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Showing posts from August, 2013

Kings of the Air: Of Penguins and Men part 1

On the outbreak of war in August 1914, the French aviation service could call upon 126 aircraft in front-line service and a further 126 in reserve, plus 486 qualified military pilots to fly them. It was perhaps this surplus, and the expectation of a short war, that prompted the Director of Aviation, General Félix Bernard, to close all the flying schools, and to dispense with the skills of men like Maxime Lenoir. Lenoir had learned to fly in 1913 and immediately became a professional aviator, celebrated for his aerobatic displays and a specialist in looping-the-loop. Recalled to service on mobilisation, he was fully expecting to be directed into aviation. But no. 'When I mentioned my pilot's licence to the recruiting officer, I might as well have been talking about my school certificate. “Oh, it's you,” he said. “The pilot. Aviators are lunatics. You'll have to switch, son! No place for mavericks in wartime. You can [go back] to the cavalry [Lenoir had performed his mil…

Kings of the Air: Some posters

3,000 posts since starting this blog in February! Thanks to everyone who has checked it out. To celebrate, here's a little eye candy of posters advertising early aviation events..

'The world owes its wings to France' - a poster commemorating the first one kilometre flight on a closed circuit by Henry Farman in one of his own machines, 12 January 1908. Farman was the son of a British journalist living in France, but he took French nationality. He went on to make a two kilometre flight on 21 March, and the first cross-country flight, from Châlons-sur-Marne to Reims, a distance of twenty-seven kilometres in twenty minutes, on 30 October. He opened his own flying school at Châlons in 1909, and began manufacturing aircraft of his own design later that year.

The First Paris Aero Salon, at the Grand Palais, 25 September - 17 October 1909. The star exhibit was the machine that Blériot flew across the English Channel earlier in the year (it is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, in Pa…

Kings of the Air: Night and Day

The shift from day to night bombing brought some measure of relief to the crews of the obsolete Farmans, Capronis and Breguet-Michelins. In his post-war history of the French bombing effort, René Martel claimed, 'The pilots had eventually acquired real expertise with these much reviled aircraft and drew a respectable return from them.' Moreover, 'the slowness of the French aircraft became an advantage at night because the pilot [needed time] to assess his position … He had to fly slowly to make accurate observations. The old French planes with rear-mounted propellors offered all these advantages.' Which sounds a lot like special pleading.
Flying by night required particular piloting skills. There were none of the electronic aids familiar from the Second World War, and navigation was by dead reckoning. 'We had precious little training when you think about it,' recalled Major Paul Gignoux (VB101). 'I set off on my first night bombing raid with a total of just…