This special Leonaur ‘good value’ edition contains two accounts of the early days of powered flight. The first book, written just before the outbreak of the First World War, describes in depth the training of French military pilots up to the point where they are qualified. It contains much of historical interest and the process is explained, in considerable detail, from the trainee pilot’s viewpoint as he grappled to master his machine. His numerous errors and how the aircraft performed as they were made are elaborated. The author came into contact with several types of aircraft and he describes the characteristics, performance and mechanics of each. So this book provides essential insights into the practicalities of being a fighter pilot in the imminent conflict. The second work is by a British pilot who was fully engaged in the air war over France. He was shot down and captured by the ‘Bosch,’ he escaped and was again captured, and he underwent many other adventures before finally returning to his homeland. Accounts of pilots and aviation from the pioneer days of flying are comparatively few in number and these two short first hand narratives, essential reading for students of the subject, would have been unlikely to see republication as individual books.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Having made sure that everything was O.K. and waited for the others to ascend, I took off and, after climbing steadily for some time, took up my specified position in the formation. For some time we circled about over a pre-arranged rendezvous, until joined by an escort of fighting machines and another squadron of bombers, and then settled down to business. Flying straight into the sun we soon arrived at and passed over the irregular spidery lines of trenches (those on Vimy Ridge showing up particularly clearly), and continued forging ahead, past many familiar landmarks, always in the direction of Douai. I for one never dreamt of being taken prisoner and had every intention of making a record breakfast on my return. My engine was going rather badly, but the odds were that it would see me through.<br>
Only too soon the anti-aircraft started their harassing fire, throwing up a startling number of nerve-racking, high explosive shells, each one a curling black sausage of hate and steel splinters. When we were some way over my machine lagged behind the rest. The engine spluttered intermittently and could not be induced to go at all well. As my machine became more isolated I cast anxious glances about and was soon rewarded by seeing two wicked little enemy scouts waiting for an easy prey (at that time they did not usually attack a formation, but waited behind for the likes o’ me). While one scout attracted my attention on the left and I was engaged in keeping him off by firing occasional bursts, a machine gun opened fire with a deafening clatter at point-blank range from behind.<br>
In an instant the surrounding air became full of innumerable tiny, brilliant flames, passing me at an incredible speed like minute streaks of lightning, each one giving forth a curious staccato whistling crack as it plunged through or beside the tormented machine, leaving in its wake a thin curling line of blue smoke. I was in the middle of a relentless storm of burning tracer bullets, vying one with the other for the honour of passing through the petrol tank, thereby converting my machine into a seething furnace. Having no observer to defend my tail I turned steeply to meet my new adversary.<br>
However, before completing the manoeuvre I received another deadly burst of fire, which, though it somehow missed me, shot away several of my control wires. What happened next I cannot be sure, but the machine seemed to turn over, and my machine gun fell off with a crash. This took place at an altitude of six thousand feet. My next impression was that I seemed to be in the centre of a whirling vortex, around which all creation revolved at an extraordinary speed, and realised that my trusty steed was indulging in a particularly violent “spinning nose dive.” A “spin” at the best of times rather takes one’s breath away, so, shutting the throttle, I endeavoured to come out of it in the usual way. To my surprise, the engine refused to slow down, or any of the controls to respond, except one, which only tended to make matters worse.<br>
The one thing left to be done was to “switch off” and trust to luck. This, however, was more easily decided on than accomplished, for by this time the machine was plunging to earth so rapidly, with the engine full on, that I felt as if I were tied to a peg-top, which was being hurled downwards with irresistible force. Fighting blindly against the tremendous air-pressure, which rendered me hardly able to move, I forced my left arm, inch by inch, along the edge of the “cockpit” until I succeeded in turning the switch lever downwards. A glance at the speedometer did not reassure me, the poor thing seemed very much overworked. Descending very rapidly I kept getting a glimpse of a pretty red-roofed village, which became ominously more distinct at every plunging revolution.<br>
I vaguely thought there would be rather a splash when we arrived at our destination, but at eight hundred feet Providence came to the rescue. I heard the welcome cessation of the wild screaming hum of the strained wires. After switching on, the engine informed me with much spluttering that it was sorry that I should have to land on the wrong side, but it really had done its best. I had just managed to turn towards our trenches, when the scout pilot, seeing I did not land, at once followed me down and with its machine gun impressed on me that the sooner I landed the better. As I was then a long way over the lines, sinking fast towards the tree-tops, I had no alternative, so endeavoured to reach the village green. By this time the machine was literally riddled with bullets, though, luckily, I had not been touched. Before landing I overtook a German horseman, so thinking to introduce myself I dived on him from a low altitude, just passing over his head.<br>
Well, scare him I certainly did, poor man; he was much too frightened to get off, and seemed to be doing his best to get inside his would-be Trojan animal. The machine landed on a heap of picks and shovels, ran among a number of Huns who were having a morning wash at some troughs (or rather I should say, a lick and a promise!). They scattered and then closed in on the machine. I ran one wing into a post, and tried the lighter, which did not work. I was a prisoner. Undoubtedly, the next German communiqué announced that the gallant Lieutenant X. had brought down his thirtieth machine; it is probable that this gallant officer had heard strange rumours of what lay behind the British lines, but preferred cruising on the safer side. I could hardly believe that these grey-clad, rather unshaven men who jabbered excitedly were genuine “Huns.” I was furious and very “fed-up,” but that did not help, so turning in my seat and raising my hand I said, “Gutten Morgen.” This surprised them so much that they forgot to be rude and mostly returned the compliment.