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How the War Crates Flew: Tricky Ships

Link - Posted by David on June 8, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

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

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’s idea to tell us the underlying principles and facts concerning expressions and ideas of air-war terminology. Each month he will enlarge upon some particular statement in the stories of this magazine. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Tricky Ships

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, November 1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s that? What’s dihedral?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the same to you! S’long!

How the War Crates Flew: Getting Your Hun

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

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

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’s idea to tell us the underlying principles and facts concerning expressions and ideas of air-war terminology. Each month he will enlarge upon some particular statement in the stories of this magazine. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Getting Your Hun

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, October 1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the War Crates Flew: Take-Off Chin Music

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

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

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’s idea to tell us the underlying principles and facts concerning expressions and ideas of air-war terminology. Each month he will enlarge upon some particular statement in the stories of this magazine. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

Take-Off Chin Music

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, September 1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hell’s Skyway” by Ralph Oppenheim

Link - Posted by David on March 25, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

TO ROUND off Mosquito Month we have a non-Mosquitoes story from the pen of Ralph Oppenheim. In the mid thirties, Oppenheim wrote a half dozen stories for Sky Fighters featuring Lt. “Streak” Davis. Davis was a fighter, and the speed with which he hurled his plane to the attack, straight and true as an arrow, had won him his soubriquet. And time is of the essence when Streak is sent on a bombing mission. He must destroy the Krupp Machine works at Luennes before they unleash German’s newest secret weapon at noon! From the July 1934 issue of Sky Fighters it’s “Hell’s Skyway!”

The Fate of the Allies Depends on a done American Flyers Speed and Skill in this Rip-Roaring Novel of Whirling Props and Screaming Struts!

How the War Crates Flew: The Constaninesco Interrupter Gear

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

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

Editor’s Note: We feel that this magazine has been exceedingly fortunate in securing R. Sidney Bowen to conduct a technical department each month. It is Mr. Bowen’s idea to tell us the underlying principles and facts concerning expressions and ideas of air-war terminology. Each month he will enlarge upon some particular statement in the stories of this magazine. Mr. Bowen is qualified for this work, not only because he was a war pilot of the Royal Air Force, but also because he has been the editor of one of the foremost technical journals of aviation.

The Constaninesco Interrupter Gear

by Robert Sidney Bowen (Sky Fighters, July 1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here is how we do that little thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there you are.

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

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

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

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

From the Scrapbooks: A Seasonal Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Scrapbooks: A Letter from George Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing from Provincetown, Massachusetts, Bruce says:

Dear Bob:

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

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

                    Sincerely yours,

                                                George Bruce.


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

“Sky Fighters, November 1937″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

Link - Posted by David on July 5, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. On the November 1937 cover, It’s the deadly Gotha!

The Ships on the Cover

th_SF_3711GOTHA! An ominous word during the World War days. Gothas over London raining steel-cased loads of high explosive, inflammable liquid, shrapnel. Gothas over Paris dropping bombs and hundreds of pounds of propaganda leaflets proclaiming: “We are at your gates. Surrender!” No wonder that millions of civilians far behind the actual fighting lines shuddered in terror as warning sirens blared their screeching blasts across the roof tops.

Defending planes seemed helpless against huge raiders whose pilots were so bold that they flew over England in daylight.

Shattering Morale

The Germans knew that more actual harm could be done to the Allied cause by shattering the nerves and morale of the great masses of humanity in the crowded cities than battering holes in the Allies’ front lines. It brought the war right into the living room. Even if casualties were comparatively small, the damage done to buildings and streets vividly kept before a jittery populace’s eyes the devastating results of war, kept their sleep broken, kept them forever wondering where the next bomb would strike, if they would be torn, bleeding things smashed and broken in an avalanche of falling masonry and flying hunks of smoking steel fragments.

The name Gotha came from the first word of the manufacturing company’s name, Gothaer Waggonfabrik A. G. Aircraft Department. Their most famous job was the twin-engined pusher carrying a pilot, a front gunner and a rear gunner. This ship is pictured on the cover.

Successful Fighting Ships

The Morane-Saulnier Company rendered great service to the Allies by producing a series of highly successful fighting ships. The Parasol or high wing monoplanes were their specialty, but they made biplanes and early in the fracas put out different types of wire-braced low-winged jobs which although fragile things were speedy and dependable except in a hard dive.

Roland Garros, the famous French airman, used one of these ships in his experiments with the front gun firing through the propeller arc. This was not a synchronized firing gun, that is, the gun was not mechanically timed to fire so it missed the propeller blade. Any machine-gun could be used and was fired by hand. The slugs bashed against the whirling prop nearly as often as they slipped through but no appreciable harm was done as a pair of steel deflecting flanges were bolted around the propeller blades just outside of the hub. When the bullets hit the gentle angle of the flanges they were deflected harmlessly into space. But those bullets which got through were just as deadly and accurate as bullets from later synchronized guns.

The Gotha crew felt absolutely safe from this wasplike single seater as it rushed up at them. They feared it just as much as a great Dane would a yipping poodle. And just because of their lack of respect they were caught flat-footed. It was unheard of that a tractor plane could shoot forward. The front gunner of the Gotha nonchalantly started to swing his gun forward toward the tiny plane.

Death Dive

He never knew what hit him. He swayed, lost his balance and fell over the side. The pilot became panic stricken, started to release his bombs to gain altitude and possibly crash a missile through the spindly wings of the French plane. The back gunner forgot himself and fired through his left hand propeller in hopes of hitting the foe. But that propeller had no deflecting flanges. A slug tore into the laminated, whirling blade. It splintered into bits.

The Gotha shuddered, gently listed and then lurched into its death dive. Germany’s threat collapsed. Millions of people behind the lines threw back their shoulders and went confidently again at that very important job of winning the war.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, November 1937 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, September 1937″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

Link - Posted by David on June 7, 2021 @ 6:00 am in

Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. On the September 1937 cover, It’s the immortal Fokker D7!

The Ships on the Cover

th_SF_3709THE one type of plane most talked of when the German air service of World War times is mentioned, is the Fokker. And the outstanding plane of the Fokker line was the D7. Anthony Fokker, a Dutchman, tried to interest the Allies in his early efforts in plane building but met with such stubborn sales resistance that when war clouds formed over Europe and the German government showed it meant real business in buying Fokker planes he took up residence in Germany and promptly started to grind out fighting ships.

From the start his planes were outstanding. Those first monoplanes of his were flimsy many-wired braced things but they had stability, a characteristic which was lacking in most other types.

First Synchronized Machine-Gun

It was on an early Fokker monoplane that the first synchronized machine-gun appeared. This gun all but blasted the Allies from the skies.

As time progressed, so did Fokker planes. He switched to biplanes. Out of these came the D7, the most dreaded plane the Allies had to contend with.

It had no interplane bracing wires. The only external bracing wires were a pair crossed under the nose on the undercarriage.

On lack of interstrut bracing there goes an interesting side story. German flyers, on seeing no wires on the Fokker D7, threw up their hands in horror and refused to fly the darned things.

“It can’t be done,” they said even as they saw Fokker himself putting the new D7 through a series of difficult maneuvers.

A Fine Flying Steed

Fokker was not stumped. He yanked the D7s back into his assembly plant and had wire braces installed. Out they came again for tests. The German Aces took them up and gave them the works. They came down grinning with appreciation for a fine steed which could outfly any German ship in the skies. After Fokker had his ship in mass production he yanked the wires off all the D7s and said, “There, without those wires which are just dummies, you’ll get a couple of extra miles per hour.” They believed him and the real Fokker D7 was launched to do more damage to the Allies than any oilier ship.

The Squadron of Death

Another trick construction stunt on the Fokker was the welding in the joints of the fuselage. They did this welding in such a manner that it was real mass production done cheaply. After the joints were welded the frame looked as though it had been in a wreck, it was so out of shape. The welders merely hammered it back into alignment in a few minutes and it was ready for the riggers. It took our own engineers nearly two years after the war was over to find out how the Germans had done the stunt.

Many German squadrons painted their ships gaudy colors, put decorations on them and even pictures. One squadron of Fokker D7s called themselves the Squadron of Death. And on the fuselage of each plane was painted a skull and crossbones. They had such faith in this death dealing ship that they flaunted their gruesome insignia in the faces of the enemy as they drove them out of the sky. But war is a business, and like peacetime business a competitor’s product must be equalled or bettered or you go to the wall. The Allies didn’t intend going to the wall. True, from behind the eight ball things looked bad, but they had arched their backs and in a very few months the Fokker D7 was fighting for its life.

On the cover two Boche pilots tangled with a single Nieuport 28 C.1. Both Fokkers had skull and crossbones insignia on their flat fuselages. But it’s superior ships and superior flying that chalks up the score.

The first Fokker staggered in its tracks as the guns of the Nieuport blasted slugs into it. A puff of black smoke and down it went. The other German pilot stubbornly attacked the Nieuport which proceeded to fly rings around him and chop his ship to pieces. German ground troops fired their rifles up at the wraithlike Nieuport. Then the Fokker gave a sudden lurch, nosed down in a sickening power dive. German ground troops, who had admiringly noted the skull and crossbones, now gasped in horror as the ship went out of control and smashed them into the sides of their own trenches. The Fokker D7 had been equalled!

It had reached its peak. The Allies threw equally fine planes into the skies—but few surpassed the blunt-nosed awkward product of the Dutch inventor, Anthony Fokker.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, September 1937 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, July 1937″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. On the July 1937 cover, It’s the Sopwith Dolphin!

The Ships on the Cover

th_SF_3707WITH four guns up front capable of shooting at two angles, the Sopwith Dolphin was an opponent to keep from in front of! Its stubby businesslike nose and short fuselage gave it the appearance of a heavily-weighted projectile racing through the air. Built in a distinctly unorthodox design, at first glance, it seemed to be something made to crawl on the ground which had suddenly sprouted wings, but once in the air it could twist and squirm in and out of maneuvers with such rapidity that it made one “OH” and “AH” with high-pressure exultation.

Of course Mr. T.O.M. Sopwith, the versatile designer of a dozen of more airplanes, most of which had quite similar wing construction as to dihedral, was probably sick of the same old thing over and over. So he deliberately pulled a fast one at the designing table. After the bugs were chased out of the experimental model it was found that this radically different job of stick and wire had clicked beyond the designer and manufacturer’s wildest hopes. It went into production and started rolling off the line.

Hitherto Sopwith had stuck to rotary motors, mostly Clergets, but in the Dolphin a 200 h.p. Hispano-Suiza was installed in the nose. The nose was now streamlined, which gave it a radically different appearance from former Sopwiths with their round cowling ring to fit around the whirling rotaries. Of course the heavier, more powerful motor was necessary because the Dolphin was a heavier and larger ship than the famous Camel. The speed of these two was about the same, the Dolphin having only about six or seven miles advantage of the Camel.

The Gun Arrangement

The two Lewis guns sticking up at a 45-degree angle were primarily for blasting the underside of an enemy plane, as the front guns were reserved to deliver a barrage of fire through the prop at any instant. This arrangement of guns made a hit with most pilots and some of them in 1918 made a practice of harassing German troops in their trenches and on roads by diving on them and having two separate angles of fire with which to mow down their opponents.

Later in the war the Sopwith Salamander, a single-seater with a rotary motor and armored belly and sides, came out just for such infantry strafing. Perhaps it was the occasional strafing of trenches with the Dolphin, and the many holes which appeared in its underside, and the wounds and casualties of the daring Dolphin pilots, that inspired this later Salamander.

Picking Up an Espionage Man

On the cover the Dolphin has taken on another trick job, that of picking up one of the Allied espionage men from behind the enemy lines. Usually a rendezvous was decided upon and the Allied plane sat down at this spot. If all went well the agent climbed aboard and was whisked out of danger quickly, but plenty of times valuable information was lost along with pilot and plane.

To most men the sense of balance and timing are fickle tilings of which they know little, and in which they lack experience and confidence. Not so with the agent catching the dangling rope from the swaying low-flying Dolphin. That man’s life had been spent dangling from ropes and scaffolds at dizzy heights. He had been foreman of a gang of bridge painters who year after year dangle from ropes and flimsy scaffolds high over the East River in New York Harbor. A rope overhead, a body of water underneath, a sure death if he slipped, was what he considered just another job of work-one that had been done before and one he was sure he could do at any time again when the emergency arose.

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, July 1937 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Sky Fighters, May 1937″ by Eugene M. Frandzen

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Eugene M. Frandzen painted the covers of Sky Fighters from its first issue in 1932 until he moved on from the pulps in 1939. At this point in the run, the covers were about the planes featured on the cover more than the story depicted. On the May 1937 cover, It’s the ever-popular Sopwith “Camel”!

The Ships on the Cover

th_SF_3705THE Sopwith “Camel” was a name to be proud of back in 1917. This “Camel” of the air did not do without a drink nor was it slow and ungainly like its earthly namesake but it was tricky and uncomfortable to fly. It was similar to its predecessor, the Sop “Pup,” which was an airman’s delight to fly. The Camel’s superiority as a fighting craft was due to those modifications which transformed it into a devilish steed in the hands of its masters.

It could climb a thousand feet a minute and speed through the air in pursuit of an enemy ship until Camel squadrons were both feared by the enemy and envied by the other Allied squadrons equipped with inferior craft.

Whenever possible Allied nations got hold of Camels and bolstered up their own side with this popular fighting ship. Americans who flew them are still talking of their little temperamental job which gave them heart failure on landings and takeoffs but got them out of some mighty tight situations, which other ships of the time could not have accomplished, The 130 h.p. Clerget motor was extensively used to power the Camel.

Later most Camels were equipped with Bentley motors which gave them added pep and brought the Camel out of oblivion very much into the limelight for a glorious new era of fighting life. There was hardly a British ace who did not sometime in his career as a flyer sit in the compact cockpit of a Sop Camel and feel the exultation which comes from flying a hair-trigger ship.

Richthofen’s Defeat

Germany’s ace of aces, Richthofen, got in front of a Camel on April 21, 1918. That Camel was piloted by a young Canadian in the R.F.C. named Roy Brown. Capt. Brown’s Camel seemed to be a live thing as it screamed down on the tail of the Baron’s ship which was racing after one of Brown’s comrades. The Vickers guns leaped and bucked in the Camel’s hump.

The sturdy ship seemed to hold its breath helping its pilot’s aim. The Fokker triplane ahead staggered. Richthofen, mortally wounded, slumped in his pit. It was the end for him. and he, like so many other Germans, ended the war with a wraith-like flitting flying thing of wood and fabric with spitting guns forward blasting death to all who dared challenge its rule.

Although the Camel on the cover is not fighting another ship, it is fighting its most important battle of the war. The complete plans for a major offensive of the Allies disappeared suddenly from close-guarded headquarters offices. A half hour after they were missed intelligence officers were on the track. They traced them to a nearby hangar. They saw a plane sweeping into the skies. One of the intelligence men, a flyer, leaped into a Camel whose motor was ticking over. The enemy spy was almost out of sight, but in a slower ship.

Blazing Battle

The Camel gained, it overtook the spy. Guns blazed. Down slithered the front ship to crash near a road in German territory. The pilot crawled out, hailed a driver of a captured British motorcycle and gave the side car’s passenger the valuable papers. As the spy crumpled to the ground the motorcycle roared toward German headquarters. Down screamed the Camel. Its pilot disregarded the peppering from the motorcycle passenger’s rifle fire.

When the little Camel was about to hit the ground machine, its Vickers guns opened up. A deadly blast of bullets raked both Germans. A slug tore into the overheated motorcycle engine. A roaring explosion enveloped the whole ground machine. The stolen papers in the passenger’s dead hand flared up and curled into blackened bits that fluttered and faded into dust. The Camel wheeled, streaked toward home. Another job well done!

The Ships on The Cover
Sky Fighters, May 1937 by Eugene M. Frandzen
(The Ships on The Cover Page)

“Streaking Vickers” by Ralph Oppenheim

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TO ROUND off Mosquito Month we have a non-Mosquitoes story from the pen of Ralph Oppenheim. In the mid thirties, Oppenheim wrote a half dozen stories for Sky Fighters featuring Lt. “Streak” Davis. Davis was a fighter, and the speed with which he hurled his plane to the attack, straight and true as an arrow, had won him his soubriquet. Operating out of the 34th Pursuit Squadron, his C.O. sends him out to range the big guns to take out the enemy’s supply dump before the Hindenburg Push. From the May 1934 issue of Sky Fighters it’s “Streaking Vickers!”

Follow Lieutenant “Streak” Davis As He Sails the Sky Lanes on the Perilous Trail of Hun Horror!

How the War Crates Flew: Airplane Cooperation with the Artilary

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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!

“Sky Cougar” by Harold F. Cruickshank

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THIS week we have a story by another of our favorite authors—Harold F. Cruickshank! Cruickshank is popular in these parts for the thrilling exploits of The Sky Devil from the pages of Dare-Devil Aces, as well as those of The Sky Wolf in Battle Aces and The Red Eagle in Battle Birds. He wrote innumerable stories of war both on the ground and in the air. Here Mr. Cruickshank gives us a fast-moving tale of Jerry Cougan, known by his squadron as “The Cougar”, as he tries to save Major Power from the huns and rid the skies of the dreaded von Scheer. From the February 1935 issue of Sky Fighters, it’s “Sky Cougar!”

Racing Madly to the Rescue of a Valiant Brass Hat, Jerry Smacks Up Against Some Real Scrapping!

“Famous Sky Fighters, July 1938″ by Terry Gilkison

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STARTING in the October 1933 issue of Sky Fighters and running almost 5 years, Terry Gilkison’s “Famous Sky Fighters” was a staple of the magazine. Each month Gilkison would illustrate in a two page spread different Aces that rose to fame during the Great War.

Although Gilkison was probably better known for his syndicated newspaper work, he also provided black and white story interior illustrations for pulp magazines. His work appeared in Clues, Thrilling Adventures, Texas Rangers, Thrilling Mystery, Thrilling Western, and Popular Western. Gilkison provided similar features in a few other Thrilling Publications—there was “Famous Soldiers of Fortune” and later “Adventure Thrills” in Thrilling Adventures, Famous Crimes” in Thrilling Detective, and the fully illustrated air adventure stories of Buck Barton “The Flying Devil” in The Lone Eagle! He signed most of this work with only his initials “T.G.” to maintain a low profile and preserve his reputation as a syndicated newspaper cartoon artist.

The July 1938 installment, from the pages of Sky Fighters, features Georges Thenault, Lt. Jimmy Bach, Mario Galderara, and Captain John H. Towers!

Next time in “Famous Sky Fighters”, Terry Gilkison features Major Jimmie Doolittle, Armand Pinsard, and Captain Bruno Loerzer! Don’t miss it!

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