When Wilbur Wright took the Flyer on a sales tour of Europe in , the virtuosity and self-assurance of his daily demonstrations stirred up a fever of renewed aviation activity among the Europeans. Now if he had had a PC… An elementary analysis calculating pressure distributions could perhaps have saved him the trouble of the first 10 discarded designs. One of the mysteries of the history of technology is the inability of the British and French, who could build both engines and machine guns, to quickly contrive a satisfactory way to synchronize them.
Mainly because of its superior armament, the Eindecker ruled the skies above the trenches during the first year of the air war. By , the Allies were producing fighters superior to the Eindecker, and the Fokker Scourge came to an end. The superior rigidity of the bridge-like wing structure enabled higher speeds and more agility, great advancements for dogfighting.
Then British builder Thomas Sopwith produced a triplane. The Sopwith Triplane was a pleasant-flying, stable, and even warm and cozy airplane—not a small concern when pilots prowled at 18, feet. A brief but intense international flurry of triplane designing followed. However, the only model to reach the front was the Fokker Dr. No doubt it seemed to many that more wing area would mean more lift, and therefore a better rate of climb, but the rate is determined by weight, power, and wingspan.
An aerodynamicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jerome Hunsaker, saw the fallacy of the triplane arrangement and in published a critique of it. Continue or Give a Gift. Daily Planet. Flight Today. History of Flight. Lewis loves the planes. He includes as much technical information and descriptions of the designs, layouts, flyability, shortcomings and advantages of all the models he gets to fly as he can, and, he assures us that in his three years of service he flew every plane available on the Western Front.
Thus he gives us detailed accounts of the:. The upper rim of the circle of fire dipped finally behind the clouds, and a bunch of rays, held as it were in some invisible quiver, shot a beam high into the arc of heaven, where it turned a wraith of cirrus cloud to marvellous gold.
The lofty shade had covered the visible earth, and beauty lingered only in the sky. It turned colder… I remembered suddenly the warmth of the mess fire and the faces of friends. It would be good to be down again. I turned towards home and throttled down. The engine roar died. The wind sang gently in the wires.
A long steady glide carried me inland. Now that the engine was off and the warm air did not blow through the cockpit, I grew chilly and beat my hands on my thighs. It was cold at ten thousand in March. I opened up the engine again to feel its warmth.
Slowly the aerodrome rose up through the gauzy swathes of mist spun by the invisible hands of twilight. Above, the cirrus turned copper, faded to pink and mauve, and at last drifted grey and shroud like in the vast arena of the darkening heaven. Over the sheds at four thousand I went into a vertical bank and rushed earthwards in a tight spiral. At a thousand I pulled out, feeling a bit sick, burst my engine to make sure of the plugs, and then cautiously felt my way in over the hangars and touched with that gentle easy rumble which means a perfect landing, turned, and taxied in.
The book is littered with wonderful descriptions of landscape, beginning with the misty mornings in the Surrey Hills where he grew up, and including a phenomenal description of flying from Kent back to France and being able, mid-Channel, to look down and see the landmarks in both countries, and the little ships like toys sailing across the foam-tipped water. Beyond the village, towards the lines, where the poplars started again to flank the dusty road, was the aerodrome.
A row of Bessoneau hangars canvas-covered, wooden-framed sheds holding four machines each backed onto a small orchard where the squadron officers stood. The sheds faced the lines, fifteen miles away; but they were hidden from our direct view by the rolling undulations of the ground. It was that wide featureless landscape typical of northern France, miles and miles of cultivated fields, some brown from the plough, others green with the springing crops, receding to the horizon in immense vistas of peaceful fertility — the sort of country that makes you understand why the French love their earth.
A mile or two south of the road, and running more or less parallel to it, lay the shallow valley of the Somme. It was always there on our right hand as we left the aerodrome for the lines, an infinitely peaceful companion, basking under a haze at midday, cool and mysterious when mists stole out of the dusk.
From up in the sky he can see the beautiful countryside stretching for 20, 30, 40 miles either side of the Front. And then he can look down on the tiny ant-creatures murdering each other and turning the countryside into a hellscape. His own psychological predisposition to the lyrical and beautiful and the distance which comes from twenty years of hindsight reinforce the simple detachment which must have been been created by flying so high above the scene. The war below us was a spectacle. We aided and abetted it, admiring the tenacity of men who fought in verminous filth to take the next trench thirty yards away.
But such objectives could not thrill us, who, when we raised our eyes, could see objective after objective receding, fifty, sixty, seventy miles beyond. Indeed, the fearful thing about the war became its horrible futility, the mountainous waste of life and wealth to stake a mile or two of earth. There was so much beyond. Viewed with detachment, it had all the elements of grotesque comedy — a prodigious and complex effort, cunningly contrived, and carried out with deadly seriousness, in order to achieve just nothing at all.
It was Heath Robinson raised to the nth power — a fantastic caricature of common sense. Just above us the heavy cloud-banks looked like the bellies of a school of whales huddled together in the dusk. Beyond, a faintly luminous strip of yellow marked the sunset. Below, the gloomy earth glittered under the continual scintillation of gunfire. Right round the salient down to the Somme, where the mists backed up the ghostly effect, was this sequined veil of greenish flashes, quivering.
Thousands of guns were spitting high explosive, and the invisible projectiles were screaming past us on every side. So what did Lewis actually do?
For most of his time on the Western Front Lewis was in observation and reconnaissance. In the build-up to the Battle of the Somme he was ordered to fly along the line of trenches taking photographs — an incredibly perilous activity, given the primitiveness of the planes and the even more startling primitiveness of the cameras. For his work during this period he was awarded the Military Cross. At other times he seems to have been free just to fly for the pure joy of it, watching a cumulus cloud appear out of nothing high in the sky, and then noticing the way the shadow of his plane against the pure white backdrop was ringed by a perfect rainbow p.
His entire chapter two — nearly pages long — describes this work, the tension in the last few days before the Somme offensive began on July 1, and then gives a day by day account of his work in the first few weeks of the battle, conveying his slowly growing sense of disillusion as it became clear that this enormous concentration of men and resources was going to fail, both to meet its immediate objectives, and to do anything like end the war.
He describes the mood of disillusionment which sets in among his comrades, and on our side. And towards the end of he notices that the Brits no longer enjoy quite the air supremacy they had previously had. German anti-aircraft fire nicknamed Archie is getting more precise.
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German fighter planes are better built and engineered and their pilots are becoming more aggressive. The Hun was everywhere consolidating his positions, and paying much more attention to us than hitherto. Several times he is forced to make emergency landings, described with hair-raising immediacy, although he always manages to walk away pp. And how different things look on the pock-marked, devastated stinking ground from up there in the clean blue air!
The trees by the roadside were riven and splintered, their branches blown hither and thither, and the cracked stumps stuck up uselessly into the air, flanking the road, forlorn, like a byway to hell. The farms were a mass of debris, the garden walls heaps of rubble, the cemeteries had their crosses and their wire wreaths blown horribly askew. Every five yards held a crater. The earth had no longer its smooth familiar face.
It was diseases, pocked, rancid, stinking of death in the morning sun. Men were dying there, under me, from a whiff of it: not dying quickly, nor even maimed and shattered, but dying whole, retching and vomiting blood and guts; and those who lived would be wrecks with seared, poisoned lungs, rotten for life. In a vision that shows the influence of H. He can see only one solution to the mad rivalry between nations led by demagogues, a power which rises above all of them:.
It is a fight between intellect and appetite, between the international idea and armaments. We now know this is naive and simplistic. Education, science and technology have made improvements Lewis can never have dreamed of. And yet fighting never ends.
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It is about resources, the means for populations to live,and deeply embedded ethnic hatreds. And fighting over those will never end. Lewis developed conjunctivitis. All that staring from heights at troop movements on the ground, plus the effects of oil and smoke flying into his face from the plane engine.
It kept recurring which impeded his battle fitness, so at the end of he was posted back to Britain. As he remarks several times, the average life expectancy of a flier on the Western Front was three weeks. He survived eight months. But, obliquely, he records how such prolonged nervous strain takes its toll. Nobody could stand the strain indefinitely, ultimately it reduced you to a dithering state, near to imbecility.
For you always had to fight it down, you had to go out and do the job, you could never admit it… Cowardice, because, I suppose, it is the most common human emotion, is the most despised. And you did gain victories over yourself. You won and won and won again, and always there was another to be won on the morrow. They sent you home to rest, and you put it in the background of your mind; but it was not like a bodily fatigue from which you could completely recover, it was a sort of damage to the essential tissue of your being. He is posted to a testing squadron and has great fun flying all sorts of new planes for several months, before being recalled for active duty, and leading a squadron back to France in April Whereas previously he had been flying reconnaissance missions, now he and his men are fully engaged in fighting enemy planes.
There follow some amazing descriptions of dogfights in the sky, the meeting of massed ranks of planes from both sides, and an explanation of what a dogfight actually involved, and how to survive it. Then some German planes bomb London, the populace and politicians panic, and he and his crack squadron are flown hurriedly back to London to protect the metropolis.
Lewis, by now cynical beyond measure, contemplates the stupidity of the authorities for not protecting London before, and the hysteria of the Londoners, with contempt. No further German bombers appear, but Lewis describes the hard partying he and his squadron pursue. Drunk at dawn with comrades.
Dancing with strange girls at riotous parties. The s started here with the complete abandonment of the stupid old morality, the starchy Victorian etiquette and fake politeness which concealed the raw facts of human lust and reproduction. No German bombers reappearing, Lewis is posted back to France. The descriptions of the dogfights become more intense. More friends and colleagues are killed. Eventually Lewis is caught out. Bleeding and in pain he makes it back to the aerodrome and is posted home to recuperate. Having recovered he is posted to a Home defence squadron in Essex.
Lewis describes the air defence system created to protect the south of England from bombers, and his part in it, though he is sceptical. The sky is so big, planes are so small — the bombers will always get through.