Life of Army Flyers in the Air at Front
Aviators Tell of Sensations Accompanying Bursting of Shells Near Aeroplanes.
London, Nov 3.—"It's all right so long as you can't see 'em or hear 'em," said Tommy Brennan of the Royal Flying Corps, "but any man who tells you he can fly over an 'Archie' and get a 'flaming onion' right ahead of him without ducking and wishing they wouldn't come so close or make so much noise has never been up in an aeroplane. Take it from me."
"Yes," put in Gilray, "and every time you duck your old winger ducks with you. As 'Bren' over there says. It wouldn't be so bad if you couldn't see and hear 'em. Generally speaking, you don't hear them unless one happens to break within thirty yards or so of you. It's when you get down close to them and look right down at them spitting fire at you, that's when you have got to have every nerve in your body tuned to the minute."
"I'll never forget the first time they got close to me," declared "Boy" Tylle. "My only thought was that I would never shoot a pheasant again. I knew exactly how a bird must feel when a hunter opens fire."
Wore Stripe of Wounded.
Brennan wore upon his left sleeve the gold stripe of the wounded. "Gil" had been on the official list of the killed in action some weeks ago, but somehow or other came back to life. When Brennan was "hit" and finally came down safely within his own lines, it was found there were no less than eighty perforations on his wings.
"I was so interested in looking over their trenches I guess I got a little too low," he explained.
There is nothing more interesting in all London than to sit through a long autumn evening talking to the youngsters of the wonderful aviation service Great Britain has almost miraculously built up since the war began.
"We've got the Germans now where they have to fire blindly or shoot by the map," these intrepid men of the air will tell you. "Of what use are their wonderful guns if they don't know what they are shooting at? They don't dare send a plane over our lines. They don't even dare approach. The minute they show themselves we have an overwhelming number of machines to send after them and they beat it for home again as fast as they can go. They can't take a photograph of our new positions. Their batteries have been driven from the heights and they can't observe. It is a big difference from the first days of the war."
Not a Comfortable Sound.
Associating much with Britain's flying men one will soon learn that an "Archibald," usually called "Archie" for short, is an anti-aircraft gun.
"'Archie' barks at you," said Brennan. "He goes 'woof, woof, woof.' He isn't comfortable to listen to either, but it's when you get down a little nearer to earth and the machine guns get to working that you feel you have got to do what you set out to do right quickly and get started to some quieter spot just as fast as the air will get out of your way and let you through. You can't imagine how much that old atmosphere gets in your way when you are really in a hurry."
When you get on speaking terms with a machine gun you know that it talks with a "putt, putt, putt." The ordinary hand rifle, which often takes a shot at you when you get too close to the trenches, goes "crack, crack, crack," just as everyone expects a rifle to go.
"A flaming onion? Well, that looks for all the world like an eight candle power electric light bulb coming at you. Then all of a sudden it breaks into nice little ribbons of fire that dart and float through the air like so many blazing serpents. They are very disagreeable, these onions. Their one desire in life is to set you ablaze and explode your petrol tank." One thing the American always has to remember over here is that gasoline, or just plain "gas" as the motorists and flying men call it at home, has no place in the English lexicon. It is "petrol," just as lieutenant, although spelled lieutenant, is pronounced "leftenant."
Discuss Explosion of Shell.
Several of the young "wing" subalterns were waiting for the "Hickey-boos" to come over the other night when they fell into a heated discussion as to whether you would rather have a shell break right ahead of you, right beneath you or right over you. There were those who contended it was best to have it break right in front, for then the explosion would spread the fragments and let you pass safely through the spot where "the blooming beast cracked."
The others contended that a shell breaking on a level with you indicated that "Archie" had his fuses timed just a bit too accurately for pleasure flying and that it was safer to take chances from the fragments coming from beneath or above. This was one discussion in which the innocent bystander had not part. He learned, however, that shrapnel from an "Archie" jumps at you with a "bang;" that it looks like a white puff ball as it breaks in daylight and like the starry shower of a rocket as it explodes by night.
When a "shrap" explodes beneath the tail of your machine you feel as if you were going to loop the loop in the wrong direction. When it breaks in front, you feel as if you very much wanted to do a "flipflop" backwards in the most improved style. When you get it under the wings the concussion almost capsizes you and you feel as if the old "joy stick," or guiding lever, never will put her back on an even keel.
Night Flying Hard Task.
The "Hickey-boos," it develops in the course of the conversation, are the Zeppelins, where they got the name no one seems to know. It is the exclusive language of the flying corps. "Archie" is the name of the home defensive aircraft guns as well as those of the Germans for generally speaking all such guns are the natural enemy of the airmen, whether he be chasing a "Hickey-boo" over London or taking observations at the front. They are always threatening him with an unpleasant end.
Night flying is no easy task at best.
"You feel like the man in the song," said Sammy Sampson, a midget of the corps: "You are all dressed up and no place to go."
It is simple enough to go up at night, and simple enough to sail away, but it is something else again to come down without taking off a chimney pot or "strafing" a big oak tree. In ordinary times there is a flare to guide you safely back to the aerodrome, but on "raid nights" when all is dark, and when the "Archies" are barking at the "Hickey-boos," and the "Hickey-boos" are "putt, putt, putting" at you with their machine guns—then the night flying is surely enough a real man's job.
The Royal Flying corps is proving most attractive to young Canadian officers. They are qualifying as pilots by the score. Some who came over from the Dominion in khaki are now in the deep blue of the Royal naval air service, but the great majority who have taken to the air are still in khaki with the white insignia of wide-spread wings on the left breast of the tunic.
"I had my first real thrill the other day," said one of these young Canadians just back from the front. "I was away inside the German lines, having the time of my bright young life, when suddenly I heard a missfire. No matter how many cylinders you have got whirring in front of you the instant one misses your heart hears it even before your ears do. That old engine of mine jumped and bucked and finally stopped. And me miles across the line. I knew it was something wrong with the carburetor or the ignition, for I had enough petrol to go a hundred miles or more. In the higher altitudes water often gets into the mixing chamber. So first of all I joggled that old carburetor for all she was worth. Then I gave the old boat a little tilt downward, she cranked herself as she dipped, and old Johnny Engine was purring away in a moment just like a contented tabby cat in an old maid's lap. I had enough of Germany for that day and set sail for home in a line that would have made a crow's flight look like a serpentine dance."
The Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) - Friday, November 03, 1916