Looking to buy? See our books on amazon.com Get Reading Now! Age of Aces Presents - free pulp PDFs

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!

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!

How the War Crates Flew: Airplane Cooperation with the Artilary

Link - Posted by David on February 9, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the August 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.

Airplane Cooperation With the Artillery

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters,August 1932)

COLONEL BOWERS leveled calm gray eyes at the pilots of the 42nd Pursuit Squadron.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “The Seventh Field Battery will start its shoot of the German rail-head, back of Issy, tomorrow morning at nine sharp. The Fiftieth Observation Squadron will conduct the shoot, and it will be your job to see that they are protected from German patrols. I know I can depend upon you to do a damn fine job.”

OF COURSE you can, Colonel. The 42nd boys will go over and knock the pin feathers off any Huns who get nasty. But there happens to be a couple of fledglings around here who are piping up with questions about what those observation ships have got to do. Now, you and I both know that during the late war the observation ship boys missed a lot of praise and credit that they rightly deserved. So I think it would be a good idea if we gathered ’round and chinned about observation ships and shoots for awhile.

Okay, then let’s gather.

Naturally the main idea of observation ships was to observe. And of course, what they observed was anything going on below on the ground. So in order that these question-asking fledglings won’t interrupt us, we will start with the ground and work our way up.

The map of France was divided into a number of sheets that were key-numbered so that you could easily find the adjacent sheets if you wanted to. Each sheet was 36,000 yards by 22.000 yards. And each of those sheets was divided into twenty-four lettered squares, lettered from A to X. (Fig 1)

You’ll note that there are four rows of six squares. And of course you want to understand that the top represents the northerly direction, the bottom the southerly, and the two sides east and west respectively. Well, so much for that. Now, the squares in the top and bottom rows were 6,000 by 5,000 yards. And the squares in the two middle rows were 6,000 by 6.000 yards.

Alright, now the top and bottom rows were again divided into thirty squares numbered from one to thirty. And the squares in the two middle rows were divided into thirty-six squares, numbered from one to thirty-six. To show just what we mean let us take Square A and Square K of Fig. 1, and what do we have? Well, take a look at Fig. 2. Get the idea?

Okay. Now as Square A is 6,000 by 5,000 yards and divided up into thirty numbered squares, it makes each of those squares 1,000 yards square. And as Square K is 6,000 by 6.000 yards and divided up into thirty-six numbered squares, it makes each of those squares 1,000 yards square also.

Now to check back for a moment, we started with a map sheet representing one section of land 36,000 by 22.000. We divided it up so that we got twenty-four sections of land, twelve of them 6,000 yards by 5.000 yards, and twelve of them 6,000 by 6,000 yards. And then we took those twenty-four squares and divided each of them into squares 1,000 yards by 1,000 yards. So you see we are now able to pick out any area of 1.000 yards by 1,000 yards on a section of land that was 36,000 by 22,000 yards when we started.

But we want to get it down smaller than that, so we take each one of these 1000 yards by 1000 yards squares and divide them again into four squares each and letter them A, B, C and D. And of course you can figure that each of these new squares is 500 yards by 500 yards. And just so’s you won’t forget look at Fig. 3.

However, 500 yards by 500 yards is still a pretty big area, so we will get it down smaller yet by starting with the lower left hand corner of each of the lettered squares and marking off ten equal points to the right and ten equal points straight up. Now, if we continued out those lines we would have 100 more squares with each square being 50 yards by 50 yards. Or if necessary we could divide each lettered square of Fig. 3 into 1,000 squares, each of which be five yards by five yards. But 100 squares, 50 yards by 50 yards each is small enough.

NOW all of these squares I’ve been talking about are all printed on the map sheet and lettered and numbered accordingly. That is, all except the last four lettered squares (A, B, C, D). They aren’t marked off in 100 squares usually. They are just left blank and you imagine where the ten equal spaced lines are going to the right, and going from the bottom up, beginning at the left side. Of course, though, if that particular observer was fussy he’d mark in the lines. Fig. 4.

I knew it. … I knew it! That fledgling sitting over there has just got to ask questions, hasn’t he!

He pipes up with: “What’s all these squares got to do with an artillery shoot?”

Alright, I’m getting to that right now. The Colonel has told the boys that the Seventh Artillery is going to let drive on the rail-head back of Issy. Well, does the artillery know the exact location of that rail-head? Perhaps they’ve never shot at it before.

Sure they know it . . . because the observation planes have already spotted it for them.

But to make everything clear for this question-asking fledgling we’ve got here, let’s say that instead of a rail-head it’s an ammunition dump that sprang up over-night, and that the observer notes it for the first time while out on patrol. Call it anything you want . . . but at least something that’s important and must be fired upon right away.

The leader of the observation flight sees it, and immediately starts to locate it on his map so that he can wireless the news (with the small sending sets carried) back to the gunners. Naturally he knows it’s on the map sheet he has, because he took off with the correct key numbered map sheet for the area he was going to patrol.

So by comparing the map with things on the ground (rivers, woods, towns, etc.) he finds that the ammo dump is in Square K. He looks closer and notes that it is in Square 15 of Square K. He keeps on looking and notes that it is in Square D of Square 15. And by figuring still closer he notes that the ammo dump is right where line 7, running from left to right in Square D, crosses perpendicular line 5. In other words he has pin-pointed the ammo dump, or whatever the target is, in an area of 50 yards by 50 yards.

Then he calls the battery on the wireless key by sending down a prearranged code number and the battery number. He does that three times at intervals of one minute each. Then he sends the pin-point map reading of where the target is. You’ve guessed it! Sure, he sends down the map sheet key-number, and then sends K—15—D—7—5. The gunners receive that and know just where to find the target on their map. And when they find that, they can set their guns for the range required.

So, that’s how an observation plane spots a target and sends its exact location back to the “blind” gunners.

Now, let’s say that the guns are ready to fire. The observation pilot has sent down the code-call three times, and he also sends down the pin-point location three times. And then he sends down the order to fire.

INCIDENTALLY, whenever the observer sends wireless messages to the battery he does so when he is flying from the target toward the battery.

Okay, the Fire! is sent down, and the plane banks around and flies back toward the target. At the end of three minutes the battery fires a shell over. The observer notes where it falls in relation to the target and then when the plane banks around and flies toward the battery again he sends down the correction.

Now for the corrections the observer sends down.

The target being fired upon is the center of a clock, with 12 o’clock being due north and the remaining hours accordingly. Around the target are imaginary circles at radial distances of 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 yards, etc. And these circles are lettered from the center Y, Z, A, B, C, D, E, F, etc.

So let us say that the first shell lands 200 yards north of the target. The correction would then be, C at 12 o’clock. And if the second shell lands 50 yards to the east of the target, the correction sent down would be, A at 3 o’clock. Of course I’ve been speaking of corrections. The observer simply tells the gunners where each shell lands so that they can make the correction on their gun sights. Of course there is no correction when a hit is made and the observer signals down that a hit has been made. And when the target is destroyed the signal to Cease Fire is sent down.

And now a little story before I put on my hat and call it a day with you fledglings.

It has to do with sending back new pin-point locations. There was in France, what was known as the S.O.S. call from plane to gunners. It was never supposed to be sent down unless the target was of great importance. A couple of thousand marching troops, or three or four field batteries on the road, or fifty or more motor lorries. In other words . . . mighty worthwhile shooting up. The reason being that when the S. O. S. signal came down, every gun within range of the target fired three shots. And during the latter part of the war, that usually meant 10,000 guns!

Well, it seems that an Allied pilot was one day straffing a German staff car, and he couldn’t seem to do much about it. So he ups and gets sore and sends down the S. O. S. Now, there’s no need of my describing what happened to that staff car and all the Hun brass-hats sitting in it. But, as for the pilot . . . he was yanked off the Front and grounded for the rest of the war. Now, take that funny look off your faces, because I’m telling you right from the shoulder, that poor peelot was not yours truly!

“How The War Crates Flew” by Robert Sidney Bowen

Link - Posted by David on May 13, 2015 @ 6:00 am in

FROM the pages of the June 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.

FORMATION FLYING

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, June 1933)

WELL, maybe I’m getting good, or maybe you buzzards have ganged up together and decided to kid your old Uncle Wash-out. But anyway, I’m certainly getting a flock of letters asking me all sorts of questions. And would you believe it?—most of them are real sensible. They almost make me believe that you apes keep your ears buttoned back when I start to talk. As I said, maybe I’m getting good, and then again maybe I’m—! Oh, well, we’ll let that one go this time.

However, it all leads up to the fact that I’ve just received a note from Tony Battagalia out in Chicago. Now there is a buzzard who does his sleeping in the night time only. He keeps his eyes open while the sun is shining—and even on rainy days, too. In his note he tells me what a wonderful war eagle I must have been (which of course is quite correct), and then he asks me to get in a few words about formation flying.

Well, I was going to speak about knitting woolen helmets for high altitude flying, but in view of the fact that Tony wants to hear about formation flying then that’s what he’s going to hear about. Of course some of you other buzzards may think that you know all about that sort of thing. If you do just stick your chins in your vests and don’t snore too loud. Tony and the other lads crave information, so take a tip and shut up.

FORMATION flying is, of course, just what the two words signify—flying together in a group in a definitely arranged group. And why? Of course you can guess. When soldiers march they don’t go along the street in mob fashion, half of them in the gutter and the other half shuffling across peoples’ front lawns. No, they march in closed order. And the main idea is so that the whole group will execute an order as though they were one man. The same idea holds true for cavalry, gun batteries, tanks, etc. Formation is maintained so that the group will act as a solid unit.

Now, that is great stuff for the fighting forces on the ground. They can march into battle in formation positions, and in some cases they can fight a battle and still keep their formation. In the case of infantry going over the top, they go over in what are known as waves. The first wave is a line of soldiers spaced so many feet apart. In some cases it may be two lines. Then comes the second wave, and if necessary a third wave. But what I’m trying to bring out is that the soldiers advance upon the enemy in formation. When they meet the enemy and it becomes a case of hand to hand conflict, their original formation is of course broken up. But up to that point, the soldiers that were not killed while advancing across no man’s land kept an advancing formation that made it possible for their officers to maneuver them as a solid group.

THAT is exactly what happens in the air—planes fly in formation not because it looks pretty, but so that all of them will maneuver as a fixed body when the signal comes from the pilot in command. Troops on the ground march behind their commanding officer. The reasons for that are, first; an officer leads his men. That’s why he’s an officer. Second, so that they will be able to see or hear his commands and execute them as a unit.

So naturally, it follows that the commanding air officer leads his pilots through the air. And the best way to lead them is when they are flying behind him in formation position. When in formation they can see his signals, and by looking back he can see them.

Now, that brings us up to the matter of the various types of aerial formations, their names, and their uses.

The first is, of course, the most common one of all. It is called the V formation. (Fig. 1) A V formation can be made up of any number of planes, from three to six billion, if you want that many. The officer in command flies at the peak of the V. On his left and on his right, just behind him, are usually two experienced pilots. And then behind each of them is a new or inexperienced pilot. And behind each of them is a veteran. Now, because of prop wash (which is simply air churned up and disturbed by the revolving propeller) it is impossible for one plane to fly directly behind another and at the same altitude. Believe it or not, the air just back of the first plane is like a greased pole. You just can’t stay on it. Your plane will slide off to the right or the left. Therefore, in order that the plane behind will maintain its position, it flies a few feet above the level of the plane ahead, and a bit to the right or left such as the case may be. And the plane behind that flies a bit high. And so forth, right back to the last plane. In other words the planes on both sides form a flight of steps that slant outward and upward from the leading plane.

WHEN you speak of the left and right side of a formation you speak of them in reference to the right or left side of the leading plane. And the left or right side of a plane is its pilot’s left or right when facing forward. Therefore No 1 plane on the right is the first plane on the leader’s right. No. 2 plane is the next one back, and so forth. And the same numbering holds true for the left side. So by checking back on what I said about the two inexperienced pilots, you will note that in that seven plane flight one inexperienced pilot, was No. 2 plane on the right. And the other was No. 2 on the left.

Now, don’t rush me. I’m going to tell you why.

It’s simply for this reason. The greenhorns are protected in front and in the rear. In other words in case the flight is attacked from either the front or the rear, the attackers will smack into veterans first. They won’t be able to slip down and take a crack at the greenhorns when veterans aren’t looking.

AND as an added precaution against that, there is sometimes a veteran who flies what is called Top-cover position. You will note that that position is shown in Fig. 1. He flies in the center of the V, but at an altitude higher than any of the others. And so, in that particular formation you have the leader and two veterans keeping a weather eye on the air above and in front. You have two more veterans doing the same thing behind and above. And you have a lone veteran riding herd above the center of them all.

Now, before I go on with other formations just let me mouth a few last words about the V. That is the way a flight would go over the lines. However, maneuvering in formation is a rather ticklish job because each plane is so sensitive on the controls, and because of varying air currents. Naturally, planes used in the war were not as stabilized as the ships of the present time, and therefore any idea of fancy flying in formation was OUT. The formation could climb and dive together. It could bank to the left or the right. But looping together or rolling together wasn’t tried—and for two reasons. First, it was too risky. And second, it wasn’t of any value. However, banking to the right or the left was of value, for the simple reason that the formation had to turn some time. They didn’t go across the lines flying straight and then go right on around the world until they hit their own field. And so, of course, a way was doped out how to turn around to the left or the right and still maintain the V formation.

It was done in two ways—not both at the same time!

Once the leader signaled a bank to the right, the pilots flying ships on the inside of the turn (ships on the leader’s right in this case) would throttle their engines and more or less stall around. And the pilots flying planes on the outside of the turn (the leader’s left in this case) would speed up their engines and go fast. Naturally the reason for that was that to make the turn, they had to fly a greater distance than the ships on the inside of the turn. And then, of course, when the formation was headed straight again the pilots on the right would speed up their engines again, and the pilots on the left would slow up their engines—’and thus everybody would keep formation position.

The second way was really the most effective, because it did not necessitate the trouble of throttling or goosing the engine. And also it made it possible for the V formation to turn quicker and in a much smaller area.

It was executed this way. Again we’ll have the leader signal a turn to the right. (He’d signal by wabbling his wings and pointing his right arm to the right. Or he might just dip his right wings, and then start to turn.) But anyway, let us say that he has signaled a right turn.

As he started to turn, the planes on the inside (his right) would dip down to the left then up and over to form position on his left. At the same time the planes on the outside of the turn (his left) would climb up to the right and then down to form position on his right. In other words the right and left planes would simply change places. The ones on the inside of the turn going down to the left and up. And the planes on the outside of the turn going up to the right and then down. Of course a turn to the left was made in the opposite manner.

So much for that. Nope. One more word. The flight would cross the lines in formation but once they were attacked, or did the attacking themselves, the formation would soon break up. Because no matter how much you may slice it, a dogfight in the air is an individual against individual affair. Once a fight starts its just the same idea as when the advancing wave of soldiers reaches the enemy line. A general free-for-all with the best man winning. You can advance, attack, and retreat in formation—but during the scrap the formation goes by-by.

NOW, by squinting at Fig. 2, you will see what a V of Vs formation looks like. As in an ordinary V formation there can be as many planes as you want in each V. But in a squadron there are usually three flights; A, B, and C. Therefore, on a squadron patrol the formation flown is by individual flights, with the flight leader heading each group. And we call it a V of Vs because each group is in the form of a V, and all three groups form a large V. Maneuvering is, of course, just the same as with one V only on a larger scale.

And Fig. 3 is what is called line formation. It can start across the lines that way, or it can be formed by both sides of a V formation moving up into line with the leader in the middle. That type of formation was used for ground strafe work over a wide area. The line of ships would simply sweep forward dropping their small twenty pound Cooper bombs (usually four to each scout plane) and firing their guns at the troops below. To reverse and come back each plane simply half rolled and pulled up out of its resulting dive. (Naturally the ships flew far enough, apart to make reversing possible without tangling wings.)

Fig. 4 is a formation that was seldom used during the late mix-up on the other side of the big pond. It’s called, “line formation in echelon.” As you will note it’s simply a V formation with one-half of the V missing. The planes are like a flight of steps. And that type of formation was for ground strafing a small area. The ships came down, one after the other, and let drive with guns and bombs just before zooming up for altitude.

From echelon formation it was but a simple matter to form what was known as the Lufbery Circle, Fig. 5. (So called because it was used extensively by the great Lafayette Escadrillo ace, Raoul Lufbery.) As you can figure out for yourselves, regardless of its name, it is simply a follow-the-leader formation, or a ring-around-the-rosey affair. But its uses and its advantages were most helpful. It was used not only for trench straffing, but also for air attack defense. A pilot in a pursuit ship doesn’t have to worry much about what is in front of him, for the simple reason that he can see forward and shoot his guns forward. But, behind him it is another question. He can look behind, but he can’t shoot behind unless he turns around.

SO that makes the line formation in echelon and the Lufbery Circle, or follow the leader formation, a great help to each man’s tail. In other words you dive down on a trench, spray it with your guns, and zoom up without worrying much whether a load of nickel jacketed steel is going to crease the seat of your pants. And you don’t worry much because the pilot behind you is taking his turn at spraying the troops in the trench, with the result that they are too occupied with getting out of his way to turn around and blaze away at you as you zoom up.

And in the case of the Lufbery Circle, it wouldn’t be healthy for a Hun to try and drop down on the tail of the ship in front of you because you would simply pull up your nose a bit and chew off the soles of his field boots with your bursts. Incidentally, line formation in echelon, or follow the leader formation, was good for bombing work or photographic work. It enabled the pilots to bomb or snap, one at a time, the same spot on the ground, and while doing it be more or less protected from the rear. That is, each plane covered the ship ahead, with the exception, of course, of the last ship. But the pilot flying that ship was the only one who had to pray to Lady Luck to keep Spandaus lead away from him. And even he was protected if the planes formed the Lufbery Circle.

And so there you are, a few words of wisdom (?) on formation flying. In general, formation flying- was okay before and after the scrap. In fact, as you can figure out yourselves, if you’ve kept your ears open, formation flying or flying in formation was absolutely essential to effective patroling. BUT, in a scrap?—nuts to formations! Pick your man, and go get him. That was the idea. And when it was all over but the shouting, if you were still in the air, gather around your leader and reform your formation.