XVIII. A SUMMARY, TO 1914
Consideration of the events in the years immediately preceding the War must be limited to as brief a summary as possible, this not only because the full history of flying achievements is beyond the compass of any single book, but also because, viewing the matter in perspective, the years 1903-1911 show up as far more important as regards both design and performance. From 1912 to August of 1914, the development of aeronautics was hindered by the fact that it had not progressed far enough to form a real commercial asset in any country. The meetings which drew vast concourses of people to such places as Rheims and Bournemouth may have been financial successes at first, but, as flying grew more common and distances and heights extended, a great many people found it other than worth while to pay for admission to an aerodrome. The business of taking up passengers for pleasure flights was not financially successful, and, although schemes for commercial routes were talked of, the aeroplane was not sufficiently advanced to warrant the investment of hard cash in any of these projects. There was a deadlock; further development was necessary in order to secure financial aid, and at the same time financial aid was necessary in order to secure further development. Consequently, neither was forthcoming.
This is viewing the matter in a broad and general sense; there were firms, especially in France, but also in England and America, which looked confidently for the great days of flying to arrive, and regarded their sunk capital as investment which would eventually bring its due return. But when one looks back on those years, the firms in question stand out as exceptions to the general run of people, who regarded aeronautics as something extremely scientific, exceedingly dangerous, and very expensive. The very fame that was attained by such pilots as became casualties conduced to the advertisement of every death, and the dangers attendant on the use of heavier-than-air machines became greatly exaggerated; considering the matter as one of number of miles flown, even in the early days, flying exacted no more toll in human life than did railways or road motors in the early stages of their development. But to take one instance, when C. S. Rolls was killed at Bournemouth by reason of a faulty tail-plane, the fact was shouted to the whole world with almost as much vehemence as characterised the announcement of the Titanic sinking in mid-Atlantic.
Even in 1911 the deadlock was apparent; meetings were falling off in attendance, and consequently in financial benefit to the promoters; there remained, however, the knowledge--for it was proved past question--that the aeroplane in its then stage of development was a necessity to every army of the world. France had shown this by the more than interest taken by the French Government in what had developed into an Air Section of the French army; Germany, of course, was hypnotised by Count Zeppelin and his dirigibles, to say nothing of the Parsevals which had been proved useful military accessories; in spite of this, it was realised in Germany that the aeroplane also had its place in military affairs. England came into the field with the military aeroplane trials of August 1st to 15th, 1912, barely two months after the founding of the Royal Flying Corps.
When the R.F.C. was founded--and in fact up to two years after its founding--in no country were the full military potentialities of the aeroplane realised; it was regarded as an accessory to cavalry for scouting more than as an independent arm; the possibilities of bombing were very vaguely considered, and the fact that it might be possible to shoot from an aeroplane was hardly considered at all. The conditions of the British Military Trials of 1912 gave to the War office the option of purchasing for L1,000 any machine that might be awarded a prize. Machines were required, among other things, to carry a useful load of 350 lbs. in addition to equipment, with fuel and oil for 4 1/2-hours; thus loaded, they were required to fly for 3 hours, attaining an altitude of 4,500 feet, maintaining a height of 1,500 feet for 1 hour, and climbing 1,000 feet from the ground at a rate of 200 feet per minute, 'although 300 feet per minute is desirable.' They had to attain a speed of not less than 55 miles per hour in a calm, and be able to plane down to the ground in a calm from not more than 1,000 feet with engine stopped, traversing 6,000 feet horizontal distance. For those days, the landing demands were rather exacting; the machine should be able to rise without damage from long grass, clover, or harrowed land, in 100 yards in a calm, and should be able to land without damage on any cultivated ground, including rough ploughed land, and, when landing on smooth turf in a calm, be able to pull up within 75 yards of the point of first touching the ground. It was required that pilot and observer should have as open a view as possible to front and flanks, and they should be so shielded from the wind as to be able to communicate with each other. These are the main provisions out of the set of conditions laid down for competitors, but a considerable amount of leniency was shown by the authorities in the competition, who obviously wished to try out every machine entered and see what were its capabilities.
The beginning of the competition consisted in assembling the machines against time from road trim to flying trim. Cody's machine, which was the only one to be delivered by air, took 1 hour and 35 minutes to assemble; the best assembling time was that of the Avro, which was got into flying trim in 14 minutes 30 seconds. This machine came to grief with Lieut. Parke as pilot, on the 7th, through landing at very high speed on very bad ground; a securing wire of the under-carriage broke in the landing, throwing the machine forward on to its nose and then over on its back. Parke was uninjured, fortunately; the damaged machine was sent off to Manchester for repair and was back again on the 16th of August.
It is to be noted that by this time the Royal Aircraft Factory was building aeroplanes of the B.E. and F.E. types, but at the same time it is also to be noted that British military interest in engines was not sufficient to bring them up to the high level attained by the planes, and it is notorious that even the outbreak of war found England incapable of providing a really satisfactory aero engine. In the 1912 Trials, the only machines which actually completed all their tests were the Cody biplane, the French Deperdussin, the Hanriot, two Bleriots and a Maurice Farman. The first prize of L4,000, open to all the world, went to F. S. Cody's British-built biplane, which complied with all the conditions of the competition and well earned its official acknowledgment of supremacy. The machine climbed at 280 feet per minute and reached a height of 5,000 feet, while in the landing test, in spite of its great weight and bulk, it pulled up on grass in 56 yards. The total weight was 2,690 lbs. when fully loaded, and the total area of supporting surface was 500 square feet; the motive power was supplied by a six-cylinder 120 horsepower Austro-Daimler engine. The second prize was taken by A. Deperdussin for the French-built Deperdussin monoplane. Cody carried off the only prize awarded for a British-built plane, this being the sum of L1,000, and consolation prizes of L500 each were awarded to the British Deperdussin Company and The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, this latter soon to become famous as makers of the Bristol aeroplane, of which the war honours are still fresh in men's minds.
While these trials were in progress Audemars accomplished the first flight between Paris and Berlin, setting out from Issy early in the morning of August 18th, landing at Rheims to refill his tanks within an hour and a half, and then coming into bad weather which forced him to land successively at Mezieres, Laroche, Bochum, and finally nearly Gersenkirchen, where, owing to a leaky petrol tank, the attempt to win the prize offered for the first flight between the two capitals had to be abandoned after 300 miles had been covered, as the time limit was definitely exceeded. Audemars determined to get through to Berlin, and set off at 5 in the morning of the 19th, only to be brought down by fog; starting off again at 9.15 he landed at Hanover, was off again at 1.35, and reached the Johannisthal aerodrome in the suburbs of Berlin at 6.48 that evening.
As early as 1910 the British Government possessed some ten aeroplanes, and in 1911 the force developed into the Army Air Battalion, with the aeroplanes under the control of Major J. H. Fulton, R.F.A. Toward the end of 1911 the Air Battalion was handed over to (then) Brig.-Gen. D. Henderson, Director of Military Training. On June 6th, 1912, the Royal Flying Corps was established with a military wing under Major F. H. Sykes and a naval wing under Commander C. R. Samson. A joint Naval and Military Flying School was established at Upavon with Captain Godfrey M. Paine, R.N., as Commandant and Major Hugh Trenchard as Assistant Commandant. The Royal Aircraft Factory brought out the B.E. and F.E. types of biplane, admittedly superior to any other British design of the period, and an Aircraft Inspection Department was formed under Major J. H. Fulton. The military wing of the R.F.C. was equipped almost entirely with machines of Royal Aircraft Factory design, but the Navy preferred to develop British private enterprise by buying machines from private firms. On July 1st, 1914 the establishment of the Royal Naval Air Service marked the definite separation of the military and naval sides of British aviation, but the Central Flying School at Upavon continued to train pilots for both services.
It is difficult at this length of time, so far as the military wing was concerned, to do full justice to the spade work done by Major-General Sir David Henderson in the early days. Just before war broke out, British military air strength consisted officially of eight squadrons, each of 12 machines and 13 in reserve, with the necessary complement of road transport. As a matter of fact, there were three complete squadrons and a part of a fourth which constituted the force sent to France at the outbreak of war. The value of General Henderson's work lies in the fact that, in spite of official stinginess and meagre supplies of every kind, he built up a skeleton organisation so elastic and so well thought out that it conformed to war requirements as well as even the German plans fitted in with their aerial needs. On the 4th of August, 1914, the nominal British air strength of the military wing was 179 machines. Of these, 82 machines proceeded to France, landing at Amiens and flying to Maubeuge to play their part in the great retreat with the British Expeditionary Force, in which they suffered heavy casualties both in personnel and machines. The history of their exploits, however, belongs to the War period.
The development of the aeroplane between 1912 and 1914 can be judged by comparison of the requirements of the British War Office in 1912 with those laid down in an official memorandum issued by the War Office in February, 1914. This latter called for a light scout aeroplane, a single-seater, with fuel capacity to admit of 300 miles range and a speed range of from 50 to 85 miles per hour. It had to be able to climb 3,500 feet in five minutes, and the engine had to be so constructed that the pilot could start it without assistance. At the same time, a heavier type of machine for reconnaissance work was called for, carrying fuel for a 200 mile flight with a speed range of between 35 and 60 miles per hour, carrying both pilot and observer. It was to be equipped with a wireless telegraphy set, and be capable of landing over a 30 foot vertical obstacle and coming to rest within a hundred yards' distance from the obstacle in a wind of not more than 15 miles per hour. A third requirement was a heavy type of fighting aeroplane accommodating pilot and gunner with machine gun and ammunition, having a speed range of between 45 and 75 miles per hour and capable of climbing 3,500 feet in 8 minutes. It was required to carry fuel for a 300 mile flight and to give the gunner a clear field of fire in every direction up to 30 degrees on each side of the line of flight. Comparison of these specifications with those of the 1912 trials will show that although fighting, scouting, and reconnaissance types had been defined, the development of performance compared with the marvellous development of the earlier years of achieved flight was small.
Yet the records of those years show that here and there an outstanding design was capable of great things. On the 9th September, 1912, Vedrines, flying a Deperdussin monoplane at Chicago, attained a speed of 105 miles an hour. On August 12th, G. de Havilland took a passenger to a height of 10,560 feet over Salisbury Plain, flying a B.E. biplane with a 70 horse-power Renault engine. The work of de Havilland may be said to have been the principal influence in British military aeroplane design, and there is no doubt that his genius was in great measure responsible for the excellence of the early B.E. and F.E. types.
On the 31st May, 1913, H. G. Hawker, flying at Brooklands, reached a height of 11,450 feet on a Sopwith biplane engined with an 80 horse-power Gnome engine. On June 16th, with the same type of machine and engine, he achieved 12,900 feet. On the 2nd October, in the same year, a Grahame White biplane with 120 horse-power Austro-Daimler engine, piloted by Louis Noel, made a flight of just under 20 minutes carrying 9 passengers. In France a Nieuport monoplane piloted by G. Legagneaux attained a height of 6,120 metres, or just over 20,070 feet, this being the world's height record. It is worthy of note that of the world's aviation records as passed by the International Aeronautical Federation up to June 30th, 1914, only one, that of Noel, is credited to Great Britain.
Just as records were made abroad, with one exception, so were the really efficient engines. In England there was the Green engine, but the outbreak of war found the Royal Flying Corps with 80 horse-power Gnomes, 70 horse-power Renaults, and one or two Antoinette motors, but not one British, while the Royal Naval Air Service had got 20 machines with engines of similar origin, mainly land planes in which the wheeled undercarriages had been replaced by floats. France led in development, and there is no doubt that at the outbreak of war, the French military aeroplane service was the best in the world. It was mainly composed of Maurice Farman two-seater biplanes and Bleriot monoplanes-- the latter type banned for a period on account of a number of serious accidents that took place in 1912
America had its Army Aviation School, and employed Burgess-Wright and Curtiss machines for the most part. In the pre-war years, once the Wright Brothers had accomplished their task, America's chief accomplishment consisted in the development of the 'Flying
Boat,' alternatively named with characteristic American clumsiness, 'The Hydro-Aeroplane.' In February of 1911, Glenn Curtiss attached a float to a machine similar to that with which he won the first Gordon-Bennett Air Contest and made his first flying boat experiment. From this beginning he developed the boat form of body which obviated the use and troubles of floats--his hydroplane became its own float.
Mainly owing to greater engine reliability the duration records steadily increased. By September of 1912 Fourny, on a Maurice Farman biplane, was able to accomplish a distance of 628 miles without a landing, remaining in the air for 13 hours 17 minutes and just over 57 seconds. By 1914 this was raised by the German aviator, Landemann, to 21 hours 48 3/4 seconds. The nature of this last record shows that the factors in such a record had become mere engine endurance, fuel capacity, and capacity of the pilot to withstand air conditions for a prolonged period, rather than any exceptional flying skill.
Let these years be judged by the records they produced, and even then they are rather dull. The glory of achievement such as characterised the work of the Wright Brothers, of Bleriot, and of the giants of the early days, had passed; the splendid courage, the patriotism and devotion of the pilots of the War period had not yet come to being. There was progress, past question, but it was mechanical, hardly ever inspired. The study of climatic conditions was definitely begun and aeronautical meteorology came to being, while another development already noted was the fitting of wireless telegraphy to heavier-than-air machines, as instanced in the British War office specification of February, 1914. These, however, were inevitable; it remained for the War to force development beyond the inevitable, producing in five years that which under normal circumstances might easily have occupied fifty --the aeroplane of to-day; for, as already remarked, there was a deadlock, and any survey that may be made of the years 1912-1914, no matter how superficial, must take it into account with a view to retaining correct perspective in regard to the development of the aeroplane.
There is one story of 1914 that must be included, however briefly, in any record of aeronautical achievement, since it demonstrates past question that to Professor Langley really belongs the honour of having achieved a design which would ensure actual flight, although the series of accidents which attended his experiments gave to the Wright Brothers the honour of first leaving the earth and descending without accident in a power-driven heavier-than-air machine. In March, 1914, Glenn Curtiss was invited to send a flying boat to Washington for the celebration of 'Langley Day,' when he remarked, 'I would like to put the Langley aeroplane itself in the air.' In consequence of this remark, Secretary Walcot of the Smithsonian Institution authorised Curtiss to re-canvas the original Langley aeroplane and launch it either under its own power or with a more recent engine and propeller. Curtiss completed this, and had the machine ready on the shores of Lake Keuka, Hammondsport, N.Y., by May. The main object of these renewed trials was to show whether the original Langley machine was capable of sustained free flight with a pilot, and a secondary object was to determine more fully the advantages of the tandem monoplane type; thus the aeroplane was first flown as nearly as possible in its original condition, and then with such modifications as seemed desirable. The only difference made for the first trials consisted in fitting floats with connecting trusses; the steel main frame, wings, rudders, engine, and propellers were substantially as they had been in 1903. The pilot had the same seat under the main frame and the same general system of control. He could raise or lower the craft by moving the rear rudder up and down; he could steer right or left by moving the vertical rudder. He had no ailerons nor wing-warping mechanism, but for lateral balance depended on the dihedral angle of the wings and upon suitable movements of his weight or of the vertical rudder.
After the adjustments for actual flight had been made in the Curtiss factory, according to the minute descriptions contained in the Langley Memoir on Mechanical Flight, the aeroplane was taken to the shore of Lake Keuka, beside the Curtiss hangars, and assembled for launching. On a clear morning (May 28th) and in a mild breeze, the craft was lifted on to the water by a dozen men and set going, with Mr Curtiss at the steering wheel, esconced in the little boat-shaped car under the forward part of the frame. The four-winged craft, pointed somewhat across the wind, went skimming over the waveless, then automatically headed into the wind, rose in level poise, soared gracefully for 150 feet, and landed softly on the water near the shore. Mr Curtiss asserted that he could have flown farther, but, being unused to the machine, imagined that the left wings had more resistance than the right. The truth is that the aeroplane was perfectly balanced in wing resistance, but turned on the water like a weather vane, owing to the lateral pressure on its big rear rudder. Hence in future experiments this rudder was made turnable about a vertical axis, as well as about the horizontal axis used by Langley. Henceforth the little vertical rudder under the frame was kept fixed and inactive.[*]
That the Langley aeroplane was subsequently fitted with an 80 horse-power Curtiss engine and successfully flown is of little interest in such a record as this, except for the fact that with the weight nearly doubled by the new engine and accessories the machine flew successfully, and demonstrated the perfection of Langley's design by standing the strain. The point that is of most importance is that the design itself proved a success and fully vindicated Langley's work. At the same time, it would be unjust to pass by the fact of the flight without according to Curtiss due recognition of the way in which he paid tribute to the genius of the pioneer by these experiments.
[*] Smithsonian Publications No. 2329.
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