Birdmen





Although I am an American, I am still in the French aviation corps, in

which I enlisted when the war broke out. I am too old for service under

the Stars and Stripes, but not too old to risk my life under the French

flag for the freedom of the world.



I was trained in a French aviation school. Flyers were needed

immediately; and so I did not go through "a ground school," or any

teaching like that given for eight weeks in the American ground

schools. I was sent directly to the flying field and given a machine at

once. I did not, as they do at American flying fields, go up first with

an instructor who might be tempted to "scare me to death" by "looping

the loop" or doing "tail spins." I took my own machine at the very

start and, after being given the simplest directions, away I went in

it; but I did not break any records for altitude.



It was a small monoplane with a 20-horse-power motor, and its wings had

been clipped; so all it could do was to roll along the ground. It was,

however, some time before I could guide it in a straight line. I was

discouraged at first, but felt better when I learned that it was very

difficult even for an experienced flyer.



Such machines are called "penguins" and have a trick of turning

suddenly in a short half circle and smashing the end of a wing against

the ground. The queer antics of beginners in them furnish fun for every

one on the flying fields.



After I had mastered this machine, I was given one with a motor of

greater horse power, and in this I could fly along the ground at nearly

sixty miles an hour; but I could not rise into the air, for the wings

were clipped and did not have sufficient sustaining power to hold the

machine in the air.



Then at last I was given a plane with full-sized wings; but, as its

motor generated only about 25-horse power, I could get only from three

to six feet above the ground, and went skimming along now on the ground

and now a few feet in the air.



In these machines, we learned only how to manage the tail of the

machine. As we skimmed along the ground, we tipped the tail at an angle

slightly above a straight line. In a few moments we were off the

ground, and the roar of the motor sounded softer and smoother. It

seemed as if we were very far from the earth, and that something might

break and dash us to our death--in reality, we had not risen six feet.

To get back to earth, we must push the lever that lowers the tail--but

this must be done very slightly and very carefully. A little push too

much, and the machine will suddenly dive into the ground.



After my experience with the first two machines, I found it easy to

handle this one, and was soon given one that would take me up about

fifty feet and give me a chance to learn the "feel of the air." All my

flying was still in straight lines, or as nearly straight as I could

make it. We were not yet allowed to try to turn.



In the next machine I could rise two or three hundred feet and began to

learn to turn, although most of the flying was still in straight lines.



I was beginning to make good landings, which is the hardest part of the

game. We have to let the ship down on two wheels and let the tail skid

at a speed of thirty-five miles an hour and not break the landing gear.



The machines often bound three or four times when landing and that is

hard on the landing gear. My last landing was so soft that I was not

sure when I touched the ground. To take off is quite easy. The ship is

controlled by an upright stick which is between one's knees and just

right for the left hand. The rudder is controlled by the feet, and the

throttle is on the right side. To take off, we get up a speed of about

forty-six miles per hour and raise the tail up until the ship is level,

and then when she starts to rise, lift the nose just a little and climb

slowly.



On turns, the ship has to be banked, tipped up with the inside wing

low, and turned with the rudder. It is quite a hard thing to do when it

is rough, as just about the time we bank, we get a puff of wind which

will hit one wing and she will roll and rock so that we have to get her

straightened out. It is a fight all the time until you get about 3000

feet up, when the air gets steady.



To land, we slow the engine down to idling speed and come down in a

steep glide until five or six feet from the ground, then level off and

glide along until she begins to settle, then jerk the tail down until

she stops. We always have to take off and come down against the wind.



I was obliged to follow the directions of my instructor, much against

my own wishes. It seemed to me that I could now do anything in the air

and that there was not the slightest danger. This too early feeling of

mastery is the cause of many beginners' being injured or killed, by

trying "stunts" too difficult for them.



I did not spend much time in flying at first, after I had learned how

to handle the airplane. It is not difficult to stay in the air and to

fly, but it is difficult to land safely without breaking the machine.

So I was kept practicing landing.



To secure my license I was required to fly 50 miles in a straight line

to a named place, and then back; then to fly 200 miles in a triangle,

passing through two named places; and last of all to stay one hour in

the air at an altitude higher than 7000 feet.



Now the French schools require only a 30-mile flight with three

successful landings, before sending the flyer to the finishing school,

where he learns to do all the "stunts" that a fighter must be able to

do in order to succeed. I learned the tail wing slip, the tail spin and

dive, the vrille, to loop the loop, and many other fancy flying

tricks. They have saved my life more than once.



I was interested in reading the other day James Norman Hall's funny

description of how he learned at last to master the penguin. He felt

triumphant, but he says, "But no one had seen my splendid sortie. Now

that I had arrived, no one paid the least attention to me. All eyes

were turned upward, and following them with my own, I saw an airplane

outlined against a heaped-up pile of snow-white cloud. It was moving at

tremendous speed, when suddenly it darted straight upward, wavered for

a second or two, turned slowly on one wing, and fell, nose-down,

turning round and round as it fell, like a scrap of paper. It was the

vrille, the prettiest piece of aërial acrobatics that one could wish

to see. It was a wonderful, an incredible sight.



"Some one was counting the turns of the vrille. Six, seven, eight;

then the airman came out of it on an even keel, and, nosing down to

gather speed, looped twice in quick succession. Afterward he did the

retournement, turning completely over in the air and going back in

the opposite direction; then spiraled down and passed over our heads at

about fifty meters, landing at the opposite side of the field so

beautifully that it was impossible to know when the machine touched the

ground."



There is nothing in all the experiences of life like what one feels in

flying through the air, especially at a great height and with no other

machines in sight. There is a loneliness, unlike any other kind of

loneliness; there is a feeling of smallness and weakness; a sense of

the immensity of things and of the presence and nearness of God. It is

surprising that in doing that in which man has shown his greatest power

over the forces of Nature, he feels most his littleness and how easily

he could be destroyed by the very forces he has conquered.



Lieutenant Roberts, an American flying in France, described not long

ago an experience that came just after his first flight. He was up in

the air, higher than anybody had ever been before, when the machine

suddenly broke into little pieces, which, as he was tumbling down

through the air, he vainly tried to catch. Just as he hit the ground

and broke every bone in his body, he woke up on the floor beside his

bunk.



The Englishmen are the most daring of all the flyers, take the most

risks, and do the most dangerous "stunts." Not so much is heard of them

because their exploits and their scores are not announced by the

British army. Bishop, who has just been ordered from the flying field

to safer work, is said to have brought down nearly eighty German

planes, and on the day he learned of his recall, went up and brought

down two.



The Americans are daredevils, too. I took one of them one night as a

"guest," when I went over Metz on a bombing expedition. One of the

bombs stuck. He thought it might cause us trouble when we landed,

possibly explode and kill us, so he crawled out over the fusilage and

released it. He certainly earned his passage.



With several other Americans we formed what we called the American

Escadrille; but as the United States was neutral at that time, we were

obliged to change the name to the Lafayette Escadrille.



Since joining the squadron, I have used all sorts of machines, and

there are many of them, from the heavy bombing machine to the swift

little swallow-like scouts.



My first important work was reconnoissance, in which I carried an

observer. I managed the machine, and he did the reconnoitering. We went

out twice a day and flew over into German territory, sometimes as far

in as fifty miles, observing all that was going on, the movements of

troops and supplies, and the building of railroads and defensive works.

We also took photographs of the country over which we flew.



Reconnoissance is dangerous work, and is constantly growing more so, as

anti-aircraft guns are improved. These guns are mounted on a revolving

table, upon which is a mirror in which the airplane shows as soon as it

comes within range of the gun. With an instrument designed for the

purpose, the crew get the flyer's altitude; and with another, the rate

at which he is traveling. They aim the gun for the proper altitude,

make the correct allowance for the time it will take the shell to reach

him, and as they have an effective range of over 30,000 feet, there is

reason to worry. Yet by zig-zagging and other devices, the aviators are

rarely brought down by anti-aircraft guns. The small scout machines

with a wing spread of not more than thirty feet are not visible to the

naked eye when at an altitude of over 10,000 feet, and are therefore

safe from these guns at this height.



But reconnoissance, to be effective, must be done at a much lower

altitude, and sometimes the machine must remain under fire for a

considerable period of time. Poiret, the French aviator, fighting with

the Russians, with a captain of the General Staff for an observer, was

under rifle and shell fire for about twenty minutes. His machine was

up about 4000 feet. Ten bullets and two pieces of shell hit his

airplane, but he never lost control. The captain was shot through the

heel, the bullet coming out of his calf; but he continued taking notes.

They returned in safety to their lines.



I also did some work in directing artillery fire. For this my machine

was equipped with a wireless apparatus for sending. No method has yet

been devised whereby an airplane in flight can receive wireless

messages. In directing the fire of the big guns, the aviator seeks to

get directly over the object that is under fire, and to signal or send

wireless messages in regard to where the shells land. After the aviator

is in position, the third shot usually reaches the target.



I am not yet one of the great aces, and will not, therefore, tell you

about any of my air battles. I hope some day you may read of them and

that I may come to have the honor of being named with Lufbery,

Guynemer, Nungesser, Fonk, Bishop, Ball, Genét, Chapman, McConnell,

Prince, Putnam, and other heroes of the air.



Lieutenant R.A.J. Warneford, who won the Victoria Cross for destroying

a giant Zeppelin, is one of the greatest of these; at least, he

performed a feat never accomplished before and never since.



At three o'clock one morning in June, 1915, he discovered a Zeppelin

returning from bombing towns along the east coast of England. The Huns

shot Captain Fryatt because, as they said, he was a non-combatant and

tried to defend himself. The rule that non-combatants should not attack

military forces was made with the understanding that military forces

would not war on non-combatants. But law, or justice, or agreements

never are allowed by the Huns to stand in their way. This Zeppelin was

returning from a raid in which twenty-four were killed and sixty

seriously injured, nearly all women and children, and all

non-combatants.



Lieutenant Warneford well knew of the dastardly deeds of the Zeppelins,

and he immediately gave chase, firing as he approached. The Zeppelin

returned his shots. He mounted as rapidly as possible so as to get the

great gas-bag below him, until he reached over 6000 feet and the

Zeppelin was about 150 feet directly below him. Both were moving very

rapidly, and to hit was exceedingly difficult, but he dropped six

bombs, one after the other. One of them hit the Zeppelin squarely,

exploded the gas-bag, and set it afire its entire length. The explosion

turned Lieutenant Warneford's airplane upside down, and although he

soon righted it, he was obliged to land. He was over territory occupied

by the Germans and he landed behind the German lines, but he succeeded

in rising again before being captured, and returned to his hangar in

safety, to tell his marvelous story. The Zeppelin and its crew were

completely destroyed. A few days later Lieutenant Warneford was killed.



One of the greatest air duels, between airplanes, was during the Battle

of Vimy Ridge. At that time Immelman was as great a German ace as were

Boelke and Richthofen later, and Ball was the greatest of the English.



One morning Ball learned that Immelman was stationed with the Germans

on the opposite line, and carried him a challenge which read:



CAPTAIN IMMELMAN: I challenge you to a man-to-man fight to take

place this afternoon at two o'clock. I will meet you over the

German lines. Have your anti-aircraft guns withhold their fire

while we decide which is the better man. The British guns will

be silent.



BALL.



Ball dropped this from his airplane behind the German lines, and soon

afterward Immelman dropped his answer behind the British lines:



CAPTAIN BALL:



Your challenge is accepted. The German guns will not interfere.

I will meet you promptly at two.



IMMELMAN.



A few minutes before two, the guns ceased firing, and all on both sides

fixed their eyes in the air to witness a contest between two knights

that would make the contests of the days of chivalry seem tame.




The French plane at the top is maneuvering for position

preparatory to swooping down on its German adversary.

Copyright by Underwood & Underwood, N.Y.]



In an air battle, the machine that is higher up is thought to have the

advantage. Both Ball and Immelman went up very high, but Ball was below

and seemed uncertain what to do. The British were afraid that he had

lost his nerve and courage when he found himself below, for he made no

effort to get above his opponent, but was flying now this way and now

that, as if "rattled."



Immelman did not delay, but went into a nose dive directly towards the

machine below, which he would be able to rake with his machine gun as

he approached; but just at the proper moment, Ball suddenly looped the

loop and was directly above the German, and in position to fire. As the

shower of bullets struck Immelman and his machine, it burst into flames

and dropped like a blazing comet.



Ball returned to his hangar, got a wreath of flowers, and went into the

air again to drop them upon the spot where Immelman had fallen dead.



Four days later Ball was killed in a fight with four German planes, but

not until he had brought down three of them.



But the fighting planes do not get all the thrills in the air. A young

English aviator and his observer who were directing artillery fire in

September, 1918, showed as great devotion and courage as any ace and

lived through as exciting an adventure as ever befell a fighting

plane.



They were flying over No Man's Land to get the proper range for a

battery which was to destroy a bridge of great value to the Huns. Their

engine had been running badly and back-firing. They would have returned

home had their work been of less importance.



Suddenly the pilot smelled burning wood, and looking down, saw the

framework near his feet blackened and smoldering. It had caught fire

from the backfire of the engine and the exhaust, but was not yet in a

decided blaze. He turned off the gas and opened the throttle. Then he

made a steep, swift dive, and the powerful rush of the air put the fire

out.



Then he hesitated, trying to decide whether to "play safe" and go home

or whether to continue their work until the battery had secured the

exact range. He knew that in a very short time and with a little more

observation, their work would be completely successful. So he turned to

the observer and asked him what he thought. The observer leaned over

and examined the damage near the pilot's feet. It did not look very

bad; so he shouted, "Let's carry on."



Up they went again and in a short time had shells from the battery

falling all about the bridge, which was soon destroyed. Their work was

done, and well done. In the excitement they had forgotten the bad

engine until they heard it give one last sputter and stop.



Then they perceived the woodwork was on fire again and really blazing

this time. To dive now would only fan the flames about the pilot's

feet, but they must get to the ground, and get there quickly, too.



The pilot put the machine into a side slip toward the British line.

This fanned the flames away from his feet. The observer squirted the

fire extinguisher on the burning wood near the pilot's feet, and thus

enabled him to keep control of the rudder bar.



They were now within fifteen hundred feet of the ground, but the heat

was almost unbearable. The right wing was beginning to burn. Down,

down, they went, and luckily towards a fairly good landing place. One

landing wheel struck the ground with such force that it was broken off,

and the airplane bumped along on the other for a short distance until

it finally crashed on its nose and left wing.



Both pilot and observer were unhurt. They sprang to the ground and

hurried away from the burning wreck just in time, for a few seconds

later the gasoline tank exploded. They looked at each other without a

word, but neither of them regretted that he had stayed up until the job

had been finished.



Such is the life and the danger of the flyers; but thousands of the

finest young men of all the nations at war eagerly seek the service,

for the aviators are the eyes of the armies and will determine always

more than any other branch which side shall be finally victorious.





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