Whether the art of piloting an aeroplane is one which is lost after one has been away from the stick for a period of years is a question which is raised from time to time, and it seems the prevailing opinion is that it is essential for a one-time pilot to undergo what is virtually a second course of instruction before he can be safely entrusted with a machine again. Personally, I have always held that once one has “learned how” and has got anything over 200 hours solo flying to one’s credit particularly if it has been on any of the more vicious breeds of war-time machines, the taking-off, manoeuvring and landing of a normal aeroplane may be done without any untoward happening, even after a long period of retirement.
And the statements of two war-time pilots, both of whom have lately returned to active aviation, rather bare out this contention. In reply to my inquiry as to how he felt after a ten years on terra firma, one said, “My ‘ dual ‘ consisted of going up with a pilot who, knowing I was an old hand, simply let me take over as soon as we were unstuck. I flew round for half-an-hour and finished up with a three-point landing. I felt at home at once. My other friend, who also had not flown for ten years, went one better in that he went up unaccompanied. “I was a little coarse, a little clumsy at first, but it all came back to me in a few minutes.” he said. Admittedly both are men of experience having flown scout machines overseas as well as having had long spells on instructional and testing work during the 1914-1918 period. But ten years is a long time before coming back to the game.
The Pusher Again ?
I thought the old pusher was dead and buried long ago but I understand that in some quarters its revival in light plane form is being strongly advocated. It appears that makers, having reached a stage where they can now produce safe, easy-controllable and comparatively economical machines, are anxious to make the light plane more comfortable and quieter. Noise from the engine and the airscrew, and draughts and drumming caused by the slipstream are the bugbear of the hyper-critical. Put the engine behind, they say, and you will have a quiet and comfortable machine and better visibility.
Many of us who remember the old pusher machines may not be so enthusiastic about the idea, however ; 400 lbs. of “whirling incinerator” a few feet from the small of one’s back was not calculated to make one feel comfortable in a forced landing in those days, for as a certain Russian instructor at Hendon was wont to remark to his pupils, “Nose too steep down—undercarriage smash-ed–engine through head come ! ” And, just for old time’s sake, here is a picture of a famous pusher scout, the D.H.2.
It was a great machine in its time (1915-1916) and, by its superior performance, enabled the R.F.C. to get the upper hand of the early Fokker. Powered with a 100 h.p. Monosoupape, it had a speed of about 95 m.p.h. and could climb to 6,500 feet in just over 8 minutes.
It would be interesting to know, by the way, at what date the last of the real old-timers (exclusive of the Avro 504 of course), was flown in this country. I am ready to wager that it was some four years ago, the pilot being Pashley of the Gnat Aero Co., the machine, an old Grahame-White box-kite with 50 h.p. Gnome engine and the place, Shoreham areodrome. I saw the machine when I was down there in 1925 and Pashley himself recounted to me, with great glee, how, a short time before my visit, he had sizzled round the precincts of the aerodrome in the venerable G.-W., much to the consternation of the Shoreham residents who must surely have thought they were seeing a ghost. That flight proved to be its last, for shortly afterwards it was partially demolished while resting peacefully in a field, by a herd of hostile and hungry cows.
Since ” Wings ” was shown in London about a year ago, there have been quite a number of other films produced with the air as their settings. Some of them had better stories than ” Wings ” it is true, but none equalled the latter in technique and “atmosphere.” One is told by a camera man that most of the ” shoots ” from the air were faked ; if this is so, it was very cleverly done for the most critical eye failed to detect any artificiality. The views taken from just aft the pilot’s cockpit as he was engaged in dives and ground-strafing were particularly vivid and the ” shoots ” of machines in formation high above the clouds were most convincing in conveying an impression of coldness, height and isolation. There is tremendous scope for movie-makers in this direction.