got a scarf wrapped around his neck. And if he’s going to do a high patrol he’s wearing silk gloves under his leather flying gloves. Real silk gloves (like Mother wears to the theatre) are about the warmest-things there are for the hands. Maybe he’s got his helmet and goggles on, or maybe he’s carrying them in his hand.

And so he gets to his ship. First he takes a look at the elevator and rudder wires just to make sure they’re okay. A friend of mine in France used to spit over the rudder for good luck after he’d finished such an examination. Then the peelot puts on his helmet and goggles and makes sure the helmet strap is fastened nice and snug. And then he climbs aboard, and fastens the safety belt. Some pilots used just the regular safety belt that went around the waist. But others also used safety belts that went up over the shoulders. The idea was so that they would be held in the seat, and their eyes still on a level with the gun sight, when they went over on their backs in a scrap.

OF COURSE, before the pilot left the mess he made sure that he did not have any papers or things in his pockets that would be of value to the enemy in case he was forced down and taken prisoner. But to make doubly sure, a non-com goes to every pilot sitting in his plane and asks him if he has forgotten to look through his pockets.

And now that the peelot is seated in the ship, he takes a look to make sure that his ammo belts are fed into his Vickers gun in okay style. Then he grabs the loading handle (often called cocking handle) and loads the guns. If he has a Lewis on the top wing (when flying an old S.E. 5), he makes sure that it is loaded. And then he pulls up the handle of the oil reservoir of his gun gear (see July issue of SKY FIGHTERS). The idea of that, of course, is to build up pressure in the secondary pipe line so that his guns will fire when he presses the trigger trips on his joystick.

Now, some pilots used to use the well known ring sight for aiming, while others used what was known as the telescopic sight. A long telescope, maybe twelve or fifteen inches, mounted right between the guns. The guns are set to converge with it, according to the likes of the pilot. By that I mean that some pilots want their bullets to meet with the line of sight at one hundred yards, some one hundred and fifty, and some two hundred yards, etc. It all depends upon the wishes of the pilot in question.

What’s that? What am I talking about? Well, listen. You have a gun mounted on the right side of the engine cowling. And you have a gun mounted on the left. Now naturally you want those two paths of bullets to come together at a certain point so that there will be one big burst going into your target. And so the left gun is pointed a bit to the right, and the right gun is pointed a bit to the left. And the ring sight or telescopic sight is set right in the middle between the two. Now, the distance from the muzzles of the guns that you want those two paths of bullets to meet is simply regulated by the amount you set your guns to the left or right, as the case may be. Now don’t get the idea that the guns are re-set for every flight. When the pilot first gets his plane and tests it out, he has the guns mounted the way he wants them, and then they stay that way. Now do you get the idea?

BUT to get back to this telescopic sight. When the plane is on the ground, there is a little leather cup that can be fitted over the two ends of the telescopic sight so that the lenses will be kept clean. Of course the pilot takes them off. Sometimes only the rear lens is covered.) And then, to make sure the lens is all nice and polished, the pilot takes a silk stocking tied to the top of his flying helmet and polishes the lens.

Oh? So you thought war peelots used to tie a silk stocking to the top of their helmets just to look trick, eh? Well, maybe that was part of the idea. But that silk stocking came in plenty useful many times. One use was to clean the telescopic sight lens, as I just related. But the main use was to wipe off your goggles when they got spattered up with oil when you were in the air. In other words, it was just a handy cleaning rag always within reach because it was trailing off the top of your helmet.

What’s that? Where did war pee-lots get silk stockings? Now listen, Fledgling! They bought them in a store. Or maybe a peelot’s sister sent him one of her old ones in a Xmas box. Or maybe . . . well, never mind. You’ll find out soon enough in the next war!!

And now the peelot is fastened in, his guns are okay, and the telescopic sight is cleaned, and the handle of the oil reservoir has been pulled up. So next he moves the rudder bar and waggles the stick just to make sure that there isn’t any slack in the controls that has developed over night.

Then he signals to the waiting mechanics. A couple of them brace themselves against the leading edge of both the right and left lower wings. A third drapes himself over the fuselage just where it is joined by the tale plane. And the peelot pulls the stick all the way back to get the elevators tilted up as far as they will go. Of course the chocks are still in front of the wheels. Then the pilot eases the throttle forward slowly until the engine is roaring full out. And as he does that he looks at his various instruments to see that everything is functioning in proper style. He just lets the engine roar full out for say half a minute, and then pulls the throttle back.

NOW he is set to take off. (Of course we assume that his instruments showed everything to be okay when he revved up the engine.)

If it is a Flight patrol, the leader goes first. Then the next in rank, and then the next, and the next, and so forth. Sometimes they all taxied out to formation position on the field and took off together. But most times the field was too small for that, and they took off one at a time, and formed formation at a certain pre-determined height above the field, or a nearby village.

But we’ll let this peelot we’re chinning about take off by himself.

The grease ball who has been draping his manly form over the tail moves himself, and the pilot waves his hand in a left to right motion. That means . . . pull the chocks away. The mechanics do that, and then, if the plane is already headed in a correct take-off position (into the wind), the pilot gives the grease balls a chance to step clear and then pushes the throttle forward slowly and pushes the stick forward to get his tail up . . . and away he goes. Now, if he isn’t headed into the wind he taxies out, with the help of the grease balls hanging onto the wings, and swings around into a correct takeoff position. But don’t let fiction story writers kid you . . . the peelot doesn’t slam his throttle home! He eases it forward and gives the engine a chance to pick up full revs without tearing itself apart.

And, incidentally, the pilot seldom takes off right from the hangar line. Even if the wind is blowing toward him, he taxies out a bit. Why? Well, because an open hangar is right behind him, and when he takes off he blows half the drome right back into that hangar and all over any planes that might be there. And when he does that, why the C.O. usually has seventeen fits and chews his ear off when he gets back.

Yes, yes, I know, I know . . . you want to hear about hunches and hobbies, etc. Well, the C.O. of this mag is handing me some mighty tough looks. Guess he wants to get a word in about something that is interesting, so I’ll have to make it short.

The first is . . . the old superstition about lighting three cigarettes on a match. Bunk! But we used to like to live up to it just for the heck of it. Some other war peelot may call me a liar for that crack . . . but it really was just a superstition we liked to follow. It originally started in the Boer war. The English Tommies were short of matches, so several of them used to light their pipes on the same match. For no reason at all the Boer snipers opposite them used to try and pick off the third guy who lighted his pipe. And that’s how it came to be an omen of tough luck when a soldier took the third light off a match.

Sometimes you used to get hunches that it wasn’t so hot to fly on a particular day. Most times you just lived it down and went ahead with the job to be done. I got a hunch like that once and went just the same. Well, the engine konked out, a skyful of smoke belched out of the engine cowling, and I forced landed and wrapped myself around a tree. Well, was it because of the hunch? It was . . .but in this way. I didn’t want to fly that day, so I was looking for trouble . . . all nerved up, and all that sort of thing. And when you get that way, something usually does happen, believe you me.

A pal of mine once got a no-flying hunch on a day in training school when he had to take a test in target shooting. He was all goose pimples about it, and asked me to double for him. Well, it wasn’t an important test (no instructor around to watch), so I said, “Sure.” And I went up and shot off the rounds for him. When the score of hits was checked, and his instructor got hold of it, said instructor bawled the pants off him for being such a lousy marksman. So that gives you an idea of how good I was.

All right, C.O., all right . . . just a few more words. And they are about mascots, or lucky pieces, pilots used to carry. The famous ones were the two little French wool dolls, Nanette and Babbette. And of course there was the face of the girl-friend stuck on the crystal of your wrist watch. And maybe, if you were brave at some time, a pretty little pink garter, or maybe a stuffed teddy bear, or a monkey, or a doll, or most anything that you could lay your hands on. In other words, pilots used to go visiting and bring back anything that wasn’t nailed down and use them as luck charms.

And of course, there . . . ouch! See you again, Fledgling! The C.O.’s got my shirt tail, and pulling hard. S’long!

How the War Crates Flew: The Constaninesco Interrupter Gear

Link - Posted by David on January 12, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the July 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.

The Constaninesco Interrupter Gear

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, July 1932)

ALEC WATSON, leading Hun getter of the 23rd Pursuits, crouched over the stick, glued his eye to the ring-sight, and tripped the triggers. . . .

Now just a second, Alec old sky eagle! What do you mean, tripped the triggers? Generally speaking, that is correct. But technically speaking it is not so correct. You, personally, Alec, do not trip the triggers. Of course, being an A1 Hun getter, you realize that. But there are a lot of fledglings around here who don’t. So I think it would be a pretty good idea if we went into this question of tripping triggers, and found out just what it was all about.

Alright, fledglings, gather ’round, and let’s go!

The pilot of any pursuit plane used in the great war, could only shoot in one direction . . . that was forward. Sometimes he had one Vickers gun mounted on the engine cowling, and one Lewis mounted on the top center section. Sometimes he had two Vickers and one Lewis. And sometimes he had just two Vickers. But regardless of what he had in the way of guns, they were always mounted on something and pointing straight forward. We’ll just forget about the Lewis gun because that was mounted on the top center section and therefore was able to fire clear of the top peak of the propeller disc. Now when I say propeller disc I simply mean the circle inscribed by the revolving propeller.

But, the Vickers gun being mounted on the engine cowling, just forward of the pilot’s cockpit, must fire through the prop disc, if it’s going to fire at all.

I just heard some one ask: “What about hitting the revolving propeller blades?”

Well, fledgling, that’s just what I’m getting at. We don’t want to hit the prop blades, do we? I’ll say we don’t! So some way we’ve got to work things so that the shots from our gun will pass between the prop blades on their way to that Hun johnnie sitting up there in the sky.

And here is how we do that little thing.

As a matter of fact, it has already been done for us. A gentleman by the name of Constaninesco invented what was known as the Constaninesco Interrupter Gear. It was composed of four parts. 1. The generator. 2. The trigger motor. 3. The reservoir with Bowden control. 4. Pipe lines, main and secondary.

The generator is simply a small* cylinder affair with plunger attached, which is mounted forward on the engine, and in a vertical position. The drive for the generator is generally taken (on stationary engines) from the boss of the propeller by means of gears which engage with a cam shaft leading to the vertical generator. To put it another way, the generator is just a small cylinder with a plunger at the top which is forced down every time the revolving cam on the cam shaft strikes it. And that cam shaft is not the cam shaft of the engine itself, but a separate cam shaft which is revolved by means of gears which attach it to the boss of the propeller. And, of course, when I say boss, I mean the metal plates and bolts which hold the propeller on the crankshaft of the engine.

Now, the next thing is the trigger motor, as it was called. As you all probably know, the Vickers gun operates (briefly) by, what is cabled, the lock moving forward and backward inside the gun. The lock is about three inches by four inches and maybe an inch or so thick, and contains all the trigger mechanism of the gun. Now, one of its actions as it moves forward in the gun is to cock the trigger which is a part of it. Then as it rides back again in the gun the trigger, which projects up out of the top a bit hits against a movable pin fitted at the rear of the gun casing. And of course that action trips the trigger and the gun fires.

IT IS that movable pin that I’m yarning about now. It is simply a round slender piece of metal which projects out of the rear end of the gun and is fastened to a thumb lever. In other words, when firing a Vickers on the ground you simply grip the spade handles of the gun and press your thumbs against the thumb levers. That forces the pin forward so that the end of it trips the trigger as the lock slides back. Now, when you don’t press the gun naturally doesn’t fire because the pin, which is really like a plunger on a spring, is forced back by the spring action so that the trigger doesn’t touch it as the lock slides back.

Now, what we’ve got to do is attach something to the rear end of that pin to take the place of the thumb levers. The reason being, that running from our generator up front to the pin at the rear of the gun is a length of quarter inch copper tubing which is filled with oil. Ah, you’re guessing it already. That’s right . . . as the cam rotates and strikes the plunger in the generator it sends a pulsation back along the copper pipe full of oil and forces forward the pin in the rear of the gun so that it trips the trigger of the lock. So what we really do is fit another plunger to the rear of the gun to take the place of the pin with its thumb levers.

Now, so far, we have a plunger at the forward end of the copper tubing, and another plunger at the rear end. The forward plunger is set so that the revolving cam will hit it. And the rear plunger is set so that as a pulsation of oil forces it forward it will trip the trigger lock.

Just oil (nine parts parafine and one part BB vacuum oil in the copper tubing isn’t going to do us any good unless we put that oil under pressure. So we use what is called the reservoir. The reservoir is something like a double bicycle pump. In other words, a plunger and chamber inside of a larger chamber. At the end of the inner chamber there is a copper pipe-line running to the one we’ve just been talking about. Just so we won’t get too mixed up, the copper tube running from the generator to the trigger motor is called the main pipe-line. And the tube running from the reservoir to the main pipe-line is called the secondary pipeline.

Now, the plunger in the inner chamber of the reservoir is attached to a handle at the top, and there is a strong spring around the stem of the plunger to keep it forced down. In other words, when the handle of the plunger is pulled up and released the spring tries to force it down. And of course the reservoir is attached to the inner right side of the cockpit, at an angle of forty-five degrees, so that the pilot can grab it when he wants to put the oil under pressure.

So now let’s see just how we work the thing.

OF COURSE we assume that there is oil in the main pipe-line, in the secondary pipe-line and in the outer chamber (low pressure chamber) of the reservoir. There isn’t oil in the center chamber (high pressure) because the plunger is down at the bottom. But all of this oil is under atmospheric pressure. In other words, not enough pressure to force the generator plunger up so that the revolving cam will strike it.

Okay, let’s go. We pull up the handle of the reservoir. In doing that we suck oil from the low pressure chamber into the high pressure chamber. Then we let go the handle and the spring tries to force the plunger down, and that action puts the oil under a pressure of 150 lbs. per square inch. Now the oil in the high pressure chamber and the oil in the secondary pipe-line is under pressure. The oil in the main pipe-line is not, because where the two pipe-lines join is a three-way valve. To get pressure in the main pipe-line we have got to open that three-way valve.

We do it this way. From the joy stick to that valve is a movable wire in a metal casing. (Something like the choke wire on your car.) On the joy stick that wire, called the Bowden control, is attached to a clamp you can press. Oftentimes it is attached to a thumb lever you push forward. But squeezing the clamp, or pushing the thumb lever, pulls the Bowden control wire and opens the three-way valve. Of course then the oil in the main line is put under pressure. And in being under pressure the plunger in the generator is forced up so that the revolving cam will strike it.

Alright, the cam strikes the plunger and forces it down. A pulsation, traveling at the rate of 4,000 ft. per second, starts back along the main pipeline. It reaches the point where the main pipe-line is joined to the secondary line. But because of the three-way valve it can’t shoot up the secondary line and hit against the reservoir plunger. So it carries right on along the main pipe-line and hits against the plunger in the trigger motor, and of course shoves it forward. And when the trigger motor plunger is forced forward, it of course trips the trigger of the lock and the gun is fired. Now, that pulsation after it has hit the trigger motor plunger naturally wants to bounce back along the main pipe-line. But we stop that by putting a check valve in the trigger motor. Then, of course, the pulsation can’t bounce back and interfere with pulsation coming forward.

We have yarned about this step by step. But of course you understand that these pulsations are traveling at the rate of 4,000 ft. per second, and things happen fast. And whenever the lock slides back again with its trigger cocked there are always pulsations to slap the trigger motor plunger forward and trip the trigger again.

IN CASE you’ve forgotten, all this is happening because we are still pressing the Bowden controls. Once we let go, the three-way valve closes and the main pipe-line goes back to ordinary pressure and the generator plunger sinks down where the revolving cam doesn’t hit it. To fire again we simply press the Bowden control and that opens the valve again. The 150 lbs. per square inch pressure is maintained for about ten bursts of any length. And then we have to pull up the handle again and renew the pressure. In order to get it clear in your minds about those pulsations, the oil being under pressure, a single pulsation is like a solid rod moving through the main pipe-line. And the number of pulsations is determined on how the cam shaft is geared to the prop boss. In other words, according to the speed of the revolving cam shaft.

And there you are.

No, we’re not. That young fledgling is checking on me again. “How about hitting the prop blades?” he asks.

Alright, it’s like this. The cam is set so that it strikes the generator plunger when the trailing edge of the prop blade (two-bladed prop) is one inch past the bore of the gun. In the case of a four-bladed prop the cam should be set when the center of the blade is right opposite the bore of the gun. That is, of course, assuming that the muzzle of the gun is four feet from the revolving prop blades. The nearer the gun is to the prop the nearer you set the cam to the trailing edge.

The Editor of this mag of yours has just looked over my shoulder and reminded me that I’m not writing a book, so I’d better quit.

And so, you fledglings, when these leading Hun getters trip triggers again, don’t let ’em kid you. They are just pressing the old Bowden control to open that three-way valve to put the main pipe-line under pressure so that the oil pulsation will trip the triggers. Can you beat it? . . . These sky birds are just a bunch of oil pumpers!

From the Scrapbooks: Cover Cut-Outs

Link - Posted by David on December 27, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and as such, a large part of both volumes of his scrapbooks is taken up with a cataloging of the many different types of planes. But amongst all the planes and air race flyers and info on Aces are some surprising items. Robert was also fond of including cut-outs from covers of all kinds of aviation themed magazines.

Here are a few along with the full covers Robert excised them from:


AIR TRAILS
August 1931


POPULAR AVIATION
September 1931


MODEL AIRPLANE NEWS
OCTOBER 1931


SKY BIRDS
August 1931


SKY BIRDS
MARCH 1932


SKY BIRDS
APRIL 1932


NATIONAL GLIDER
and AIRPLANE NEWS

July 1931


BATTLE STORIES
August 1931


FLYING ACES
August 1931


BATTLE STORIES
May 1931


ACES
August 1931

 

From the Scrapbooks: A Seasonal Mystery

Link - Posted by David on December 24, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and as such, a large part of both volumes of his scrapbooks is taken up with a cataloging of the many different types of planes. But amongst all the planes and air race flyers and info on Aces are some surprising items.

Turning the page, we find a Happy New Years greeting from George Bruce scrapbooked in. . .

Measuring 5″ x 5¾”, it’s a cartoon by Jonny Pike of two soldiers from opposing countries ambling down the street, arm-in-arm, with several bottles.

The first couple times I looked through the scrapbooks, I thought this was just some festive image taken from a page in a pulp magazine, probably from one of the many George Bruce magazines that seemed to proliferate in the early ’30’s. It wasn’t until I was going through the scrapbooks and scanning things for these posts that I realized I was totally mistaken. It wasn’t a page from a pulp, it couldn’t have been—the image is printed on card stock.

Unfortunately, the card stock is too heavy to shine a light through to pick up what’s on the other side—if there is anything on the other side. There is a bit of creasing and ware down the two sides—a little more on the left than right if that means anything.

And to compound the mystery, Robert has written on the top corner of the page, “xmas – 32 Sky Fighters” as if to say that this came with Sky Fighters magazine. I combed through the issues of Sky Fighters from around that time and saw no mention of it in any of the issues.

Bruce could have sent these out on his own to those who had written in or were involved in the “Win Your Wings” contest that had just ended—Robert had both written in and placed in the second month of the contest. Who knows. Hopefully someone does. If you know, please, by all means, leave a comment below.

From the Scrapbooks: Battle Birds Covers

Link - Posted by David on December 13, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and as such, a large part of both volumes of his scrapbooks is taken up with a cataloging of the many different types of planes. In addition to Flying Aces’ “War Planes Album” and Sky Birds’ “Model Planes of All Nations”, Robert also featured Frederick Blakeslee’s magnificent Battle Aces covers.


The section features it’s own introductory page

Although the first scrapbook featured the cover of the premiere issue of Battle Birds on its cover, Robert’s scrapbooked covers from Battle Birds were in the second book along with the Battle Aces covers. Unlike the scrapbooked Battle Aces covers, Robert trimmed off the text portions of the covers and just included Blakeslee’s great arial combat illustration portion.

When possible, he made note of the planes Blakeslee portrayed on the covers!



May 33


Dare-Devil Aces
Jan ‘33


Feb ‘33


Jan ‘33


Dec ‘32


Apr ‘33


Jul ‘33


Jun ‘33


Aug ‘33


Dare-Devil Aces
Jun ‘33


Mar ‘33


Sep ‘33

 

From the Scrapbooks: Blakeslee’s Plane Plans

Link - Posted by David on December 10, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and as such, a large part of both volumes of his scrapbooks is taken up with a cataloging of the many different types of planes.

Another great feature from the pulps Robert chose to include in his scrapbooks were Frederick Blakeslee’s 3 plan views of planes that he rendered for Battle Aces.

Rather than giving each its own page, Robert chose to glue one down along the top edge and then slot a few others beneath it, loose on the page. He had the first four on the first page, three on the second and just two on the third, although he appears to have gotten the September issue as well.



German
Fokker D-7
Dec ‘32


British
S.E.5-A
Jan ‘33


Pfalz Scout
type DXII
Feb ‘33


Bristol Fighter
type F2B
Mar ‘33


German
Friedrichshafen Bomber
Apr ‘33


Sopwith
“Snipe”
May ‘33


Halberstadt C4
Jun ‘33


Westland Wagtail
Jul ‘33


Halberstadt C2
Aug ‘33

 

From the Scrapbooks: A Letter from George Bruce

Link - Posted by David on December 8, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and as such, a large part of both volumes of his scrapbooks is taken up with a cataloging of the many different types of planes. But amongst all the planes and air race flyers and info on Aces are some surprising items.

Turning the page, is what looks like a letter, folded into thirds like it had just been pulled out of an envelope and pasted to the page. . .

Unfolding the sheet of paper reveals a letter from George Bruce on his own letterhead addressed to Robert from July 28th, 1932!

George Bruce was a prolific pulp writer and heavily involved with the initial year of Sky Fighters Magazine. He not only has a story in each of the first year’s issues, but also his own column in the back, “George Bruce Says” in which he answer any questions which the reader may have about the how, where or whens of flying, past, present or future. He even listed those readers whose letters he would reply to personally—and the list was quite long for those who had written in for the first issue (and whose letters had arrived by July 15th)!

Writing from Provincetown, Massachusetts, Bruce says:

Dear Bob:

    I am sorry I have not had an earlier opportunity to reply to your letter. I spent the first part of this month in a hospital in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where a group of surgeons could not resist a curiosity as to what was contained in the Bruce belly. In otner words I underwent an emergency operation caused by acute appendicitis, and was out of the picture for a few days. Please let me offer my thanks and gratitude for your letter. You may be sure it was appreciated and read with much interest and it reached me at a time when I needed all of the friendliness and interest you expressed, I’m quite sure that the mail carrier who delivers to St. Luke Hospital will never forgive George Bruce and will be permanently round-shouldered because of carrying into the hospital hundreds of letters from all over the country from fellows who had been readers, but who, in writing those letters, became friends.

    I hope through the medium of SKY FIGHTERS and your continued interest in George Bruce this friendship will extend inflefinitely.

                    Sincerely yours,

                                                George Bruce.

   

Editor’s note: Robert also got his name listed in the following issue as one of the runner-ups for the second round of the “Win Your Wings” Contest. The Sky Fighters “Win Your Wings” contest was not a contest to win actual wings, but rather cash prizes and foster continued readership of their new magazine. Each month for the first six months of the magazine, they posed a question. The reader with the best response would win $5 while 20 runners up would win $1. Robert was one of the runner-ups for the second round. At the end, the reader with the best record over the six questions would win the grand prize of $100!

From the Scrapbooks: Battle Aces Covers

Link - Posted by David on December 6, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and as such, a large part of both volumes of his scrapbooks is taken up with a cataloging of the many different types of planes. In addition to Flying Aces’ “War Planes Album” and Sky Birds’ “Model Planes of All Nations”, Robert also featured Frederick Blakeslee’s magnificent Battle Aces covers.

The second scrapbook which features the March 1932 Battle Aces cover as it’s cover, starts off with a collection of Blakeslee’s covers. each speed features a full fresh-off-the-newsstand cover and the story behind the cover lovingly typed on the facing page. I don’t know why he didn’t just clip out the story page from the issue instead, although he did clip out Blakeslee’s pen and ink rendering of the featured cover plane on several pages of those images collaged together.

He does not have all the Blakeslee Battle Aces covers, but he does have a majority of them.


He included the picture of O.B. Myers with the write-up for the November 1931 cover which tells how O.B. got his D.S.C.


Similarly, he includes Wilbert Wallace White’s picture with Blakeslee’s cover about White. (January 1932)

Covers he includes are:



Jan ‘32


Feb ‘32


Mar ‘32


Apr ‘32


May ‘31


Jun ‘31


Jun ‘32


Jul ‘32


Jul ‘31


Aug ‘31


Sep ‘31


Oct ‘31


Nov ‘31


Dec ‘31


Dec ‘32

From the Scrapbooks: Aces of Note

Link - Posted by David on December 3, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS Holiday Season we’re delving into a pair of scrapbooks that were created in the late 20’s and early 30’s by an industrious youth, Robert A. O’Neil, with a keen interest in all things aviation. The books contain clippings, photos and articles from various aviation pulps as well as other magazines. What has been assembled is a treasure trove of information on planes and aces of WWI.

Like many in the late 20’s and early 30’s, Robert O’Neil was fascinated with aviation and not just the planes, but also some of the men who made a name for themselves flying them in The Great War.

Chronicled within the pages of the scrapbooks are such Aces the likes of:


Billy Bishop

and The Red Baron himself––


Baron Manfred von Richthofen

He has a page devoted to Rickenbacker’s Victories

And includes the four installments of Flying Aces’ “Lives of the Aces in Pictures”. Here, he’s taken the images from the two page feature (as they were in the pulp-sized issues), pasted them on a page with the accompanying captions, typed out on the facing page.


Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s Ace

He gave the same treatment for the Lives of Bert Hall, Soldier of Fortune (Flying Aces, June 1932), Georges Guynemer, Falcon of France (July 1932), and Lt. Werner Voss, German Ace (July 1933) as illustrated in pictures.

Scattered throughout are various mentions of aces from the pulps or the newspapers or other magazines.

“Luke Downs Three Balloons” by Paul Bissell

Link - Posted by David on July 17, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we present another of Paul Bissell’s covers for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the January 1932 cover Bissell put us right in the action as—

Luke Downs Three Balloons

th_FA_3201“MEIN Gott! It is Herr Luke! Quick—down with the Drachen!”

In an instant all was confusion. Machine guns rattled and archies barked. Winches ground and turned as the Germans strove desperately to save their balloon, swaying gently in the dusk, two thousand feet above Milly.

The two balloon observers were already overboard. They knew that pilot! Thirteen balloons and five planes had fallen to Frank Luke’s attack in less than three weeks. Only ten days before, he had destroyed two balloons and three planes in less than fifteen minutes. And this afternoon, September 29, 1918, they had seen him destroy the balloon over Dun, fight his way through a squadron of Fokkers, destroy a second balloon over Brière Farm, and dive headlong at their own helpless bag—all in less than three minutes! Their bag was doomed—and overboard they went.

On came Luke’s Spad, through a hell of shrapnel and machine-gun fire, its motor wide open, and both guns spitting flame. Another instant and Luke would have crashed into the balloon, head on, but with a sudden zoom and bank, he pulled clear of the now fiercely burning Drachen. His third balloon was going down! That day—which proved to be his last, for a wound forced Luke down and he was found dead the next morning—was a fitting end to a glorious career, the career of one of America’s greatest airmen.

The Ships on The Cover
“Luke Downs Three Balloons”
Flying Aces, January 1932 by Paul J. Bissell

“Coppens, Belgium’s Greatest Ace” by Paul Bissell

Link - Posted by David on March 15, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we present another of Paul Bissell’s covers for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the November 1932 cover Bissell paints one of Belgium’s greatest Aces in action—Lt. Willi Coppens trying to take down a balloon!

Coppens, Belgium’s Greatest Ace

th_FA_3211THE sun had set, and soon night for a few short hours would throw her peaceful blanket of darkness over the gaping wounds of war that now scarred the once beautiful fields of Flanders.

Above, where the sun’s rays still shone from beyond the far horizon, a tiny speck could be seen. Below, on the shell-torn earth, a crew was slowly hauling down a huge yellow sausage with black crosses painted on its sides. Anxiously the officers in charge watched the sky above until sudden recognition of the tiny speck brought hurried orders from their lips. Coppens, the little black devil of the Belgians, was on the wing!

Since the outbreak of the war, Willi Coppens had been in the service of his country. He had enlisted on the 28th of July, serving first as a despatch rider for the 6th Division, and then in other positions of both danger and trust but always with his eyes to the sky, his heart set on the “chasse.”

Three long years of this, then six months of observation, reconnaissance and artillery fire direction, until, in April, 1918, his great ambition was gratified at last. In the past six months he had made himself the terror of the Huns and the idol of his nation. Thirty-three balloons and two planes had fallen to his attack. He was premier ace of the Belgians and premier balloon-buster of the world.

NOW, October 14, 1918, his .small, dark-blue plane with the red, yellow and black circles of Belgium on its wings was once again bringing death and destruction to the invaders of his beloved country.

Down he swooped through the hail of shrapnel and machine-gun fire, his gun spitting incendiary bullets into the great yellow bag below. . . . At the last moment he veered off, banked up on one wing, then as quickly reversed, executing a tight S, his nose down and hugging the balloon as closely as he dared, to gain what little protection might be had through the enemy’s fear of hitting their own observers.

His throttle shot forward as he gave his little Nieuport the gun and dived down under the balloon with terrific speed. Back came the stick—the tiny blue plane shot upward—higher—higher—up into a stall when another instant would have sent it crashing into the swinging balloon.

Now a shift of the release lever, and from the chute on either side six flaming rockets, like meteors against the late afternoon sky, soared through the air with deadly accuracy toward the sausage. In their wake a trail of sparks showered downward, and the plane hung for an instant on the prop. Then its nose flopped down through the drifting sparks. A quick kick of the rudder avoided collision with the big cable by which the Germans were desperately trying to haul the clumsy bag to the ground.

The plane dropped like a plummet. Coppens eased up on his throttle slightly, then leveled off, at last clear of the balloon—and none too soon. The rockets buried themselves in the bulging silk and then, an instant later, there was a terrific burst of flame and smoke. Great fiery tongues leaped hundreds of feet into the air, and the big bag collapsed, falling to the ground and burning fiercely.

Machine guns clattered madly while high explosives and shrapnel once again rent the air in their effort to find the tiny plane. He was almost away, a tiny speck against the darkening sky, when a shrapnel burst squarely in his path. His left leg went numb. The Nieuport shivered as he almost lost control. The little black devil was winged at last!

THE war was over. The invader had been driven out and peace once again reigned. In the warm July afternoon, on one of Belgium’s great air fields, a small army had drawn up in battalion formation. To one side, an area roped off was filled to overflowing by a crowd in holiday attire. Flags were flying and bands playing. On the line a row of planes stood ready, their wings and bodies shining from careful grooming. For on this day a grateful nation was honoring one of its heroes.

A large plane could be seen in the distance. Quickly it approached, circled the field, then landed easily and taxied down near to wrhere a small group was standing in front of the battalions.

The crowd surged restlessly, then broke into tumultuous acclaim as a tall figure stepped from the plane and the bands crashed into the national anthem of the Belgians.

“—And a grateful nation and King salute you, Captain Coppens, Officer of the Order of Leopold.”

The King stepped forward to pin a small ribbon on the breast of the slim aviator in front of him, an aviator whose face was still pale from recent illness and whose left trouser leg flapped loosely against wood instead of bone and flesh. This lad supported himself with two canes, but one of these fell to the ground when he held out his hand to His Majesty.

Several officers started forward to recover the stick, but the King was first. He retrieved the stick quickly and with a gracious, “Permit me, mon Capitaine,” he handed it to Coppens. The crowd roared. A king had stooped to serve a humble subject—and a monarch had proved himself regal.

The Ships on The Cover
“Coppens, Belgium’s Greatest Ace”
Flying Aces, November 1932 by Paul J. Bissell

“Mannock, The Mad Major!” by Paul Bissell

Link - Posted by David on March 1, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we present another of Paul Bissell’s covers for Flying Aces! Bissell is mainly known for doing the covers of Flying Aces from 1931 through 1934 when C.B. Mayshark took over duties. For the December 1932 cover Bissell put us right in the action as Major Edward Mannock gives his all

Mannock, the Mad Major!

th_FA_3212FROM the war have come many nicknames which have since been applied rather freely to others besides those who originally earned them. “Crashing Colonels,” “Red Barons,” etc., are now commonplace, and to definitely determine the originals of these titles is almost impossible. However, there is one man, who, if we judge by the consensus of opinion in those places where airmen gather, enjoys his soubriquet without argument or question.

He was a man who started the war as a prisoner of the enemy, was repatriated because of defective eyesight, and lived to prove his eyes the most deadly, searching, and accurate of those of all the airmen who flew for the British, while his irrepressible humor and daredevil recklessness earned for him the name of the “Mad Major.”

On May 7, 1917, the failure of Captain Ball to return from a patrol held the attention of the Allied world. On the same day, unnoticed, the reports show the destruction of an enemy balloon by a Lieutenant Edward Mannock of Squadron 40. No one cried, “The King is dead, long live the King!” Yet well they might have, for this was the first victory of “Micky” Mannock, the “Mad Major,” one of the mysteries of the World War.

Micky, who was to tear through the skies of France like a thunderbolt, leaving a trail of victories surpassing even Captain Ball’s. Micky, who was to become Britain’s ace of aces, with 73 planes to his official credit, and who was to die, known only to his comrades, unfeted and unsung, with only an M.C. as a decoration from his country.

To be sure, the D.S.O. was going through at the time, and posthumously two bars and the V.C. were finally awarded, but even to this day this great ace is little known to the public at large, and it is difficult to learn a great deal about him.

Mannock’s comrades knew that he had been imprisoned by the Turks at the beginning of the war. He had been repatriated, and enlisted at once with the British, serving first with the R.A.M.C., then with the engineers in France, and coming finally to Squadron 40 in April, 1917.

It was soon evident that he was a Hun-hater, one of the few among all the aces. He was not the sportsman type, to whom war was just a game with death as the stake. Nor was he the hunter type, seeking only the joy of the kill. To him the war was “open season” on Germans, and he was out to exterminate them as he would rats or other vermin. He asked no quarter nor gave any, and yet his irrepressible sense of humor and love of a joke was constantly bobbing up.

He it was who, after failing for several days to get the Germans to engage him in battle, dropped a pair of boots on their airdrome with the note attached, “If you won’t come up and fight, maybe you can use these on the ground.”

With his M.C. came his captaincy, and he was made squadron commander. He was older than most aces, being thirty at his death, and he was noted for the care he took of his “new” men. He watched over them carefully, and tried to arrange it so that they would get a victory the first time over. Failing this, he would take them out alone and, finding their victim, he would maneuver the German into a good position for the new pilot’s fire. Then, making sure by a few bursts from his own guns, he would return to the drome, where he would enthusiastically congratulate the fledgling on getting his first German. It is said, in fact, that more than one ace-to-be had his first victory handed him by Micky.

IT IS told, also—and this story is pictured on this month’s cover—that on one of these excursions he gave the mud-covered Tommies in the trenches the thrill of their lives. He and his fledgling had spotted their victim and after some maneuvering Micky had finally forced the German into a position for his youngster to make the kill.

At this instant from the clouds dropped a red Albatross—motors on, and its-tracers already reaching hungrily for the new pilot below. A yank of the stick and Micky had thrown himself square into the line of the Albatross’ fire to save his companion. Bullets crashed through his cockpit and seared holes in his wings, but the German’s dive had been headed off, and a moment later, coming out of a mad vrille, the little S.E.5’s nose was square on the red tail with the black cross.

The Vickers rattled, and the German sped on down to pile up in a trench, while Micky turned back to the battle above. The youngster had failed to get his opponent at the first burst, and the more experienced German by clever flying had gotten himself into a good position for attacking the kid pilots.

However, seeing Micky return to the fray, the German decided to run for it, and turned toward Germany, but little did he know his opponent. The Irishman seemed to go wild. He flung his little S.E.5 after the fleeing Boche and quickly overtook him. Then, to the astonishment of those who watched below, Micky held his fire. Steeply he dived in from the side, forcing the German to turn. But again the Vickers were silent. Apparently the German decided that Micky’s guns were jammed, for he made a desperate attempt to turn to the attack.

Immediately, however, the twin Vickers spoke, spitting hot lead, and forcing him to swing back around. Then to the watching Tommies the game became evident. Like a cat with a mouse the Irishman was playing with the German. Slowly he was forcing the Albatross down.

Lower and lower they came. They were scarcely 100 feet up, and below them was the wrecked remains of the first plane, when suddenly the twin Vickers began chattering. The desperate Jerry swung right and left, only to be met by the deadly hail of bullets from the S.E.’s gun. Then one last burst and those below saw the German jerk from his seat, clawing the air madly in his death agony as his plane crashed, its wings touching the wreckage of the first Albatross.

Two more for Micky! No wonder they called him the Mad Major! And so it went, until, on a similar expedition in July, a machine-gun bullet from the ground found him. At least that’s one version. A second story says that he crashed a German to save one of his fledglings. It was another mystery, but the fact remains that no more would his comrades see him tuck his violin under his chin, and while they sat enthralled, play, “Where My Caravan Has Rested.” For the Mad Major had led his last caravan home.

The Ships on The Cover
“Mannock, The Mad Major!”
Flying Aces, December 1932 by Paul J. Bissell

“The Red Eagle” by Harold F. Cruickshank

Link - Posted by David on February 16, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

WE’RE celebrating the works of Canada’s very own Harold F. Cruickshank this month. Mr. Cruickshank launched his career writing stories based loosely on his war experiences. As tastes turned from straight out battle field stories to air war stories, Cruickshank shifted his setting from the trenches to the cockpit. With stories appearing in such titles as War Birds, War Aces, Sky Birds, Airplane Stories, Flying Aces, and Sky Fighters.

For Harry Steeger’s trio of Popular Publication’s titles—Battle Aces, Dare-Devil Aces and Battle Birds—Mr. Cruickshank developed continuing characters that ran generally in short novelettes each month. Although the final issue of Battle Aces had just hit the stands in November of 1932, Cruickshank created a brand new series when asked to for the new companion magazine to Dare-Devil Aces—Battle Birds in December 1932.

In “The Red Eagle,” Cruickshank gives us Ted Blair—a Yank Eagle who excelled more than any other with fighting guts and his ability to maneuver in tight loops and slip-offs which amazed and baffled his opponents. His eye was quick, as quick as the flash of greased lightning, and his Vickers twins were deadly accurate. In the dive he was merciless; he struck like a hungry, angered eagle, hence his nom de guerre, Red Eagle. That, and because of his flaming red hair and freckled spotted face.

Cruickshank gave him a brood much like the Sky Devil’s—formed from his old B Flight of the 44th, Blair had played with, fought with, nursed, and built up those members of the Brood—Lieutenant Sam Martin, the tall, blond deputy leader; Lieutenant Pete Monty Rider, the hard-egg scrapper from America’s ranch country; Lieutenant Frank “Spud” Fallon, the Irish-Yank, whose wit was no less appreciated than his fighting quality, and his flair for fixing things mechanical; and Lieutenant Dave “Babe” Deakin, the big-framed ex-fullback of Yale, a good-natured fighting hellcat, whose piano playing and singing, though of secondary importance, brought a big hand from his intrepid pals. They were all men of guts. Each wore a single decoration. Each packed an unswerving brand of loyalty and a fighting heart. These were the Red Eagle’s Brood—big-chested, rollicking sky scrappers, who feared nothing, save the tongue of their leader.

The Red Eagle and his Brood were established as an semi-independent flight under the command of Major Bruce Grove. Unfortunately, Grove had his own problems—a splendid fellow in every way, he had jeopardized his position some months back by taking the rap for a wrong done by one of his former flights. He knew that if he rode just once over a Wing order, his term of command was done. Bruce Grove was, literally, on the spot and Wing was ready to get him. Bill Mond, the surgeon, knew this. Ted Blair, the Eagle skipper knew it too.

With all that in mind, we present The Red Eagle’s self-titled premier outing from the December 1932 issue of Battle Birds!

Zeps stalked above; from below a flight of super-Fokkers zoomed, Spandaus snarling. But the Red Eagle led his devil’s brood straight on; like monster bird killers they dived straight for the staffle of Death, determined to slash a gap through this hell trap—or meet their doom fighting!

A listing of Harold F. Cruickshank’s RED EAGLE stories.

title magazine date vol no
1932
The Red Eagle Battle Birds Dec 1 1
1933
The Iron Eagle Battle Birds Jan 1 2
The Phantom Staffel Battle Birds Feb 1 3
The Masked Buzzard Battle Birds Mar 1 4
The Gray Phantom Battle Birds Apr 2 1
The Black Skull Staffel Battle Birds May 2 2
The Red Death Battle Birds Jun 2 3
Hellion’s Brood Battle Birds Jul 2 4
The Coffin Ace Battle Birds Aug 3 1
The Buccaneer Flight Battle Birds Sep 3 2
The Hell Busters Battle Birds Oct 3 3
Dodoes from Hell Battle Birds Nov 3 4
The One-Eyed Squadron Battle Birds Dec 4 1
1934
Storm Eagles Battle Birds Jan 4 2
Mad Shark of Prussia Battle Birds Feb 4 3
Staffel of Skulls Battle Birds Mar 4 4
Squadron of Lost Men Battle Birds Apr 5 1
The Bloodhound Patrol Battle Birds May 5 2
Tiger Patrol Battle Birds Jun 5 3
Dynamite Busters Dare-Devil Aces Oct 8 3
The Bloodhound Flight Dare-Devil Aces Dec 9 1
1935
The Black Comet Dare-Devil Aces Apr 10 1
Gunpowder Eagles Dare-Devil Aces Jul 10 4
The Vampire Flight Dare-Devil Aces Dec 12 1

 

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