Looping the loop

Mr. Grigs in your “Vintage Postbag” asks if any “senile” reader can recall seeing the early demonstrations of looping the loop, and Hucks was mentioned by the Editor. Actually Pegoud as far as I know was the first in Britain to loop the loop, whilst Hamel was genuinely lost in the English Channel and was the first to fly an aerial postal mail demonstration flight.

As a schoolboy at Radley near Oxford I personally saw C. B. Hucks give what was at that time considered to be the most daring and thrilling wonder of looping the loop several times before a large crowd gathered together in a meadow just outside Oxford. I remember clearly that his Bleriot monoplane had a specially large tailplane which got him over top dead centre of each loop quite well, but at a dangerously low altitude for the very low powered three-cylinder Anzani engine rated at a doubtful 25 h.p. Hucks also flew a normal tailed Bleriot for his usual flying demonstration before the great deed was done. Both got off the grass quite well considering their spindly cycle wheels and low power.

Modern people often fail to realise that at that period the aero engines were only just sufficiently powerful to accelerate the machines in the air to just above their stalling speeds and therefore had to be run nearly flat out all the time during flight. The drag from the bracing wires and posts including spindly undercarriages, even on the Bleriot monoplane, was so great that the low-powered engines had to operate flat out all the time. The Bleriot I saw Hucks use could only fly at between just over 20 m.p.h. to around 40 m.p.h., the average flying speed being around 36 or 38 m.p.h. Also because of the high drag and light weight of the aircraft, when the motor was cut or it cut involuntarily, the machine of those days stopped very suddenly in the air, and the pilot had to stuff his nose down hard at once to save a stall, whilst the glide was rather bricklike. About ten years ago I saw a renovated but completely original Bleriot being taken off the ground at a display by a famous modern test pilot, and to my amusement and interest he over-pumped the curious elevator control in his efforts to get off, so that the poor thing with its minimal horsepower reserve was pulled up by extra drag and staggered into the air rising and sinking until flying speed was eventually obtained when it flew quite well. A good idea of how those early engines had only just sufficient power to fight the excessive drag of the lightly loaded machines, can be gained by the well-known story of how Bleriot himself very nearly failed to cross the English Channel on his historic cross-channel flight, because the engine running practically flat out overheated, and the machine started to sink towards the sea. A providential rainstorm arrived in time which cooled off the overheated cylinders of the Anzani engine.

Hucks and his looping demo. fired my schoolboy imagination and not long afterwards as a youthful soldier I became seconded to the RFC, where I learnt to fly on the curious aeroplane known as the “Clutching Hand”, which had everything “square” including all wingtips. From that I graduated to the lovely little single-seater Sopwith Pup. Everyone who flew one agreed it was the most beautiful aeroplane to fly of any aircraft. I ended up on the famous SE5A which was the fastest thing in the war at the time, at around 119 m.p.h. and climbed to 15,000 ft. in 8 minutes. It is all relative!

Finally Mr. Grigs mentions early motorbikes. As a kid subaltern in the DCLI my first motorbike was a single-cylinder geared belt-drive Calcott, which I still have, and probably only one other exists today. I rode it all round the coastline of Cornwall, with some heavy pedalling and running alongside on the worst of the hills. Then came a big-twin Zenith Gradua with its splendidly quiet and sweet running belt-drive, which if modernised today would make a delightful motorcycle for touring. As the gear-lever beside the tank was wound back and forth the engine pulley opened and shut, and the back wheel moved back and forward to take up the belt slack. A Zenith Gradua resides in my garage with a few other choice machines. In fact I still ride a motorbike for pleasure and as a tender to my as-original 4 1/2-litre Lagonda which I bought new in 1934, and which is still in regular use. How is that for fellow “senility” Mr. Grigs?

C.E. Bowden (Lt. Col.).
Corfe Castle.