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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!

“Death Takes The Stick” by R. Sidney Bowen

Link - Posted by David on December 16, 2020 @ 6:00 am in

TODAY we have a short but poignant story from the prolific pen of Robert Sidney Bowen. Bowen was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, as well as the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation in addition to penning hundreds of action-packed stories for the pulps.

“Chunky” Towers was not a particularly good Jerry hunter. As a matter of fact he was just an ordinary product of Field No. 8 at Issoudun, with perhaps a better than the average portion of guts. He was always on the lookout for a possible scrap—especially with a certain German pilot who always flew a pale green Fokker—”Green Bird” as Chunky had nicknamed him. The real name of the pilot he did not know, and he didn’t care. Green Bird was not some great German ace who sent Allied pilots down like so many clay pigeons before his yammering guns. To tell the truth, Green Bird was a very ordinary pilot, and a rotten shot—just as rotten a shot as was Chunky.

They had met several times and on each occasion both spewed costly ammunition at thin air. By some queer trick of fate neither could get in the fatal burst when opportunity offered, and opportunity had not been stingy by any manner of means. It just seemed as though each was immune to the other’s bullets. Until that fateful morning…

Even after the Grim Reaper took over the controls, that Fokker obeyed its pilot—and showed a Yank how the dead repay chivalry.

“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.

“The Roving Squadron” by Robert Sidney Bowen

Link - Posted by Bill on October 14, 2009 @ 11:03 pm in

More planes shot down than in any other unit—more men gone west—that was the record of Eighty Squadron. And the first job they handed young Watson was a tough one—to be carried out “no matter what the cost.”

“Dave Dawson at Dunkirk” by Robert Sidney Bowen

Link - Posted by Bill on July 25, 2008 @ 1:58 pm in

The Dave Dawson series of novels by Robert Sydney Bowen visits the history and events of WWII through the exciting adventures of teenagers Dave Dawson and Freddy Farmer. In this one the boys get trapped in the German invasion of France and Belgium. They must survive artillery barrages, capture by the Nazi’s, plane crashes, and other assorted mayhem, all in their quest to reach Dunkirk.