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Title: With the French Flying Corps
Author: Winslow, Carroll Dana
Language: English
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[Illustration: Cover art]

[Illustration: German trenches.  No man’s land.  French trenches.
A view of French and German trenches.]

                            WITH THE FRENCH
                              FLYING CORPS


                          CARROLL DANA WINSLOW

                       OF THE FRENCH FLYING CORPS

                                NEW YORK
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                          COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS

                        Published January, 1917

                               MY FATHER


My Enlistment
First Principles
Learning to Fly
The School at Chartres
Passing the Final Tests
The Zeppelin Raid over Paris
At the Ecole de Perfectionnement
The Réserve Générale De l’Aviation
Ordered to the Front
In the Verdun Sector
My First Flight over the Lines
Co-operating with the Artillery
All in the Day’s Work
July 14th, 1916
The Finishing Touches


A view of the French and German trenches . . . _Frontispiece_

A Voisin bombarding-machine

A Nieuport "avion de Chasse"

"Mechanics ran the machines out on the field in long lines"

The little café across the road

A Morane-Parasol

"I had received orders to make a flight during a snow-storm"

The author, together with his first mechanic, at the "mitrailleuse"

A Farman artillery-machine

An anti-aircraft .75

A bad landing

A heavy bombarding-machine

A German aeroplane brought down by a French aeroplane

A bi-motor Caudron

A captured Fokker

A view of the Mort-Homme taken from a height of 3,600 feet

"Everywhere little white puffs seemed to follow the machines about"

Reduced facsimile of the photographic report supplied to the
Headquarters Staff of the fighting at Cumières

A Penguin

                            *MY ENLISTMENT*

In the last two years aviation has become an essential branch of the
army organization of every country.  Daily hundreds of pilots are flying
in Europe, in Africa, in Asia Minor; flying, fighting, and dying in a
medium through which, ten years ago, it was considered impossible to
travel.  But though the air has been mastered, the science of
aero-dynamics is still in its infancy, and theory and practice are
unproved so often that even the best aviators experience difficulty in
keeping abreast of the times.

My experience in the French Aviation Service early taught me what a
difficult and scientific task it is to pilot an aeroplane.  By piloting
I mean flying understandingly, skilfully; not merely riding in a machine
after a few weeks’ training in the hope that a safe landing may be made.
In America many aviators holding pilot’s licenses are in reality only
conductors.  Some pilots have received their brevets in the brief period
of six weeks. I can only say that I feel sorry for them. My own training
in France opened my eyes.  It showed me how exhaustive is the method
adopted by the belligerents of Europe for making experienced aviators
out of raw recruits.  Time and experience are the two factors essential
in the training of the military pilot.  Even in France, where the
Aviation Service is constantly working under the forced draught of war
conditions, no less than from four to six months are devoted to the
training of finished pilots.

Although I have just come from France, the progress of aviation is so
rapid that much of my own knowledge may be out of date before I again
return to the front. But interest in flying is becoming so general among
Americans that the way the aviators of France are trained, and what they
are accomplishing, should attract more than passing attention.  Surely,
what France has done, and is doing, should be an object-lesson to our
own government.

Through a special channel only recently open to Americans I enlisted in
the French Air Service.  As is usual in governmental matters, there were
many formalities to be complied with, but in my case a friendly official
in the Foreign Office came to the rescue and arranged them for me.
After a few days I received the necessary permit to report for duty.
Without delay I hurried to the recruiting office, which is located in
the Invalides, that wonderfully inspiring monument of martial France.
As I entered the bureau I met a crowd of men who had been declared unfit
for the front, either on account of their health, or because they had
been too seriously wounded.  But to a man they were anxious to serve "la
patrie," and were seeking to be re-examined for any service in which
physical requirements were not so stringent.  For an "embusqué" (a
shirker) is looked upon as pariah in France.

When I had signed a contract to "obey the military laws of France and be
governed and punished thereby," I received permission to join the French
Air Service. With about thirty other men I marched to the doctor’s
office, where I was put through the eye, lung, and heart test. I was
then ordered to report to the sergeant who had charge of the men who had
passed the examination.

Among those accepted I noticed a young man of the working class.  He had
been particularly nervous while the roll was called.  But the moment he
heard his own name he seemed overjoyed.  Outside, on the sidewalk, his
wife was waiting. He dashed out to tell her the news. Instead of
bursting into tears, as I had rather expected, she seized his hands and
they danced down the street as joyfully as two children.  It was typical
of the spirit of the French women, willing to sacrifice everything, to
help bring victory to their country.

I received my service-order to proceed immediately to Dijon, the
headquarters of the Flying Corps.  I took the first train and arrived
there at about three in the morning.  I discovered that the offices did
not open until seven, and, as I had nothing to do and was hungry, I
sought the military buffet at the railway-station. It was filled with
men on leave and others who had been discharged from the hospitals, all
waiting to return to the front. Officers and men mingled in a spirit of
democracy and "camaraderie."  This made a deep impression upon me, for,
while discipline in the French army is very strict, there is an entire
absence of that snobbishness which the average civilian so often
associates with a military organization.

[Illustration: A Voisin bombarding-machine.
A Nieuport "avion de Chasse."]

About seven o’clock I made my way to the camp.  A sentry challenged me,
but after I had proved my identity he sent me to the adjutant, who took
my papers and, after reading them, addressed me in perfect English.  I
was surprised and asked him how he happened to speak English so well. It
seems that he had lived in New York for twelve years, but on the
outbreak of the war had returned at once to serve.  I was then given in
charge of a corporal. After this I was put through another
"questionnaire."  One officer asked for my pedigree; to another I gave
the name and address of my nearest relative, to be notified in the event
of my death.  After this came the "vestiaire."  Each "dépôt," or
headquarters, has one of these, where every soldier is completely
outfitted by the government.  I received a uniform, two pairs of shoes,
two pairs of socks, an overcoat, two suits of underwear, two hats, a
knapsack, and a tin cup, bowl, and spoon.  The recruit may buy his own
outfit if he wishes, but the government offers it to him gratis if he is
not too particular.  I was now a full-fledged French soldier of the
second class, second because there was no third.  My satisfaction was
only exceeded by my embarrassment.  I felt very self-conscious in my
uniform, but, as a matter of fact, I was less conspicuous in this garb
than I was before I gave up my civilian clothing.

The adjutant now gave me three cents, my first three days’ pay as a
soldier, and warned me "not to spend it all in one place."  Aviators
receive extra pay, but I was still only a simple "poilu."  He then
handed me a formal order to study aviation—to be an "élève pilote," as
they say in France—and also a pass to proceed to Pau.

My time was now my own, so I decided to take a look around the hangars,
and before long two "élèves pilotes" greeted me and inquired whether I
was entering the Aviation Corps.  When they heard that I was, and that I
was an American they told me that they also, and several of their
friends to whom they afterward introduced me, had lived for some time in
the United States.  With all this welcome I became conscious of the
understood but inexplicable freemasonry that binds all aviators
together.  I was greeted everywhere as a comrade and shown everything. I
was amazed at the vastness of it all and at the scale of the
organization.  In one corner of the establishment they were teaching
mechanics how to repair motors, in another how to regulate aeroplanes.
Beyond were classes for chauffeurs, and countless other courses.  There
must have been several thousand men, and all of them were merely
learning to serve the national heroes, the "aviateurs."

In the evening we all went to Dijon together.  We dined and went to the
theatre. The theatre was full of soldiers, and every little while the
provost marshal’s guard, composed of gendarmes, would enter and make an
arrest.  Any one who does not produce papers explaining his absence from
the army is hustled off immediately.  There are very few Frenchmen who
attempt to dodge their service, but this system of supervision has been
found necessary to keep down their number and to discover any German
spies who may be about.

After the play I went to the station. The road was clogged with
troop-trains carrying reinforcements to the Near-Eastern front.  During
the four hours I spent in the station twelve trains of British artillery
passed by.  The entente between the Tommies and the French was very
cordial.  As the trains came to a stop the men would make a rush for the
station buffet, and the French would exchange all sorts of pleasantries
with them.  Right here I had a lot of fun with the Tommies, for they
could not understand how a Frenchman could speak English so fluently.

Then came my train, and I found myself en route for Pau.  As there were
already several American "élèves pilotes" at the aviation school, I had
no difficulty in learning the ropes.  It was all very simple.  But it
was well to know what to expect, especially when it came to the question
of discipline, which was very strict until one became a full-fledged
aviator.  It was just like going back to school and I settled down for
the long grind.

                           *FIRST PRINCIPLES*

I have rarely been as much impressed as when I first saw the flying
school at Pau.  It is situated eight miles beyond the town on the hard
meadow-lands granted in the sixteenth century to the villages of Osseau
by Henri IV.  The grant is still in effect, and the fields now in use
are only rented by the government. They make a perfect aviation-ground.
Four separate camps and a repair-station lie about a mile from one
another and are named—Centre, Blériot, etc.  At Centre I saw the low,
gray hangars that house the aeroplanes, the tall wireless mast over
which the communiqués from Paris are daily received, the office-building
for the captain and monitors of the school, and the little café across
the road where every one goes when off duty. Beyond were the Boche
prisoners working on the road, building fences, or cutting wood, under
direction of their non-commissioned officers and decrepit old
territorials—grim reminders that this flying business is not all play.
It was early morning—the mists were slowly lifting—when the "élèves
pilotes" gathered for their daily work.  Mechanics ran the machines out
on the field in long lines, and the motors woke to motion with startling
roars.  One by one the pilots stepped in, and one by one the little
biplanes moved swiftly across the field, rose, dipped slightly, rose
again, and then mounted higher and higher into the gray sky.  In the
distance the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees formed an impressive
background. At almost any time during training hours one can see from
ten to twenty machines in the air.  There are over three hundred men
training.  The repair-shops are like a large manufacturing plant.  Five
hundred mechanics are continually employed there.  Among these are
little Indo-Chinese, or "Anamites," as the French call them, who have
come from distant Asia to help France in her struggle for liberty. As
French citizens they are mobilized and wear the military uniform, but
their tasks are usually of the monotonous, routine variety.

[Illustration: "Mechanics ran the machines out on the field in long

The repair-shops are continually working under pressure, as accidents
occur daily.

It is estimated that the average cost to France of training each pilot
is five thousand dollars.  Most of the accidents, however, are caused by
carelessness, stupidity, or overconfidence.  The day I joined the school
two of the members lost their lives in a curious accident.  They were
flying at a great height, but thoughtlessly allowed their machines to
approach too closely.  Before they could change direction there was a
crash, and both came tumbling to earth.  When two aeroplanes come too
near to each other the suction of their propellers pulls them together
and they become uncontrollable. That is what happened to these two
unfortunate "élèves."  The officer in charge of the school explained at
length just how this accident happened.  We were cautioned against
overlooking the fact that the speed of an aeroplane is always spoken of
in reference to the body of the air in which the machine is moving.
Thus an aeroplane travelling eighty miles an hour with a twenty-mile
breeze is travelling at a speed of a hundred miles an hour in reference
to the ground.  The two machines at the time of the accident were flying
east and west, but, while both were travelling at the same speed with
reference to the ground, the plane moving in the direction of the wind
was making about ninety miles an hour, while the other was covering
barely fifty miles at the same time.  The speed at which they were
approaching one another was, however, approximately one hundred and
forty miles an hour, or more than two miles a minute.  What, under
ordinary circumstances, would have been a safe distance became a danger
zone, and before either pilot realized his mistake it was too late to
steer clear.

The scene of the accident lay over a part of the field where Wright’s
Barn stands.  This little red building was the workshop of the Wright
brothers when they astonished the world by their first aerial flights.
To-day that little red barn stands as a monument to American stupidity,
for when we allowed the Wrights to go abroad to perfect their ideas
instead of aiding them to carry on their work at home, we lost a golden
opportunity.  Now the United States, which gave to the world the first
practical aeroplane, is the least advanced in this all-important

Although I came to Pau with a little preliminary experience, and had the
"feel" for engines and steering, I was obliged to begin, with the
others, at the bottom of the primary class.  It was nearly two months
before I was allowed to make my first flight.  The French idea is that
before a pupil commences his apprenticeship as a pilot he must
understand thoroughly the machine he is going to handle and know just
what he is trying to do in the air.  Together with twenty-five other
men, who began their studies at about the same time, I was ordered to
attend the theoretical courses.  When not in the classroom we were
stationed on the aviation-field where we could watch the more advanced
"élèves" fly, thus familiarizing ourselves by observation with all the
details of our profession.  Class-room work and field-practice go hand
in hand.

At first I did not realize how important these courses were, or how
strict was the discipline under which we lived.  One day, when my
thoughts were a little more intent upon an expected week-end at Biarritz
than upon what was being explained on the blackboard, the lecturer
suddenly asked me a question.  I could not answer and forthwith my
forty-eight-hour leave was retracted.  My Sunday was spoiled, but I
considered myself lucky not to have received a "consigne," which
involves sleeping in the guard-house every night for a week.

The first subject we took up was mechanics. We were made to mount and
dismount motors, and were familiarized with every part of their
construction.  Carburetors and magnetos came next, and then we learned
what made a motor "go."  At the front a pilot always has two
"mecaniciens" to take care of his machine, but if on account of a
breakdown he should have to land in hostile territory he must be able to
make the necessary repairs himself, and make them quickly, or else run
the risk of being taken prisoner.  When flying, the pilot can usually
tell by the sound of his motor whether it is running perfectly or not.
Many a life has been saved in this way—the pilot knowing in time what
was out of order before being forced to land in a forest, on a mountain
peak, or in some other equally impossible place.

When we had become "apt," we were promoted to a course in aeroplane
construction. This is an extremely technical course, and at first we
were asked to know only simple subjects, such as the incidence of the
wings, the angle of attack of the cellule, the carrying force of the
tail in reference to the size of the propeller.  By the incidence of the
wings is meant their upward slope.  This is an extremely important
matter, for the stability and climbing propensities of the machine
depend entirely upon their model.  The angle of attack of the cellule is
the angle of the different wings in reference to each other.  For
instance, the incidence of one side must be greater than that of the
other on account of the rotary movement of the propeller.  There are
also certain fixed ratios between the upper and lower planes.  Still
more important is the carrying power of the tailplane, for if it has too
much incidence it lifts the rear end and makes the machine dive, while
if it has too little the reverse happens.  If any part of the aeroplane
is not correctly regulated it becomes dangerous and difficult for the
pilot to control. All this becomes more important as one reaches the
close of the apprenticeship. One then appreciates this intimate
knowledge acquired at the school.  Often a pilot is compelled to land in
a field many miles from his base.  If something is wrong with his motor
he must be able to find out immediately what the trouble is, for if a
part is broken the camp must be called up on the telephone, so that a
new piece may be sent to the spot by motor, with a mechanic to adjust

When a pilot starts on a cross-country trip he is always given blank
requisitions, signed by his commanding officer.  When he is forced to
land he therefore is able to call upon authorities, whether military or
civilian, for any service or assistance he may need, and this "scrap of
paper" is sufficient in every case to obtain food, lodging, and even
transportation to the nearest aviation headquarters for both the pilot
and his machine.

[Illustration: The little café across the road]

Map-reading and navigation were the next subjects we studied.  First we
were taught how to read a map, how to judge the height of hills and the
size of towns, so that when flying we would know at a glance just where
we were.  This, we later appreciated, is a very important matter. When
passing through clouds or mist an aviator may become momentarily lost,
and the instant he again sees the ground he must locate on his map the
country he views or else land and ask where he is. Aerial navigation may
not be as complicated as that employed by mariners upon the high seas,
but it is not easily mastered by any means.  One must learn to calculate
the direction a straight line takes between two points, and translate
this direction into degrees on the compass.  Secondly, and more
important, is the estimation of the drift caused by the wind.  If the
wind is from the west and the pilot is attempting to go north, the
machine will go "en crabe" (sideways like a crab).  The machine will be
pointing north by the compass, but in reality it will be moving
northeast.  After the pilot has laid out his course on the map, and is
tearing through the air, he must immediately take into consideration his
drift. By watching landmarks selected beforehand the drift is calculated
very quickly. The course by the compass is altered, and, though the
machine is speeding due north, the compass informs the pilot that he is
pointing northwest, a fact very confusing for a beginner.

                           *LEARNING TO FLY*

During the lecture course we always spent several hours a day on the
aviation-field.  We were not allowed to fly, but our presence was
insisted upon. We would observe the things to avoid, so that when our
turn came to go up we should be familiar with all the dangers. Every
start, flight, and landing was made a subject of special study.  Every
time a pupil made a mistake his fault was explained to us, and we were
usually impressed with the fact that he had barely escaped a bad smash
and perhaps death. The pupils who made the mistakes, were immediately
made examples.  If the fault was corrected they escaped with a long and
loud lecture for the benefit of the onlookers, but if, on the other
hand, an accident followed the mistake the offenders were immediately
punished with a ten days’ "consigne."  If a pupil continued to make
mistakes he was "vidé," and sent back to his former regiment.

Loss of speed—"perte de vitesse," the French call it—is the most common
and probably the greatest danger an aviator meets with—it is his "bête
noire."  There is a minimum speed capable of holding an aeroplane in the
air which varies inversely with the spread of the wings.  While in line
of flight, the force of the motor will maintain the speed, but when the
motor is shut off and the pilot commences to volplane the force of
gravity produces the same result.  There are two ways of knowing when
you are approaching the danger-point—by closely watching the
speed-indicator and by feeling your controls.  The moment the controls
become lifeless and have no resistance you must act instinctively and
regain your momentum, or it is all up with you.  While climbing you may
lose speed by forcing the motor and climbing too rapidly.  When a "perte
de vitesse" is produced the aeroplane "goes off on the wing," sliding
down sideways in such a manner and with such force that the rudders
cannot right you or that the propeller cannot pick up your forward
speed.  This can happen also if, when making a vertical turn, the speed
is not sufficiently increased to carry you around the corner.  Occurring
near the ground a loss of speed is certain to result in a smash-up. If
high in the air a "vrille," or tail spin, is generally the result.  By
this is meant coming down in a whirlpool, spinning like a match in the
waste of a basin.  The machine takes as a pivot the corner of one wing
and revolves about it.  The first turn is very slow, but the speed
increases with each revolution.  The only hope of escape is to dive into
the centre of the whirlpool.  Even then, if the motor is turned on, the
planes will fold up like a book.  Among the accidents to beginners this,
next to faulty landing, is the most common.

[Illustration: A Morane-Parasol.]

I witnessed one very sad example.  A young lieutenant had just been
brevetted and was ready to leave the school.  Just as he was saying
good-by to his comrades, a "Morane Parasol" was brought out on the
field.  These machines are very tricky and dangerous.  He had never
piloted one, but wanted to show off.  The monitors begged him not to
take it up, but he insisted on doing so.  When he had reached an
altitude of about five hundred metres he shut off his motor to come
down, not realizing that monoplanes do not volplane well.  He did not
dive enough and had a "perte de vitesse."  The machine slipped off the
wing.  We all held our breaths and prayed that he would recover control
before he engaged in the fatal corkscrew spiral.  Our hopes were of no
avail.  The machine started to turn, and approached the earth spinning
like a chip caught in a whirlpool.  I turned my back, but I could hear
the machine whistling through the air till it came to the ground with a
sickening crash.

Faulty landings are also very common causes of accidents.  It takes a
beginner a long time to train his eye to make a perfect landing, and
even experienced men now and then smash up on the "atterrissage."  A few
inches sometimes make a great difference.  If the pilot does not check
his speed in time he will crash into the ground and "capote," that is,
turn over.  If he pulls up too soon he will slip off on the wing or land
so hard that the machine collapses.  Not only the manner of landing but
gaining the exact place of landing is difficult.  If the pilot misjudges
his distance, and lands either beyond or short of a given spot, he may
collide with some object that will wreck the aeroplane.

Just before leaving the ground is another critical moment.  If the tail
is lifted too high in an effort to gain speed the wheels are liable to
hit some small obstacle and the machine turns a somersault.  Often one
is forced to lift the tail very high to gain flying speed in a short
distance, and it always results in an uncomfortable few seconds until
the pilot knows he is clear. Still another mishap against which aviators
are powerless may occur while rolling along the ground.  The machine may
be caught by a cross wind, which will turn it completely around, a
"chevaux-de-bois," a merry-go-round, the French call it.  If the machine
is going fast when this happens it means touching the ground with a wing
and a first-class smash.

For two months I studied and watched, and the result was a profound
respect for the air.  During this time it seems that I also had been the
object of study and observation on the part of my teachers, for one day
I was told that I was to receive my "baptême de l’air," my first flight
as a passenger.  Words cannot describe my joy or my sensations.

I walked over to the double-seater.  The pilot had already taken his
seat, and the propeller was turning.  I had hardly climbed in and
fastened my belt than we were off.  I could hear the wheels bounding
along the ground.  Suddenly the noise stopped—we were in the air.  I was
sure I would have vertigo, as I often had had in high places.  I did not
look out of the machine until we were about five hundred feet up.  Then,
to my surprise, I experienced not the slightest sensation of height. The
ground seemed to be merely moving slowly under and away from me.  We
kept climbing.  I could see the country for miles.  Never had I viewed
the horizon from so far.  The snow-clad Pyrenees were literally at my
feet.  Trees looked like weeds and roads like white ribbons.  It was a
marvellous sight.  At about two thousand feet we struck some wind and
"remous" (whirlpools).  Each time we struck one we would drop about
fifty feet, and the sensation was like being in a descending express
elevator.  At the end of the drop we would stop, the biplane would
shiver and roll like a ship in a heavy sea, and then it would shoot up
until we struck the solid air again.  This was real flying.

After a while my instructor cut off the motor, and we started to come
down.  We were going fast enough on the level, but now the wind just
roared past my ears.  The ground appeared to be rushing up to meet us.
We were pointing down so straight that my whole weight was on my feet,
and I was literally standing up.  I thought that the pilot had forgotten
to redress, and that we would go head first into the ground, but he
finally pulled up, and before I knew it we were rolling along the ground
at a speed of about forty miles an hour.

With this preliminary experience I was ready to commence my final
studies for a pilot’s brevet.

Some people seem to think that the two months devoted merely to first
principles are time lost, but I now realize that this is not so.  I
seemed to have much more confidence on account of this intelligent
understanding of every detail.  I felt that I knew just what I was to
avoid, and just how to do the correct thing in case an emergency arose.

Perhaps I might say here that military aviators have four distinct
duties to perform at the front: they must fight, reconnoitre the enemy’s
positions, control the fire of their own batteries, or make distant
bombarding raids over the enemy’s bases of supplies.

The fighting pilots do nothing but combat work.  Their machines are the
very small and fast Nieuports, designed especially for quick
manoeuvring.  They are called the "appareils de chasse," on account of
their great speed—over one hundred miles an hour.  Their armament
consists of a mitrailleuse, which is carried in a fixed position.  In
order to aim it, the pilot must point his machine.  The principal task
assigned to the Nieuports is to do sentry duty over our own lines, in
order to prevent the enemy aeroplanes from crossing over for observation

Heavier and somewhat slower, and too cumbersome for fighting, are the
machines used for reconnoissance duty.  They are large bimotor Caudrons,
very stable and capable of carrying two men, an observer and a pilot.
In addition they carry a wireless apparatus, powerful photographing
instruments, and other equipment essential to their work of observing,
recording, and reporting the enemy’s movements and the disposition of
his batteries.  If attacked, they can fight, being armed with a machine
gun mounted in front of the observer’s seat; but attacking the enemy is
not the rôle they are intended to play.

Next come the Farman artillery machines. They are like the
reconnoissance machines, too cumbersome for fighting, but are best
equipped for the purpose of "réglage"—controlling the fire of batteries.
While the small Nieuports have a carrying capacity of only two hundred
and twenty pounds, these unwieldy creatures are able to take on over
five hundred pounds, which includes the weight of the two men, their
clothes, cameras, the wireless, and the gun and its ammunition.  In this
branch of aviation the weight of the pilot does not matter so very much,
whereas in the case of the little Nieuports, if the aviator exceeds the
prescribed weight, he has to choose between not piloting the machine or
starting on his flight with a supply of gasolene reduced by the amount
of his excess weight.

Finally, there are the heavy-armored bombardment machines, with a
carrying capacity of over one thousand pounds. They are the slowest
machines of all, and their work is both tiring and tiresome, as their
flights are made mostly by night. They are armed with mitrailleuses or
small, non-recoil cannon, but on account of their low speed their
daylight flights are attended by "escadrilles de chasse."  They are also
detailed for guarding cities.

In the early months of the war each aviator was usually assigned to any
one of these types of machines at hazard. At the school which he
attended the instruction he received was specialized for the work which
that particular machine could perform.  Since then, however, it has been
found more advisable to train all beginners on one of the heavier
machines.  The reason is this: Fighting, although the safest work,
requires the most experienced pilot.  It is the most important work of
all—or rather it calls for greater attributes of skill, courage, and
knowledge.  The famous aviators of whom we read in the daily
communiqués, like Navarre, Nungesser, Vialet, and Guynemer, all gained
their reputation with the small, fighting Nieuports.  A pilot is
consequently promoted from a reconnoissance machine to an "appareil de
chasse" after he has had two or three months’ experience at the front
and his captain has indorsed his application.

There are exceptions to this rule.  The most notable is the American
Escadrille, which consists entirely of fighting machines.  The
volunteers from the United States who applied for this duty were
considered such naturally good aviators that they were accorded the
exceptional honor of being assigned immediately to the fighting

When I first reported at the aviation headquarters they offered to let
me go directly to the combat school because I was an American.  I
refused.  "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," I thought, and so
expressed my preference for a French escadrille.  I knew that by doing
so I would put in a longer apprenticeship, but that in the end it would
make a much better fighting pilot of me.  Having chosen this course, I
was ordered to report to the school at Chartres.

                        *THE SCHOOL AT CHARTRES*

Most Americans know Chartres only for its beautiful Gothic cathedral,
which, since its construction in the eleventh century, has been regarded
as one of the finest edifices of France.  Those of us who, since the war
began, have had occasion to visit Chartres, have found there other
interests besides the little, straggling streets, the historic old
houses, and the beautiful monuments and memorials to men, like Pasteur
and Marceau, who brought fame to their native city in peace as well as
in war.  Not far from the centre of the town lie the vast
aviation-fields—close by the little village of Bretigny, where the
treaty of peace which concluded the One Hundred Years’ War was signed
over five centuries ago.  Little did the soldiers who met on that
historic battle-field dream that to-day their descendants would be
training for an even greater conflict, in which the combatants not only
clinch below ground but also fight aerial battles high above the clouds.

As Chartres was a great cavalry headquarters of the French army before
the war, to-day many of the horses shipped over from the western plains
of North America are sent there the moment they are unloaded from the
steamers at Bordeaux.  Many a morning from my window I have seen the
square below filled with a moving mass of animals on their way to the
near-by remount depots.  Twice I saw whole regiments of cavalry leaving
for the front.  So steadily and so quietly did those mounts move in
ranks that it seemed as if they had acquired some of their riders’
dogged determination and sense of responsibility.

The aviation school at Chartres is as large as the one I had recently
left, and its organization is the same.  In fact, it is only one of a
dozen equally large and important schools located in various parts of
France—all of which is bound to make a great impression upon Americans
when they appreciate the insufficiency of aviation schools in our own
country.  At Chartres there are three fields.  Two of these are reserved
for the use of the double-control machines, while the third, the "Grande
Piste," serves as a practice-field for the élèves who are about to come
up for their pilots’ examinations.  As soon as I had reported my arrival
to the officer in charge, and had complied with the usual formalities, I
was assigned to an "équipe," which in English means a "team."  There
were twelve of these "équipes" under instruction at all times,
comprising a dozen pupils apiece, and each having its own double-control
machine and an instructor.  Half of the number are always making use of
one of the two smaller fields, while the remaining six use the other.

The instruction in this way progresses rapidly.  The "moniteur" first
takes each pupil for a few rides to see how the latter takes to the air.
The élève must follow every move of his pilot, until he appears
perfectly at home in the machine, and then he is allowed to hold the
controls alone. Each flight lasts only about five minutes, the French
theory being that an aviator must take his instruction in small doses.
In the interim, as in the preliminary courses, he remains on the field,
observing and studying the mistakes of his comrades. If the progress of
the instruction is too rapid, the pupil has not the time to grasp each
step that has been passed and cannot, therefore, become an expert pilot.

The double control works in this way: The controls and the pedals of the
pupil are a duplicate set of those of the "moniteur," or instructor, and
have the same connections with the engine and steering apparatus.
Either set will steer the machine.  The pupil takes hold of the controls
and places his feet on the pedals. Every motion of the instructor is
reproduced in the pupil’s control and pedals—their hands and feet move
together.  In this way the pupil develops a reflex action and instinct
for doing the right thing. Each day, weather permitting, at least half a
dozen flights are made by a pupil. Gradually the "moniteur" allows him
to control the machine.  Suddenly he finds himself running the biplane
alone, with his instructor riding as a passenger behind him and merely
giving him a word of advice or caution from time to time.

Landing is the most difficult part of aviation to master.  A great many
of the accidents occur because the aviator has made a poor contact with
the ground.  In fact, in the early days of aviation most of the
accidents occurred near the ground, and this led people to speculate on
the peculiar action of the lower air currents.  These, in reality, had
little to do with it.  The cause lay in the inability of the pilots to
know how to make proper contacts and to appreciate the fact which we now
know to be a fundamental principle, that the engine should be shut off
before a machine catches the air and volplanes down against the wind.
There are exceptions to this rule, but not for a beginner.  Sometimes it
is necessary for the pilot to descend against a strong wind.  In order
to maintain the required speed the motor must be left partially turned
on.  Generally it is most important to turn off the motor, because if
the landing is made with the wind, even in the gentlest breeze, the
aeroplane, on account of the speed of the tail wind, is likely to turn a
somersault and be completely smashed up.  Even then another manoeuvre
has to be mastered.  Just before alighting the pilot must make a quick
upward turn, so that at the moment of contact the machine may be
travelling parallel with the ground.  Formerly the importance of this
little upward turn of the rudder was not fully appreciated by aviators,
and many a machine was wrecked by a sudden hard compact with the earth.

When the "moniteur" sees that his pupil has acquired the knack of making
a landing he passes on to the all-important manoeuvre of volplaning, and
the dreaded "perte de vitesse" is tackled.  Lastly, but not least, comes
the "virage"—turn, or bank, as we say in English.  These rudimentary
principles are all that are required of the élève before he may go up
alone, or be "lâché."

During this phase of my instruction it was repeatedly impressed upon me
that, if anything ever happened to me when I was in the air and I did
not immediately realize what to do, I was to let go of the controls,
turn off the motor, and let the machine take charge of itself.  The
modern aeroplane is naturally so stable that, if not interfered with, it
will always attempt to right itself before the dreaded "vrille" occurs,
and fall "en feuille morte."  Like a leaf dropping in an autumn breeze
is what this means, and no other words explain the meaning better.

A curious instance of this happened one day as I was watching the
flights and waiting for my turn.  I was particularly interested in a
machine that had just risen from the "Grande Piste."  It was acting very
peculiarly.  Suddenly its motor was heard to stop.  Instead of diving it
commenced to wabble, indicating a "perte de vitesse."  It slipped off on
the wing and then dove. I watched it intently, expecting it to turn into
the dreaded spiral.  Instead it began to climb.  Then it went off on the
wing, righted itself, again slipped off on the wing, volplaned, and went
off once more.  This extraordinary performance was repeated several
times, while each time the machine approached nearer and nearer to the
ground.  I thought that the pilot would surely be killed.  Luck was with
him, however, for his slip ceased just as he made contact with the
ground, and he settled in a neighboring field.  It was a very bumpy
landing, but the aeroplane was undamaged.

The officers rushed to the spot to find out what was the matter.  They
found the pilot unconscious but otherwise unhurt. Later, in the
hospital, he explained that the altitude had affected his heart and that
he had fainted.  As he felt himself going he remembered his instructions
and relinquished the controls, at the same moment stopping his motor.
His presence of mind and his luck had saved his life—his luck, I say,
for had the machine not righted itself at the moment of touching the
ground it would have been inevitably wrecked.

This was a practical demonstration of the expediency of the French
method of instruction, and before long it was to serve me also in good

One day, after I had flown for several hours in the double-control
machine, my "moniteur" told me that he thought me qualified to be
"lâché," and that I was to go up alone the following morning.  I felt
very proud and confided my feelings to one of my friends who had been
qualified a few hours earlier.  While we were talking he was called upon
to make his first independent flight.  We watched him leave the ground,
rise, and then make his turns. He was doing remarkably well for a
beginner, but when he came down for his landing he did not redress his
machine in time and it crushed him to the ground, with fatal result.
This completely unnerved me.  I lost all desire to fly the following
day, and prayed earnestly for rain. The next morning, however, was
beautifully clear.  The captain was there to watch my flight.  I was
loath to go up, but I had no alternative.  The mechanics rolled out a
single-control biplane for my use and I climbed in.  The motor was
started.  With its crackling noise my nerve almost deserted me again.  I
should have felt less frightened, probably, had no one been looking on,
but my "moniteur," my captain, and all my comrades stood there,
interested to see how I would handle myself.  I had to see the thing
through, so I opened the throttle.  The machine began to roll along the
ground, then to bounce, and then, in response to a pull on the control,
to fly.  I was flying alone.  The thought filled me with alarm.  I rose
to less than two hundred feet, but it seemed prodigious.  Then I made a
turn.  When I found that I was flying smoothly and easily I felt a
little more confident.  As I turned back toward the field I could see my
masters and comrades below looking up at me. Another machine was about
to leave the field.  It seemed no larger than a huge insect as it glided
across the ground.  I made up my mind that I was going to make good.  If
others could do it, I could. I volplaned down, and made my landing
safely but somewhat bumpily.  The captain told me that I would do, but
he would like me to make another turn.  I went up again.  This time I
made a faultless landing.  I had passed my test satisfactorily. I felt
happy and confident.  I was now qualified to "conduct" an aeroplane
alone, and in a few weeks I would be allowed to try for a brevet as
military pilot.

There were several other pilots whose turns to pass to the "Grande
Piste" came before mine.  I had, therefore, to wait for several days,
which I used to advantage in taking up the old "double-control" machine
alone.  In this way I was able to make several ascensions and landings
every morning and every night.  This was to be of the greatest service
to me later, for during these practice flights I acquired perfect
confidence in myself.  At other times, both before and after working
hours, my "moniteur" would take me up with him as a passenger for a
newly discovered sport. We would rush along the ground, barely two feet
above it, and put up partridges, which abounded in the greatest numbers.
Our speed would enable us to overtake and hit them with the wires of the
machine and kill them.  Running along the ground in this way is always
attended with danger, but it was real sport.  One morning in twenty
minutes we killed six partridges in this novel manner.

Finally my turn came.  I graduated from the beginners’ class at "La Mare
de Grenouille" to the company of the more finished pilots of the "Grande
Piste."  The beginners’ field is called the "frog’s meadow," because the
landings are so hoppy.  On the "Grande Piste" we had newer and faster
machines, and we could fly alone and go practically anywhere we wished.
Six pilots were assigned to one aeroplane.  We had to divide up the time
equally between each pilot, so as to give every one an opportunity of
making at least two flights both morning and afternoon.  A maximum
height was imposed upon each "équipe," and this was gradually increased
from five hundred feet to a thousand, and then to one thousand five
hundred, as we became more and more adept.

Most of our time was given to making landings and to accustoming
ourselves to volplaning.  The motor had to be reduced at a predetermined
distance from the field, and the rest of the descent made by volplaning
to a given spot.  Spirals were also made during each flight.  We would
select our landing-places and prepare ourselves for the "atterrissage"
by reducing our motor, making due allowance for the drive of the wind.
At about two hundred feet from the ground we would suddenly turn on the
motor again, tilt up the tail, and resume our flights.  This was
excellent practice and gave us more and more confidence in our own
ability to come down wherever we wished.  The average layman cannot
understand why aviators spend so much time turning in spirals as they
approach the ground.  It is because they are manoeuvring for position to
hold their headway and land against the wind, as does a sailing ship
when beating up a harbor against wind and tide.

Every day I took my machine up higher and higher until I had gradually
increased my altitude to two thousand feet.  Here, one day, I had a
narrow escape.  I had received orders to make a flight during a
snow-storm.  I rose to the prescribed height and then prepared to make
my descent.  A whirling squall caught me in the act of making a spiral.
I felt the tail of my machine go down and the nose point up.  I had a
classical "perte de vitesse."  I looked out and saw that I was less than
eight hundred feet above the ground, and approaching it at an alarming
rate of speed.  I had already shut off the motor for the spiral, and
turning it on, I knew, would not help me in the least. Suddenly I
remembered the pilot who fainted.  I let go of everything, and with a
sickening feeling I looked down at the up-rushing ground.  At that
instant I felt the machine give a lurch and right itself.  I grabbed the
controls, turned on the motor and resumed my line of flight only two
hundred feet in the air.  All this happened in a few seconds, but my
helplessness seemed to have lasted for hours. I had had a very close
call—not as close as the man who fainted, but sufficiently so for me.

[Illustration: "I had received orders to make a flight during a
The author, together with his first mechanic, at the "mitrailleuse."
The second mechanic is standing on the wing.]

Since that day I have seen several other pilots experience a loss of
speed under similar circumstances.  Thanks to the thorough instruction
which we had received previous to our being allowed to fly alone, their
lives, as well as my own, were saved. Later we learned how the very
dangers which we had experienced as new aviators often become the safety
of expert pilots.

                       *PASSING THE FINAL TESTS*

My équipe was now making flights at three thousand feet and was
remaining up for an hour at a time.  We had all flown alone for thirty
hours and were ready for our "épreuves."

The weather was cloudy, however, and as our first examination was to be
a height test, we had to wait until it cleared.  It would have been
extremely difficult—in fact, almost impossible—for us to go up under
existing conditions.  The first two tests which we were required to pass
involved ascensions of six thousand feet; then an hour at ten thousand.
If we passed these satisfactorily we would next be required to take a
triangular voyage of one hundred and fifty miles, making a landing at
each corner of the triangle. Lastly, there was the ordeal of going up to
an altitude of one thousand five hundred feet, where the motor had to be
cut off and the descent made by spirals to a previously determined spot.

The day on which we were required to begin our altitude flights the
captain assigned three machines to our équipe—that is, one aero-biplane
for each pair. My chum, a sous-lieutenant, and I were assigned to the
same machine.  We matched to see which one of us should use it first.
He won and I helped him prepare for the test.  I fastened on his
recording barometer, which indicates the altitude reached by a machine,
and he climbed in.  Waving us a cheery "Au revoir," he started off.  His
machine climbed fast.  To us he seemed to be going too steeply.  We felt
like shouting to him to be careful, but we knew it was useless. Suddenly
his machine slipped off on the wing.  For some unknown reason he failed
to shut off his motor.  His biplane engaged in the fatal spiral.  There
was a loud report, like a cannon-shot, and the machine collapsed.  The
strain had been too great. The top plane fell one way, the lower
another, while my friend and the motor dropped like stones.

I would have given anything to put off my own test for a few days, but
within twenty-four hours I received orders that my turn had come; and
orders were orders. I made up my mind to be very careful and to take my
time about the climb.

That first flight at six thousand feet gave me a thrilling sensation.  I
remembered my first flight alone, when I had barely reached two hundred
feet.  It seemed now as if I was going to mount to an indescribable
height.  Since that day I have had to go up that high often, and even
higher; but it has all become commonplace, for familiarity breeds
contempt in the air as well as on land.

I was so very cautious about mounting that twenty minutes elapsed before
the needle on my registering barometer marked six thousand feet.  It was
very cold.  The wind struck my face with icy blasts, but I was so
excited that I did not really mind it.  After a while I shut off the
motor and started to volplane to earth.  I came down a little too
rapidly and made a very bad landing.  In fact, for a moment I thought
that I had broken my machine. I was wet all through from the sudden rise
in temperature and stone-deaf.  It was ten minutes before I could hear
again. Then I received my call-down.  It seems that when a pilot has
been up to a very great height, he loses his sense of altitude—his "sens
de profondeur," as the French call it.  When approaching the ground he
cannot tell whether he is twenty-five or fifty feet in the air.  He must
take every care, before making contact, to train his eye for "depths"
again by flying a few minutes fairly close to the ground.  It is only a
question of a few moments, but it is a necessary precaution.

My next climb to six thousand feet was better.  In fact, I felt a
certain degree of confidence.  It took me somewhat longer to mount to
the required height, because some clouds came up and I had to search for
a hole through which to pass. Everywhere below me, as far as my eyes
could reach, was a sea of clouds.  The sun was shining on their
snowy-white crests.  It looked for all the world as though I was looking
down upon an enormous bowl of froth.

The following morning was the day fixed for my ten-thousand-foot
ascension.  The atmosphere was remarkably clear, and I felt an
extraordinary sense of freedom and power as I rose from the ground.  The
earth below me was bright with color.  As I climbed higher the shades
became less brilliant.  At ten thousand feet all color had vanished.
The only hue visible was a varying degree of shading, gray and black.
Below me I could make out the city of Chartres.  Forty miles away lay
Orléans. To one side, the Loire wound its course in a gray, ribbon-like
band.  On all sides the straight, white roads were merely blurred
streaks in the murky mass.

A few days later I started on my endurance test, the triangle, in
company with five other machines.  In this flight of two hundred and
fifty kilometres I had to make landings at two towns where there were
aviation-fields, and the third my own field.  At each place I had to
report to the aviation officer in charge and have my papers signed.  In
case of a breakdown on this flight I had forty-eight hours in which to
make the necessary repairs and complete the test.

[Illustration: A Farman artillery-machine.]

The day of my triangle was a poor one for flying.  It was the first warm
morning of early spring and the sun was just soaking the moisture out of
the ground.  The air was, in consequence, spotty and there were many
"remous," or whirlpools.  These whirlpools often cause a sudden "perte
de vitesse" and are therefore very dangerous. The machine is sailing
along quietly and smoothly, when suddenly the controls become lifeless.
You glance at your speed-indicator and at your engine-speed.  Both show
that the machine is travelling well above the minimum safety speed.
This is apt to puzzle the beginner, for without warning there follows a
sudden jolt.  Your machine trembles like a frightened horse and
unexpectedly leaps forward again.  On a day like this you have to fight
the machine all the time to maintain its equilibrium.

The first leg of the triangle was accomplished without incident.  As I
was starting my motor for the second stage, however, I noticed that the
ignition was faulty. A spark-plug had become fouled with oil, and I had
to change it before venturing up again.  My companions started without
me, calling out that I could catch up with them at Versailles, where
they intended to lunch.  I hurriedly screwed on a new spark-plug and
threw my tool-bag back into the box under the extra seat, but in my
hurry to be off I neglected to fasten it down.  I was later to regret my

I soon found that in trying to catch up with the others I had no easy
task before me.  The day was well advanced, and the "remous" which I
encountered were countless. I climbed and climbed.  To no avail. The
cloud ceiling was at eighteen hundred metres, and I could not escape the
"remous" so low.  The country below me was all wooded and interspersed
with lakes both large and small.  There was not a landing-place in view.
Suddenly I felt a hard blow on the back of my head and a weight pushing
against me.  "Ça y est," I thought; "the machine can’t stand the
buffeting and has given way."  I ventured a look back.  To my surprise,
everything seemed intact—everything except the observer’s seat, which
was leaning against my head! It was the seat which I had forgotten to
hook down at Châteaudun!  I was greatly relieved, and fastened it back
into place.

Just then I came within sight of Versailles.  I looked for the
aviation-field at which I was supposed to land.  Instead of one I saw
three, lying about two miles apart.  This was indeed a puzzle. From the
height at which I was flying I could not make out which was the school.
I picked out one which I thought should probably be the haven of refuge
for my storm-tossed aeroplane and spiralled down. I climbed out of my
machine.  No one seemed to be about.  No mechanics ran out to assist me,
as is usually the case at the schools.  "It must be the luncheon-hour,"
I thought, "and all the mecaniciens are at déjeuner."  I glanced over to
where the machines were ranged in line.  To my surprise, they were not
of the model I had seen at Pau and Chartres, but the latest and fastest
"avions de chasse."  Somewhat uncertain as to my whereabouts, I walked
over to the office.  I was not left long in ignorance of my error.  I
had landed on a secret testing-field, access to which was obtained only
by special permit.  The sergeant advised me to lose no time in leaving,
for if the captain saw me I would be speedily punished in accordance
with the military regulations.  I needed no second urging, and within
five minutes I was on the right field, explaining to my comrades why I
had been so long rejoining them.  It seems that they had experienced a
very pleasant flight all the way, for the hour’s start they had had over
me had enabled them to escape most of the "remous," which are always at
their worst in the middle of the day.

Late in the afternoon we returned to Chartres.  This was the most
enjoyable part of the day’s flying.  The aerial conditions were perfect
and we were able to allow ourselves the pleasure of appreciating all the
interesting places we passed over. First we saw the beautiful valley of
the Chevreuse; then Rambouillet, with its wonderful hunting and fishing
preserves. Next I caught a glimpse of the imposing palace and gardens of
Maintenon.  The time passed all too quickly; yet when we reached home it
was almost dark.  We all felt quite tired, but before putting our
machines away, however, we asked permission to make our spirals, so that
we might complete every requirement of the brevet before night set in.
We were anxious to do this, so that we might obtain our "permissions"
immediately.  We did not wish to lose a moment.  A four days’ leave is
always accorded each pilot the moment he has satisfactorily fulfilled
all the requirements of the course.  Our request was granted and the
final test was successfully passed.

I was now a full-fledged aviator, with the rank of corporal, with the
regular pay of eight cents a day and an additional indemnity of
forty-five cents as a member of the Flying Corps.

                     *THE ZEPPELIN RAID OVER PARIS*

I decided to spend my four days’ "permission" in Paris, the rendezvous
of all aviators when not on active service. From the first I felt
conscious of unusual attention.  People seemed to treat me with
deference and with more respect than I had ever before experienced.  I
could not account for it.  Then, of a sudden, I chuckled to myself.  The
envied stars and wings on my collar were the cause.  I was a "pilote
aviateur," a full-fledged member of the aerial light cavalry of France.

For most "permissionnaires" Paris usually offers only the distractions
of its theatres and restaurants, its boulevards, and its beautiful
monuments.  These pleasures I also had looked forward to, but in the
first thirty-six hours of my visit occurred another, more startling
diversion—two Zeppelin raids.  It was my first real experience of the

The first alarm occurred as we were leaving a restaurant after dinner.
A motor fire-engine rushed by, sounding the alert for the approaching
enemy.  Pandemonium reigned in the streets.  I hastened to find a way to
reach the aviation-field at Le Bourget, where I felt that duty called
me.  The concierge hailed a taxi.  I jumped in and gave the address to
the chauffeur.  "Le Bourget!  Oh, mais non," exclaimed the man;
"monsieur must think me a fool."  He flatly refused me as a fare.  He
was the father of a family, and he certainly would not go to the very
spot where all the bombs were certain to be dropped; besides—he did not
have enough gasolene in his tank for so long a run.  We talked and
argued.  In desperation I thrust my hand in my pocket and handed him a
generous retainer.  At the sight of the money he wavered.  I followed up
my advantage and promised him a handsome tip if he started at once. He
threw in his clutch.  I had won my first "engagement."

The streets were pitch-dark and jammed with people, all staring
heavenward.  The feeble oil-lights of the taxicab barely lit up their
faces as we wound our way in and out.  At breakneck speed we swung right
and left, sounding the horn and crying out warning "attentions."  Near
the outskirts of the city we could see search-lights flashing against
the heavy mist.  There was so much fog, however, that they could not
pierce the veil which hung over the city.  At one thousand five hundred
feet the sky was opaque.  The anti-aircraft batteries were barking and
sending off deep-red flashes into the impenetrable murkiness in answer
to wireless signals from the invisible air guards above.  Now and then a
military automobile dashed by.

[Illustration: Newspaper dropped by German raiders within the French

As we neared Le Bourget, there was a deep detonation.  A bomb had been
dropped.  The Zeppelin had arrived.  My chauffeur in panic jammed on the
brakes. I was literally thrown out of the taxi and into the arms of a
waiting sentinel who flashed an electric torch into my face. The
sergeant of the guard rushed up and escorted me to the guard-house,
where an officer proceeded to question me.  I immediately realized that
I was an object of suspicion.  Who was I and what was I doing here?
Here I was, a foreigner in the French uniform, and unknown to them.
Instead of being welcomed at the post of danger I found to my amusement
that I was temporarily under arrest.

Several more explosions were heard. Then a deathlike silence.  The
cannon ceased their angry roar, the search-lights put out their blinding
rays.  Through the window I noticed a large fire in the middle of the
"piste," where several cans of gasolene had been ignited.  It was the
signal for the searching aeroplanes to return. The Zeppelin had left.

As soon as the electric current had been switched on again the captain
returned. He seemed surprised at my "enthusiasm."  "Just like you
Americans," he said smiling.  "A man en permission, however, should
never look for trouble."  He then explained that this night guarding
required special training.  Even had he needed my services, I would have
been helpless, as I had never before flown after sundown.

One by one the defenders of Paris returned.  At two thousand feet they
were invisible, though we could hear the humming of their motors.  Then,
as they came nearer and nearer we saw little indefinite lights moving in
the mist above us, and finally the machines, their dimmed search-lights
yet staring like two great eyes.

About fifty aeroplanes are in the air around Paris all the time.  Each
pilot remains up three hours, when he is relieved by another flier.
When the Zeppelins are known to have crossed the front, some eighty
miles away, the whole defense squadron of two hundred takes to the air.
The organization of the aerial defense of Paris is admirable, and it is
this, together with the efficient anti-aircraft posts in the environs,
which prevents the "Boches" from raiding Paris more often.

I was allowed to examine everything at my leisure, and took advantage of
this opportunity to gain as much information as I could about the
lighting systems and the new models of small cannon which had recently
been installed on the aeroplanes.  Presently I was greeted by one of the
pilots who had just landed.  He proved to be an old acquaintance.

It seems that the Zeppelin had profited by the mist to slip by our
watchers at the front, and had reached the very outskirts of the city
before it was sighted by the air guards of Paris.  The Boches dropped
several bombs near the Gare du Nord and in the vicinity of Le Bourget.
Then they had vanished into the mist.  "How could they ever find the
railway-station in the dark?" I asked.  "That’s easy," he answered.
"The Zeppelins are equipped with a small observation-car that hangs down
on a long cable.  It is built something like an aeroplane and travels
about five thousand feet below the dirigible. This evening the raider
flew at an altitude of seven thousand feet, while the car moved along
only two thousand feet from the ground.  Its passenger could, therefore,
locate everything easily and telephone the directions to the commander
above."  "But," I insisted, "how did they ever locate the freight-yards
in the dark?"  "Easily," replied my companion; "their spies had arranged
all that.  They simply hung a series of blue lights in the chimneys of
houses and laid out a path directly to the spot."  These spies in all
probability had been already caught, but I was angry, very angry, to
realize that their "espionage" was still so efficient.

On the way home Paris seemed surprisingly normal again.  The
street-lamps were glowing peaceably and the cafés were crowded with
talkative men and women.  I could not help thinking how wonderful those
people were, how fearless and forgetful of danger.

The actual damage done by the bombs during that raid was insignificant.
The photographs published in the daily press bore witness to this.  A
few civilians were killed, but no military damage was done. It was only
an attempt at terrorism.  I visited one of the "craters" the next
morning.  The bomb had landed directly over the subway and had blown a
huge hole in the pavement.  The tracks below lay open to view.  Gangs of
laborers were already at work, not repairing the damage but enlarging
the hole.  I asked them what this was for.  "Why, monsieur, it is this
way.  The health authorities always insisted that a ventilator was
needed in this part of the ’Metropolitain.’  The Boches obligingly saved
us the trouble and expense.  We are now merely going to put a fence
around it."

[Illustration: An anti-aircraft .75.]

That night there was another alarm. We were spending the evening with
friends in the Latin Quarter when the pompiers startled us with their
wailing sirens.  From every direction came the "Alerte! the Zeppelins
are coming.  Lights out!"  One by one the street-lamps faded, apartments
were darkened, and the street-cars stopped where they were, plunged into
darkness. It was thrilling.  In the velvety gloom the outlines of people
and motors could be seen moving about.  The corner of the rue d’Assas
alone remained illuminated. A "bec de gaz" was still burning brightly,
to the rage of an old infantry colonel who was too short to reach it
himself.  To our amusement, a little girl clad in a red kimono and
bedroom slippers ran out into the street and volunteered her aid.  The
old soldier blurted out a word or two, then lifted her up in his arms
while she extinguished the light.  "Thanks, mademoiselle. Now, quick!"
he gasped; "run back to bed."

We saw some of the people climb down into their cellars.  The majority,
however, gathered in the streets, looking up at the search-light swept
sky.  Tiny, starlike lights moved about above us and we knew that
aeroplanes of the "Garde de Paris" were searching for the venturesome
raider.  "I don’t believe the sales Boches and their sausage balloon are
coming this evening to beg food," remarked one man.  "Oh, no," answered
another, "it is clear and they well know that a Zeppelin over Paris
to-night is a Zeppelin less for Germany."  Just then we heard the
firemen coming back.  Their bugles were playing a jubilant call.  The
Zeppelins had been frightened away.  Everywhere lights were again lit.
The people laughed good-naturedly at their neighbors’ strange attire.
"Quelle guerre!" yawned the old officer at my elbow; "down in the
ground, under the sea, and over our homes!  Quelle guerre!"


From Chartres I was sent to Châteauroux to continue my studies and
perfect myself in flying.  Châteauroux is a small provincial town
situated half-way between the château country and the beautiful valley
of the river Creuse.  It was originally founded by the Romans, and
before the war had a large "caserne."  All this is forgotten to-day in
the glory of the stream of air pilots that pass through the "Ecole
deviation militaire."  Soldiers are to be found everywhere, but not
aviators, and the residents of Châteauroux are very conscious of the
honor conferred upon their town.

When a pilot has received his "brevet" he has really only begun his
professional education.  This I soon found out at Châteauroux.  The day
after my arrival I was set to work making daily flights and attending
the various courses and lectures on artillery-fire, bomb-dropping, war
aviation, "liaison," and the design of enemy aircraft. The daily flights
were very short, lasting only fifteen minutes each.  We made three or
four of them each day, and their purpose was chiefly to give us greater
confidence in making our landings.  We were allowed to take up
passengers, and we often paired off and took each other up.  In this
connection it was amusing to see how every one avoided being taken up by
certain pilots. Some men cannot fly: their temperaments prevent it, and
try as they will they cannot improve.  This is generally due to sheer
stupidity or to lack of nerve.  One thing is certain, and that is that
these men will kill themselves sooner or later if they persist in their
efforts to fly.

An incident occurred shortly after my arrival at the school.  About
thirty pilots were receiving practical instruction on the aviation-field
and were standing around two aeroplanes.  About a hundred feet away
another machine was making ready to start.  When the mechanic spun the
propeller at the word from the aviator the motor started, not slowly as
it should, but with a roar.  The machine began to roll toward the group
of men.  Instead of cutting off the ignition—we found out later that the
wire connecting the throttle and the carburetor was broken and that the
throttle was therefore turned on full—the pilot lost his head.  He tried
to steer around the group of men in front of him. The ground was muddy
and very slippery, which made escape almost impossible.  In their hurry
to get away several men lost their footing and fell down in the very
path of the onrushing biplane.  We thought that at least a dozen would
be crushed or else decapitated by the rapidly revolving propeller.
Fortunately no one was seriously injured.  Even the stupid pilot escaped
unscathed.  The three machines, however, were completely wrecked.
Needless to say, the offender was immediately dismissed from the
aviation school and sent back to his regiment.  His escapade had cost
the government about ten thousand dollars.  Even had there been no
damage to the machines it is doubtful whether any further chances would
have been taken with a man of such a temperament.

There is not much to tell of the daily flights which we made.  The
weekly trips, however, proved extremely interesting.  We usually covered
at least a hundred miles and flew at a height of over six thousand feet.

[Illustration: A bad landing.]

My first trip was to the aviation school near Bourges, situated on the
estates of the Count d’Avord, who has lent the ground to the government
for the duration of the war.  It is a much larger school than any I had
attended, and its instruction covers every type of machine.  The most
important course given is that in night flying. All the aviators who
have been selected for the bombarding-machines and for the work of
guarding cities are sent here.  Their life is the exact opposite of that
led by the average pilot, for they sleep all day and work all night.
All this was so new to me that I found much of interest.  What surprised
me most was to learn that night flying is really easier than day work.
The reason given is that after sunset there are no "remoux," and that,
when it comes to making landings, the aviation-fields are so well
lighted that the pilots have no more difficulty making contact than in
the daytime.  It is another matter, of course, if an aviator meets with
a mishap and is forced to alight elsewhere.  Under those circumstances
the story is usually a sad one.

One of the longest flights I made was to Tours.  Since then I have often
thought how strange it was to be flying over this historic region of
France.  We took it as a matter of course, but what would the ancient
heroes of France have thought had they seen us?  One week we were over
Bourges, called the source of the French nation, for it was from here
that the Duke de Berry sallied forth and conquered the English hosts,
bringing to a close the struggle which had lasted for a century. The
next week we were over Lorraine and the châteaux of the Bourbon kings,
who did many great deeds, but had surely never thought of flying.

The lectures which we attended every day were extremely important.  The
first subject covered had reference to artillery-fire and the theory of
trajectories.  It is essential that aviators be familiar with the
parabola described by the shells fired by cannon of various calibers.
If they are not, some day they may unconsciously fly in the very path of
shells sent by their own guns and be killed by projectiles not meant for
them.  The "seventy-five" field-guns, when firing at long ranges, have
to elevate their muzzles so much that their shells describe a high
parabola before they explode over the enemy’s trenches.  The very heavy
shells, on the other hand, like those of the 420-centimetre French
pieces and the famous German "Big-Berthas," rise to a point almost over
their target and then drop suddenly.  Aviators must become familiar with
this and with a hundred other peculiarities of artillery-fire. When
flying over the front it is too late to acquire this knowledge.
Information has to be gained beforehand or you stand the chance of being
annihilated with your machine.  An aviator I know involuntarily got into
the path of a seventy-seven or seventy-five caliber shell.  He is alive
to-day, but he lost his left foot in the "collision."  He just managed
to come down within our lines before he had bled too much to recover.

Our next subject for study was "liaison," which means the science of
maintaining communication between the several branches of an army.
During an attack upon the enemy’s position each arm of the service has
its own part to play.  The artillery has to prepare the way for the
infantry, and at a given signal the infantry must be ready to rush
forward to the attack.  As the infantry carry the positions before them
and move forward the artillery-fire must be correspondingly lengthened;
the supply-trains have to keep the necessary amount of ammunition and
shells and other material supplied to the infantry and artillery; while
the cavalry must be ready to charge the moment a favorable opening
presents itself.  For all this co-ordination there are various "agents
de liaison."  There are messengers on foot, and despatch-bearers on
horseback, and motor-cycles; there are visual signals, such as the
signal-flags, the semaphore, and the colored fires and star shells; and
there are the telephone and the telegraph.  None of these are depended
upon by the army headquarters as much as the aviation corps, the "agent
de liaison par excellence."  It is one of the most important rôles that
aviators are called upon to play at the front, and we were being
prepared for this work by very special instruction.

Under the subject of "war aviation" we studied the designs of the
various enemy aircraft, and the pitfalls which are encountered at the
front.  Then followed a course in bomb-dropping.  This was a practical
course, and our method of learning was as peculiar as it was ingenious.
A complete bomb-dropping apparatus was mounted on stakes about
twenty-five feet above the ground.  Under this there was a miniature
landscape painted to scale on canvas.  It was a regular piece of
theatrical scenery mounted on rollers so that it could be revolved to
represent the passage of the earth under your machine.  We would climb
into the seat on the stilts and consider ourselves flying at some
arbitrary height.  Through our range-finder we would gaze down at the
"land," and as a town appeared we would make allowances through the
system of mirrors arranged by the range-finder for our speed and height
and for an imaginary wind.  At the calculated moment the property bombs
would be loosed.

When I came to Châteauroux I thought that I knew something about
aviation because I had obtained my "brevet."  I soon realized how very
little of the ground I had actually covered.  In fact, after four weeks
of this advanced work I felt as if I would never acquire all the
knowledge required for work at the front.  Just then about twenty of us
were selected to go into the reserve near the front, to fill vacancies
caused by casualties.  At last!  We were off for the front!

I left Châteauroux for the reserve at Plessis-le-Belleville with a
certain feeling of uneasiness, yet with the certainty that in case of
emergency I knew almost instinctively what to do.  In addition, I had
become thoroughly familiar with the perils of the air which pilots are
called upon to meet most often.  These dangers are the same as those
encountered on the high seas by sailors: fog, fire, and a lee shore.
Take fog, for example.  The most difficult operation in flying is the
"atterrissage" (landing).  Now, in a fog you must land almost by chance.
You cannot see the ground until it is too late for your eyesight to be
of any use.  Your altimetre is supposed to register your height above
the ground, but no altimetre is delicate enough to keep up with the
rapid descent of an aeroplane.  It is always from fifteen to twenty
yards behind your real height. Nor is this all.  The altimetre "begins
at the ground"; it registers your height above the altitude from which
you started.  Now, since all ground is more or less irregular, you may
be coming down on a spot lower—or, much worse, higher—than that from
which you started.  Besides, when a fog comes up the atmospheric
pressure changes and, as the altimetre is a barometer, it becomes from
that moment unregulated. Then, of course, on landing you may strike bad
ground—houses or shrubbery or fences, all of which adds to the
uncertainty and risk.

The danger from fire has never been entirely eliminated, although it is
not to-day as great as it was before aeroplane engines reached their
present perfection. The greatest danger lies in the propeller. The
slightest obstacle will break it, and if the motor cannot be stopped
instantly the increased revolutions are certain to force the flame back
into the carburetor and you are "grillé" before you can land. Aviators
are from the first instructed to leave nothing loose about the machine
or their clothing.  Many pilots have been killed because their caps blew
off, caught in the propeller, and broke it.  So fast and powerful is the
motion of the propeller that I have seen machines come out of a
hail-storm with the blades all splintered from striking the hailstones.
There have been experiments made with fire-proof machines, but none have
yet proved successful.  Fireproofing is apt to make a machine too heavy
and cumbersome.

The last peril of the air we were warned against was that of the lee
shore.  In landing you should always do so against the wind.  This is
the first principle drummed into the beginners at the schools.  If you
make an "atterrissage" with the wind behind you, you roll along the
ground so fast and so far that you are apt to meet an obstacle which
will either wreck your machine or else cause it to turn a somersault.
Yet, when making a landing against the wind, the force of the breeze
blowing toward you will sometimes prevent you from coming down where you
had planned. On many occasions I have seen aeroplanes remain practically
stationary in the air, while descending, and sometimes even move
backward in reference to the ground. This has to be considered by the
pilot and grasped on the instant, or else he will surely come to grief
by hooking some object in his descent.


The "Réserve Générale de l’Aviation," "R.G.A.," or, as it is more
commonly known, the "Groupe d’Entrainement," is situated northeast of
Paris, on the plains of Valois.  It was there that General Maunoury, in
September, 1914, launched his turning movement against the German right
flank under General von Kluck, and helped save France in the great
battle of the Marne.  The country in this section is ideal for aviation,
for the hills are low and rolling, and there are very few "obstacles."
In a large forest—an "obstacle"—the village of Ermenonville lies.  Here
we were billeted, while the commanding officer of the reserve made his
headquarters in the château of the Prince Radzivill, the "patron" of the

The organization of the reserve is stupendous.  There are four separate
camps, one for each branch of aviation, and there are over one hundred
machines in each camp.  We were practically our own masters, and could
make flights whenever and wherever we wished.  The idea is that the
pilots here have an opportunity of perfecting themselves and that, if
they do not fly, why, then it is their own loss. Acrobatics and all
sorts of feats are encouraged. Accidents occur every day, but we were
here on "active service" and our time was far too taken up with our work
for any one to pay much attention to the unlucky ones.  That, at the
front, is a duty reserved for the medical corps.

Now that we were all gathered in one great camp, I had the opportunity
of noticing more than before the different types of men that are to be
found in the French Flying Corps.  Unlike the conscript "poilu" of the
army, every aviator is a volunteer.  Aviation is far more dangerous than
fighting in the trenches, yet there are many who have preferred the
extra risk of being in the Aviation Corps to the tedium of remaining in
the narrow-walled trenches.  I believe there is at present a waiting
list of over six thousand men who have applied for service in the Flying
Corps, but for whom there are still no vacancies.  A pilot may resign
his commission at any time and return to his regiment at the front, but
the majority of the "vacancies" are caused by casualties. Curiously
enough, there are many men who have been rendered unfit by wounds for
service in the infantry, who have volunteered for the air service.  A
people with such patriots surely can never be defeated.

The French army understands that flying calls for the most intense kind
of concentration, mental as well as physical. Every effort is therefore
made to absolve the aviators from all work except that of running the
machines and seeing that they are well cared for.  My old football
trainer in college used to say that his principle was to wrap the men in
cotton-wool when they were off the field and drive them for all they
were worth when they were in the field.  The French seem to have the
same theory about aviation.  No one who has not tried it can appreciate
the tremendous strain of flying.  After a few hours in the air I find
that I am more exhausted than I used to be after a hard football match.

While the matter of personal habits is left to the aviator’s judgment,
he is usually cautioned about drinking, smoking, and even overeating.
You need all the strength there is in you when in the air. The French,
as every one knows, drink wine as we drink tea and coffee.  Yet I have
noticed that French aviators, when they are at work at the front, merely
color their water with the wine.  Many of them smoke cigarettes only in

The democracy existing in the French army since the outbreak of
hostilities has aroused the enthusiasm of every observer and has caused
much surprise to incredulous pacifists.  The Aviation Corps I found even
more democratic among themselves than the other branches of the service.
I suppose one of the reasons for this total absence of distinction
between officers and men is because they all have passed through the
same schools, through the same courses of training, and have run the
same risks.  Among the pilots, however, one may notice three classes.
The first and predominating class is that composed of "gentlemen."  By
gentlemen I mean gentlemen in the English sense—men who in private life
have the leisure time to be sportsmen, and who in war have chosen
aviation because it is a more sporting proposition than fighting in the
trenches.  The second class comprises those who before the war were
professional pilots or aviation mechanics.  In the third class one finds
men who were mechanics or chauffeurs by trade and who were accepted
because their knowledge of machinery would ultimately help them to
become pilots.

The best pilots are obtained from men between the ages of twenty and
thirty. Under twenty a boy is too impetuous, and over thirty a man is
apt to be too cautious. Of course, there are exceptions, but these
limits express the preferences of the instructors at the schools.

At the "R.G.A." there is also a course for the training of young
artillery officers who have volunteered as observers for the aviation.
Our duty as pilots was to take one of these officers up with us every
time we made a flight, so as to give him "air sense."  We would make
imaginary reconnoissances all over the country, regulate supposed
batteries, and go on photographic missions.  The observer would send off
his reports by wireless and direct us by his maps, while we would do our
best to throw him off his guard and make him lose his bearings.  In this
way observer and pilot work together and help each other with
observations and advice.  During my stay at the "R.G.A." my partner was
a young artillery officer who had just been promoted from the ranks.  He
was very clever and full of enthusiasm for his work, and we derived much
pleasure from our association.

"Réglage," or fire-control, was a course that involved practice,
constant practice, and still more practice, in developing a faculty for
reading distances.  We would go up and try to estimate just where the
puffs of smoke, representing the explosion of shells, went off.  The
corrections then had to be wirelessed to the battery, so that the next
shots might get "home."  In real observation work the observer does all
this. The pilot merely flies the machine.  It is thought best, however,
for the pilot to have the same training and technic as the observer, so
that he may help the latter.

While stationed at the Réserve I made some most interesting trips around
the country, up and down the valley of the Marne, over the forest of
Compiègne, and even over Paris.  In fact, I was at liberty to go
anywhere, except in a northeasterly direction, for there there was
always a danger of getting across the lines.  Two or three machines
disappeared in the course of a year, and it is thought that the pilots
must have committed an "indiscretion" and fallen into the hands of the
Germans for their pains.

Once I was sent to Bar-le-Duc to bring an old machine back to Plessis.
The distance, as the crow flies, was one hundred and fifty miles, over
Châlons, across Champagne, and down the valley of the Marne. I enjoyed
this flight immensely, though it nearly ended disastrously.  The
aeroplane I brought back was regulated for the weight of two men, so
that when I flew in it alone I had to fight it all the way to keep it
from climbing too far.  Every moment I had to keep pushing against the
control and it almost exhausted me. There was a low ceiling of clouds
and I simply could not let the machine have its own way.  To add to my
aggravation, the motor stopped as I was passing over a forest.  There
was nothing to do but volplane down, though I did not see how I could
ever avoid the trees.  Unexpectedly a clear landing-place loomed up
ahead of me, but before reaching it I felt that I would be in the
tree-tops.  Worst of all, I had a lee shore.  Across my path I suddenly
noticed a canal lined with poplars.  I could not possibly pass over
them, so I pressed desperately against my rudder controls.  Being near
the ground, it was a frightfully short and sharp turn.  I thought that
the tip of one of my wings would touch the branches of the trees while
the other would scrape the ground; then I would be crushed under the
motor.  At that moment the machine straightened itself out and came to a
stop in a ploughed field.  It was a very close call.

I shall never forget one of my flights over Paris.  The day was
beautiful.  The atmosphere was so clear that one could see for miles and
miles.  As I approached the city it looked like a toy model.  Every
street, almost every house, stood out in perfect detail.  The white
church on the hill of Montmartre glistened like ivory. Beyond it I could
see the Arc de Triomphe and the Tour Eiffel.

I stayed up so long that my supply of gasolene was almost exhausted, and
I was obliged to land to refill the tank.  I chose the aviation-field at
Le Bourget, the scene of my first war experience on the night of the
Zeppelin raid.  As it happened, I again selected an unusual occasion for
my visit. This time, however, the extraordinary activity was not due to
an unwelcome visit by the Germans.  It was rather to celebrate the
perfection of an unpleasant surprise for the hated Boches.

Great crowds lined the field on every side.  In the centre stood a small
group of prominent officials.  Among them I recognized President
Poincaré.  They were examining a new weapon with which French aeroplanes
would henceforth go "sausage-hunting" over the German lines.

Even the casual visitor to the front is struck by the great number of
observation balloons which both sides use in their efforts to keep
informed of the preparations being made by the enemy.  Every few miles a
captive balloon or "sausage" wafts lazily over the German lines, fairly
far behind the lines, but at an altitude sufficient for observation
purposes.  Against these "monsters" aeroplanes heretofore had been
powerless.  Their machine guns fired bullets which, even if incendiary,
were too small to set on fire the gas-containing envelope.  The aircraft
cannon carried by some of the French machines also proved useless.  The
holes their projectiles made in the balloons were too small to allow a
sufficient quantity of air to enter and cause an inflammable mixture.

The rockets, which were being examined as I landed at Le Bourget, solved
the problem.  Four are mounted on each side of an aeroplane.  At the
head of each rocket is a large dart, resembling a salmon-gaff. The tails
of the rockets are wound into spiral springs, which are held in sockets.
All eight rockets are fired at once.  They are ignited as they leave
their sockets, and travel with lightning speed.

Swinging lazily above the field was a captive balloon.  At one end of Le
Bourget was a line of waiting aeroplanes.  "This is the second.  They
have already brought down one balloon," remarked the man at my elbow.
The hum of a motor caused me to look up.  A wide-winged double-motor
Caudron had left the ground and was mounting gracefully above us.  Up
and up it went, describing a great circle, until it faced the balloon.
Every one caught his breath.  The Caudron was rushing straight at the
balloon, diving for the attack.

"Now!" cried the crowd.  There was a a loud crack, a flash, and eight
long rockets darted forth, leaving behind a fiery trail. The aviator’s
aim, however, was wide, and, to the disappointment of every one, the
darts fell harmlessly to the ground.

Another motor roared far down the field, and a tiny "appareil de chasse"
shot upward like a swallow.  "A Nieuport," shouted the crowd with one
voice.  Eager to atone for his "copain’s" failure, and impatient at his
delay in getting out of the way, the tiny biplane tossed and tumbled
about in the air like a clown in the circus-ring.

"Look!  He’s looping!  He falls!  He slips!  No, he rights again!" cried
a hundred voices as the skilful pilot kept our nerves on edge.

[Illustration: A heavy bombarding-machine.]

Suddenly he darted into position and for a second hovered uncertainly.
Then, with a dive like that of a dragon-fly, he rushed down to the
attack.  Again a sheet of flame and a shower of sparks.  This time the
balloon sagged.  The flames crept slowly around its silken envelope.
"Touché!" cried the multitude.  Then the balloon burst and fell to the
ground, a mass of flames.  High above, the little Nieuport saucily
continued its pranks, as though contemptuous of such easy prey.

To the north a group of tiny specks in the sky seemed to grow in size
and number. Nearer and nearer they came.  I knew they must be a
bombarding escadrille, returning from a raid across the enemy’s lines.
One, two, three, I counted them, up to twelve.  Slowly they floated
along as if tired by their long flight, and then gently they began to
drop down.

They rolled smoothly across the field and stopped before their hangars.
Cannon protruded menacingly from their armored, boat-shaped bodies as
the pilots climbed down and stretched themselves.

"At the front this morning, to-night they can dine in Paris," jealously
sighed an infantry officer.  "But," replied an aviator from our group,
"there are two of them who will probably never dine in Paris again.
Fourteen started out this morning.  Now they number only twelve."

                         *ORDERED TO THE FRONT*

After three weeks at Plessis-le-Belleville I became "disponible," that
is to say, I was listed among the first twenty aviators who were
considered ready for duty at the front.  From that moment orders
directing my future movements might be received any minute, and I was
under restriction not to stray too far away. I must say that I
experienced a curious sensation, waiting around in this way, not knowing
where I would be in a week. You never know to what sector of the front
you are going until your orders are handed to you.  Three days after my
name had been posted on the bulletin-board an order came detaching five
pilots for duty with the "Armée de l’Orient" at Salonica.  My name was
sixth on the list, so I missed by one being among them. That evening,
however, my turn came. This time the direction was Toul.

When men leave the Réserve for the front there are no sad leave-takings.
Every pilot seems to be glad that his turn has come to do his share in
the defense of his country, and instead of being downcast he is
light-hearted.  Yet the part which he is to play in the air involves
chances which are four to one against his coming through alive.

It is customary for a pilot to spend two days in Paris before starting
for his ordered destination.  Officially my leave was due to begin only
on the following morning.  I decided, however, to take time by the
forelock and to be off that night.  In this way I would gain twelve
hours additional leave.  All the "paperasserie"—red tape—was first
disposed of, and then I proceeded to pack my effects.  These I had drawn
from the aviation quartermaster’s depot.  There was my fur-lined union
suit, a fur overcoat, fur boots, gloves, and cap.  I also received an
automatic pistol with a holster, a special aeroplane compass, an
"altimetre," a special aviation clock mounted on wire springs, and a
speed-indicator.  These were furnished to me by the government, and
became my property.  I had the privilege of providing myself with
anything else I wished, but the government outfit always had to be at
hand for inspection.

Fortunately I had just time to make the evening train for Paris.
According to my pass, I was on "service recommandé" and on my way to the
front, where in a few days I would be flying over the German lines.  The
moment I had looked forward to for so many months had at last come.  I
could hardly believe it myself.

My two days in Paris passed like magic. There was so much to attend to,
so much to do, that before I knew it the moment to leave had come.  I
took a taxi to the Gare de l’Est, my wife and my little girl
accompanying me.  My luggage consisted of my black army canteen, across
the front of which was painted in white letters "Carroll Winslow—Pilote
Aviateur," and my long canvas duffel-bag, which contained my fur-lined
clothes and all my flying paraphernalia.  There are usually so many
formalities to be complied with that I allowed more than enough time for
the visa of my papers.  It was well that I did.  The station was crowded
with grimy, blue-coated "poilus," walking up and down the waiting-rooms
and lounging on the stone steps; outside others were saying good-by to
their families, while across the street large numbers crowded about the
free "buffets," where patriotic women of Paris daily minister to the
wants of the departing "permissionnaires."  All the men wore their steel
helmets, and had their knapsacks strapped to their shoulders.  They were
not as smart-looking as the khaki-clad British "Tommies," but despite
their muddy boots and faded uniforms there was something in their faces,
a look in their eyes, that seemed to say: "No sacrifice is too great—for
France."  I felt proud to think that I was one of them, and their quiet
salutes showed me that I had their respect.  The regard of those grave,
war-worn men meant much to me.  My wife and I silently watched what was
going on about us, while our little girl chattered at our side.  Many
women accompanied their "braves" to the station.  Most of them carried
baskets of food and delicacies, but some, too poor even to buy a present
for their "poilus," came empty-handed.  The moments of leave-taking
seemed almost tragic.  Many a man went up those steps whistling and with
head erect, while others laughed as they tossed their little ones high
in the air for a last good-by.  These were fine examples, and when the
porter touched me on the arm and said: "The train for Toul, m’sieu’," I
too was able to bear it calmly.

The cars were already crowded with "poilus."  Not a seat was to be had
in the compartments.  Standing-room in the corridors was at a premium.
We were all bound in the same general direction, toward Verdun, Nancy,
and Toul.

The train came to a stop at last.  We were at Bar-le-Duc, the terminus
for Verdun.  What an air of mystery there was about the station at
"Bar."  We could hear the distant roar of the cannon defending the banks
of the Meuse. Everywhere men moved about with a sort of suppressed
excitement.  "Camions" rumbled by in hundreds.  In the freight-yard
troops filled every available space not already taken up by the newly
arrived artillery.  Nearly all my travelling companions left me here.
For a moment I wished that I too had been ordered to the Verdun sector.
It was after sundown when the train drew into the station at Toul.  The
town was in darkness, and I felt very doubtful as to whether I would be
able to join my escadrille that night.  To my surprise, an officer,
noticing my indecision, came up to me and asked if he could help me.  I
told him where I wanted to go and inquired if he could direct me.  "Why,
it is too late to do this to-day," he remarked; "better wait until the
morning."  With that he motioned me to step into his automobile and
directed the chauffeur to drive us to the Etat-Major.

As we rolled through the streets of the silent city I had a moment to
reflect upon what all this meant.  I began to realize that a change had
taken place in my position.  I was no longer a mere soldier, but an
aviator and as such entitled to courtesies usually extended only to
officers in the other branches of the army.  There is no mention of this
custom in the regulations.  It was merely an unwritten paragraph of
military etiquette.  Here was an officer, my superior in rank, treating
me with a consideration I had rarely experienced.  I noticed by the
insignia on his overcoat that he was a captain in the Aviation Corps.
He was therefore a pilot.  I thought for a few moments.  Suddenly an
idea occurred to me.  I was also a pilot, and in the eyes of traditional
convention we were comrades, for we were both aviators.  At the
Etat-Major the colonel like-wise extended a warm welcome and shook me
heartily by the hand.  I suppose that my being an American had something
to do with it, but I could not help thinking that I was still only a
corporal.  He immediately gave orders to requisition a large room for me
at the hotel, and bade me hurry or I would be late for dinner.  No
wonder aviators are inspired to do such splendid work at the front when
their efforts meet with so much appreciation.

The next morning I started out soon after sunrise to walk out to the
aviation-field. Everywhere, above the streets of Toul, there were
posters which read "Cave Voutée," and with the number of persons,
varying from fifteen to sixty, who could be accommodated.  These cellars
were protected with sand-bags and were located at convenient intervals,
so that the people might find shelter quickly whenever the German
aeroplanes made their appearance.  Only a few days previous to my
arrival there had been a raid, yet everything seemed normal and the
housewives went about their marketing and shopping as if they had
nothing else to think about.

An hour’s walk brought me to my escadrille, F-44.  I was barely in time.
Orders had just been received transferring it to the Verdun sector and
preparations to move camp were already under way. Every one went to work
with a will, laughing and jumping around in a sort of war-dance.  No
wonder they were happy. They—we, I should say, for I was now one of
them—were about to become participants in the world’s greatest defensive

[Illustration: A German aeroplane brought down by a French aeroplane.
The smoke is from the German machine, which the aviator has
set fire to upon being brought down.  The French machine can
be seen to the right, its wing broken by a bad landing.  The
small dots in the center are French soldiers.  The white
lines are the French third-line trenches.
The French pilot with his German prisoner (insert).]

The aeroplanes started for Bar-le-Duc "by air" shortly after noon.  One
pilot and myself, however, had to make the journey by rail.  My own
machine had not yet arrived, and his had been smashed up the day before.
When the German raiders came over Toul he had gone up with the defending
aeroplanes, and had brought down an aviatik which he had engaged.  It is
customary for a pilot, when driven down in the enemy’s territory to set
fire to his machine to prevent it from falling into the hands of his
adversaries. This the German proceeded to do the moment he touched
ground.  My friend was frantic to prevent this and tried to make a quick
landing in order to get to him in time.  He was too excited, however,
and smashed one of the wings of his own machine during the landing.
This occurred just behind the French third-line trenches. The soldiers
rushed out and made the German pilot a prisoner, but not until after he
had applied the match to his gasolene-tank.

                         *IN THE VERDUN SECTOR*

At Bar-le-Duc I felt again the suppressed excitement of the near-front.
Everywhere were "Cave Voutée" signs, troops were in motion on all sides,
sentries were posted at every street-corner, every one seemed to be in a
hurry to get somewhere.

Our escadrille was camped in a field adjoining that occupied by the
American Escadrille.  Our "train" consisted of a dozen light, covered
trucks with their tent-like trailers, and three automobiles for the use
of the officers and pilots.  Our camp was pitched by the time I had made
the trip from Toul by rail, and the array of tents and the park of
tractors had every outward appearance of a country circus.  It was my
first impression of an air-squadron camp at the front, and I must admit
that my previous conception of the amount of equipment required by each
of these units was far below what I now beheld.  The personnel of my
escadrille alone looked like an expeditionary force for service in
Mexico.  There were a dozen artillery-observers, seven pilots, countless
mechanics, chauffeurs, orderlies, servants, wireless operators,
photographers, and other "attachés," over a hundred and twenty-five men
in all.  Each of these hundred-odd men were essential to the work of the
nineteen pilots and observers.

It was a pleasant surprise to find the American pilots here.  I had not
heard that they had been ordered to the Verdun sector.  This honor had
been thrust upon them unexpectedly.  They were now here, among the best
fighting units of the French Army, to protect the photography,
fire-control, and bombarding-machines of this sector.  Their camp was
thirty miles behind the lines, but with their fast little Nieuports it
took them less than fifteen minutes to be in the thick of the fray. The
government had given them a large, comfortable villa to live in.  I must
say I felt a bit envious when I compared their feather-beds and baths
with my little tent and canvas-covered cot.

That evening I had dinner with my compatriots.  It was a meal I will
never forget.  As visiting pilot I was seated on the right of their
commander, Captain Thenault.  Across the table, opposite me, sat Victor
Chapman, Norman Prince, and Kiffen Rockwell—all three since fallen on
the "champ d’honneur."  At the other end of the table were Elliot
Cowdin, Jim McConnell, and "Red" Rumsey, together with Clyde Balsley,
Chouteau Johnston, and Dudley Hill.  Bill Thaw was not with us, as he
was in the hospital, having been wounded in a recent combat with a
Boche. The places of the three pilots killed have since been taken by
other volunteers, but in the minds and memories of the Americans dining
at the camp that night their places can never be filled.  We know that
they did not die in vain, and that what they did will live in history.
Their spirit was one of sincere patriotism to the cause they had made
their own, and among the Allies the sympathy and the belief they
expressed has been amply proved.

The escadrille was to make its first sortie as a unit in the morning.
Captain Thenault had much to say to his men, and after dinner the
conversation continued along the same general lines.  There seemed to be
so much detail to attend to and signals to arrange that I was almost
tempted to ask them how escadrilles ever managed to co-operate so well
in the presence of the enemy air squadrons.

[Illustration: A bi-motor Caudron.
A captured Fokker.]

When I awoke next morning it was raining.  The clouds hung low, too low
for flying over the lines, so the Americans remained in their beds.  Our
escadrille, however, was obliged to move on, as the station to which it
had been assigned was directly behind the lines.  The planes had to
proceed "par la voie de l’air," but the ground was so soft and muddy
that it was difficult to get the machines to leave the earth.  The
pilots all seemed nervous, yet all rose in good form except one, who was
a little late in getting off.  He did not know the way, and was afraid
of losing his companions in the mist.  In his haste he took too short a
run, so that when he came to the end of the field he was not high enough
to clear the line of hangars in his path.  To make matters worse the
unlucky man lost his head.  He tried to make a sharp turn, but it was
too late.  The tip of his wing caught the canvas of the tent, and the
machine fell with a crash to the ground, killing the pilot and pinning
his mechanic beneath the wreckage.

We felt much depressed by this accident. Our departure for the new camp
seemed to emphasize our sadness, for, as we moved off in our long line
of motors our procession had an appearance almost funereal. First came
the automobiles; then, following them, the twelve tractors and
trailers—twenty-seven vehicles in all—moving slowly toward the front.

As we turned into the main road to Verdun the traffic was so heavy that
we had to move at a snail’s pace.  Ahead of us rumbled a steady stream
of "camions" with ammunition and supplies.  Alongside of the road were
the columns of troops going to the trenches.  Their heavy coats were
already soaked, and the probability was that they would remain so for a
week, but nothing daunted them.  They just plodded along gayly, singing
their marching songs, utterly unmindful of the rain-drops that were
hourly weighting down their equipment more and more.

From the opposite direction came the empty supply-trains.  Sandwiched in
with these were ambulances and motor-buses, bearing the men returning
from their "stage" in the trenches.  The poor fellows looked hardly
human, for they were brown with mud from head to foot.  Their faces were
caked with dirt, and a week’s growth of beard gave them a still more
uninviting appearance.  They seemed to gaze at us with a far-away,
half-conscious expression, so utterly stupefied were they by the
terrible bombardment to which they had been subjected.

The farther we went the more numerous were the evidences of war.  The
roar of the cannonade became louder.  On both sides of the roads the
villages were in ruins. Not a farmhouse was inhabited, and the fields
were dotted everywhere with soldiers’ graves; on each cross hung the
"képi" of the dead hero.  In some of the military cemeteries there were
graves without little wooden crosses—only a small fence marked them off
from the rest.  These, I was told, were the graves of the Mohammedan
African troops, whose comrades claimed for them a plot apart from the
"unsacred ground" used by their Christian allies.

It was almost dark by the time we reached our new camping-site.  The
fields were soaked with the heavy rain, and we splashed about in the mud
for hours before the task of pitching camp was completed. By nine
o’clock, however, all was ready and we sat down to a good, warm supper.
Then we turned in.  It was so cold and chilly that I went to bed in my
fur-lined clothes.  But tired as I was I could not get to sleep.  The
roar of the artillery was frightful.  On every side of us it crashed and
thundered, unceasingly, uninterruptedly. An attack was in process at the
Mort-Homme, and every little while there would be a "tir de barrage," or
curtain fire as we call it.  The small 75’s would sound like the rat-tat
of a snare-drum accompanying the louder beats of the deep-bass drums.

I got out of bed and gazed toward the battle-field.  The earth was
brilliantly illuminated by the rockets and flares that were being sent
up everywhere.  The sky seemed full of fire-flies—in reality exploding
shells.  On all sides the guns flashed angrily.  Search-lights played
about in every direction.  It was a most superb spectacle, but it was
terrible.  It was hell.

                    *MY FIRST FLIGHT OVER THE LINES*

Unfavorable weather conditions kept us inactive for several days, but as
soon as the skies cleared our escadrille immediately went to work again.
For some reason my own machine was delayed "en route," and did not
arrive for a week.  This was time I could ill afford to lose, so the
"chef pilote" took me as a passenger in his biplane to familiarize me
with the ground in our sector.

We started late one afternoon.  The atmosphere was extraordinarily
clear. Every detail in the landscape stood out boldly, and as we rose
the dozens of camps in the immediate vicinity spread out below us like
models set in a painted scenery. The valleys, the tents, the guns, the
troops, all were visible to the naked eye.  On all sides were
aviation-camps, which were easily distinguished from the others—there
must have been at least twenty of them within a radius of five miles.

As soon as we reached a height of three thousand feet my pilot headed
the machine toward the lines.  At our feet lay the terrain of the
"Verdun sector."  From the forest of the Argonne on our left to the
plains of the Woëvre on our right stretched one of the bloodiest
battle-fields of history.  At regular intervals along the front the
French captive balloons—there were eighteen in sight at this
moment—swung lazily in the breeze.  They looked for all the world like
the "saucisses" they are named after.  Day and night they are kept
aloft, maintaining ceaseless vigil over the movements of the enemy.

Passing the balloons, we could see the various important points of the
defense at closer range.  The city of Verdun nestled close to the banks
of the Meuse, which wound like a silver band through that now desolate
land.  Far off to the right were the forts of Vaux and Douaumont.  A
trifle nearer was Fleury.  To the left, in the distance, I could make
out the "Mort-Homme" and Hill 304, while directly before us lay Cumières
and Chattancourt. The entire Verdun sector was spread out like a

The German attacks upon the French position on the Mort-Homme were still
in progress.  I had never before seen a battle, and to see such an
important conflict from "the gallery" seemed most strange. It looked
more like a pan of boiling water, with the steam hanging in a pall over
it, than anything else I can think of.  In fact, a yellow mist rose to a
great height and almost obscured the view.  Tiny flashes showed where
the guns were concealed, but to us the battle was a silent one.  The
noise of our motor drowned the whistling of the shells and the roar of
the bombardment.  I could not help thinking how much some of those poor
fellows below us would appreciate a little of this silence.

We could plainly see the network of the trenches, broken and
half-obliterated in the mud.  In some places they were so close together
that it was difficult to make out where the French lines ended and the
German earthworks began.  The ground was speckled with "pock-marks"
caused by shell explosions, and altogether it was a weird scene of
desolation.  All signs of nature which had once beautified this region
had vanished.  The forests and the green fields had disappeared.  Ruined
villages lay like piles of disused stone among the circular
"entonnoirs," or shell-holes. In color it was all a dirty brown.

[Illustration: A view of the Mort-Homme taken from a height of 3,600
These are two photographs pasted together.
Exact maps of the front are made in this manner daily
by the photographic sections.]

On every side of us were the French artillery biplanes.  They were
hovering over the German lines like gulls, continually wirelessing back
the ranges to their batteries.  High above us circled the little
Nieuports on guard, to protect us and to prevent the Fokkers and
aviatiks from crossing over our lines.  Everywhere were little white
puffs, which seemed to follow the machines about.  I watched them,
strangely fascinated and amused, until my pilot informed me that these
were caused by exploding shrapnel from the enemy’s anti-aircraft guns.
Then I noticed with uneasiness that the same puffs were also following
us.  My interest in the little white puffs from that moment assumed
quite another character.  I listened for the sharp crack of their
explosions, but all I could hear was a dull "whung."  The thought that
very few machines are really brought down by shrapnel was a bit
reassuring, but I must admit that when the enemy is sending them on all
sides of you, you do not feel like giving much credence to what others
may have told you.

Presently my attention was called to the lines of German captive
balloons, which are moored some miles behind their first-line trenches.
Several aeroplanes stood guard over them, and as we knew that they were
armed and that we on this occasion were not we decided to turn back.

I made several of these trips over the different positions on our
immediate front. By the time my own machine arrived I was thoroughly
familiar with the sector and also with the main dangers to be
encountered by aviators over the battle lines. The first precaution I
learned was—always, when landing, to unhook the belt that held me in my
seat.  This is one of the most important things to remember at the
front.  The fields are not always in the best condition, and the
slightest obstruction may cause an unexpected crash. If you are in an
artillery pusher-machine when this happens you are invariably crushed
under the motor, unless your belt is unfastened, when you are usually
thrown clear.

[Illustration: "Everywhere little white puffs seemed to follow the
machines about."]

Another danger, which I would never have thought of if an experienced
pilot had not pointed it out, lies in the cables mooring the captive
balloons.  These are invisible to an approaching aviator and to collide
with one means a fatal smash. When flying low enough to pass under the
"saucisses," aviators must watch out for these "tethers."  Nevertheless,
you can always take advantage of one of their peculiarities.  The cable
always stretches to windward, and in a good breeze it stretches far.  By
keeping well to leeward you can always rest reasonably assured that you
are on the safe side.  Many aviators, however, have met with fatal
accidents, through fouling these cables.  I know of only one instance
where the pilot did escape unhurt after striking the wire.  It seems
that the moment he saw what was going to happen he put his machine into
a vertical bank, so that when the impact came he was turning about the
cable.  Then, strangely enough, by continuing his spiral he was able
finally to disengage himself and escape.

Telephone and telegraph wires also are a certain menace to aviators.
They form a regular network behind the lines, while on every
aviation-field there are in addition wireless aerials to avoid.  Many a
returning pilot has forgotten them in his haste to get back to camp, and
fouled them, to his regret.  One pilot I knew met his fate in this way.
He had been wounded by a shrapnel-ball over the German lines, and had
managed to return to his own field. He was so weak from the loss of
blood that in his anxiety to land quickly he forgot the aerials.  His
machine caught the wires and fell to the ground.  Both the pilot’s legs
were broken in the fall and he died, not so much from his wound as from
this unfortunate accident.

Still another risk is encountered when flying in the clouds.  A cloud is
dangerous at any time because there may be an enemy—or, in fact, any
machine—in it.  If you enter the mist you may be going head on into
another aeroplane without having the slightest warning of its presence.
Your own motor makes so much noise that you never under any
circumstances hear that of another machine until too late.  You are in
consequence deprived of both your eyesight and your hearing.  At the
front the risk of meeting an enemy aeroplane under such circumstances
can never be overlooked, for often fighting machines use the mist to
cover their presence.

Shells also have to be carefully avoided, for, though destined for some
far-away target below you, they sometimes in their flight destroy
aeroplanes unintentionally. As I have already explained, we devoted much
time to this subject at Châteauroux, learning the trajectories of the
different calibers.  Still, at the front, the theory is not so easily
put into practice.  It seems almost impossible to keep track of all the
artillery massed by your own side, especially in such a sector as
Verdun, where the guns often were placed so close together that their
wheels almost touched. On more than one occasion when flying quietly
through the air my machine has given a sudden lurch, and I have heard
the dull "tung" of a passing shell.  There is none of the whistling we
are accustomed to on the earth; merely the dulled sound caused by the
sudden displacement of the air.

My own machine finally arrived, after delays that seemed interminable,
and my two mechanics immediately set to work installing the various
instruments, and painting it.  These two men were personally responsible
to me for the condition of the motor and planes, but, as pilot, I was
the master of the machine, which was reserved for my own use.  In fact,
each aeroplane has painted on its body and rudder the name and
distinguishing marks of its pilot and escadrille.

After a few short flights I became aware of the fact that my biplane, in
spite of all my efforts to correct it, showed a strong tendency to lean
to the right.  At times I could hardly make a turn to the left.  This
was a serious matter at the front, as an enemy might at any moment
appear on my "weak" side and I would be placed in a serious position.  I
therefore mentioned the matter to my captain.  To my surprise, he
immediately ordered a new machine for me and gave directions that the
one I was using should be sent back to the factory.  The defect in this
particular case was one mechanics could not remedy, and it seems that it
was nothing out of the ordinary to send a machine back to the shops.  At
the front a pilot must have a perfect machine to work with or none at
all.  The life of a good aeroplane seldom is more than fifty hours of
actual flying.

During this time the organization of the escadrille was perfected.  The
pilots were divided into two "watches," one-half being on duty while the
other was "standing by" ready for service in case of emergency.  All the
pilots except myself were "disponibles."  I was exempt because I had no
machine, and was therefore for the time being my own master, even when
it came to rising in the morning.  When the others on duty were
awakened, at early dawn, I would be awakened with the rest. My turn had
not yet come, however, and I could just turn over and sleep to my
heart’s content.

Our camp looked like a little tented city; there were seven enormous
canvas hangars, and grouped about these six other tents, each serving a
particular purpose: captain’s office, wireless plant, telephone central,
repair-shop, photographic division, and kitchen.  At one end of the
field were the living-quarters of the captain and the observers, while
at the other were parked the thirty automobiles of our two escadrilles.
On the opposite sides of the field were the quarters of the pilots of
the two escadrilles.  The mechanics slept in the hangars with their

Considering everything, we were fairly comfortable.  The pilots of each
escadrille shared two large tents, and in addition each group had a
large mess-tent.  Inside each sleeping-tent each one of us had a little
alcove.  Our cots were raised on wooden platforms.  At one end we fitted
up a shower-bath, for which purpose a gasolene tank punctured with holes
proved ideal.  Of course, every time you wanted a bath some one had to
empty pails of water into the "tank" above you.  Our mess—"popotte" they
call it in the French army—was very good.  We had a regular daily
allowance from the government, but this was not always enough to buy all
the supplies we needed.  We therefore instituted a system of fines, and
our treasurer provided our table with a small tin box in lieu of a

Bad language or talking "shop" before coffee involved a ten-centime
fine, which had to be dropped into the bank at once. This regulation
proved a godsend to the mess—and to our conversation.

As I was not "disponible," I was sent on several trips with the staff
automobile. Its most frequent runs were to the artillery headquarters to
deliver photographs of the enemy’s positions.  These were situated in a
near-by village, within sight of the German trenches.  All the roads
approaching this place were masked, and the town itself was in ruins.
Everywhere sand-bags reinforced the stone walls.  The telephone central
was a veritable fortress, and continually within the zone of the German
artillery "strafes."  The life of the officers of the Etat-Major was
certainly not an enviable or an easy one.


By the time my second machine arrived I had been at the front long
enough to appreciate the rôle played by each of the different types of
aeroplanes used in this great conflict.  Camped near us was a bombarding
unit.  Every night when the heavens were clear these machines would go
up, turning great circles over our heads until they reached the desired
altitude.  They would then vanish with their destructive bombs in the
direction of the enemy.  We could always tell when they passed over the
lines, for the German search-lights would become very active, and the
sky would become dotted with sparks, which in reality were exploding
shrapnel.  Then, in the early hours of the morning, they would return,
having flown far into the enemy’s country to drop their bombs.  This is
tiresome and disagreeable duty, but not by any means as dangerous a one
as the other branches of aviation, for bombers are practically free from
interruption by enemy aeroplanes in the dark.

Camped with us was the famous N-64, the crack fighting unit of the
French Aviation Corps.  Among its pilots were such famous aviators as
Navarre, Nungesser, and Vialet, known familiarly as the "aces."  Every
evening just before sunset these men would take their machines up in the
twilight and do "stunts" for the benefit of hundreds of admiring
"poilus" gathered from neighboring camps.  These were the self-same
"stunts" which on many occasions had enabled them to escape from sure
death at the hands of some superior enemy force.  As I have said before,
the fighting work, although in reality the safest, requires the most
experienced and accomplished pilots.  The chief duty of the Nieuports is
"barrage," or sentry duty.  There are always several of them flying over
the lines, on the lookout for some "Boche."  It is their task to swoop
down like a hawk upon them and destroy or else drive them away.  Of
course, our own "avions de chasse" are as liable to be attacked by the
enemy, and they must in consequence be continually on the "qui vive."

When one of the larger reconnoissance machines is compelled to go far
into the German lines on special-mission work, it is usually accompanied
by a body-guard of several Nieuports.  Spies, on the other hand, are
carried only in the fast-flying Nieuports, which in this case are
double-seated.  It seems that it is comparatively easy to take a man
over and leave him far in the rear of the German trenches, but going
back for him is another matter.  After several days the pilot returns to
a prearranged place, but, as sometimes happens, his compatriot may have
been caught.  In this case a like fate usually awaits him at the hands
of the watchful enemy.

For reconnoissance work the large bi-motor Caudrons are generally used.
They are fitted with a small wireless apparatus; but this means of
communication cannot be used very often.  The machines, on many
occasions, have to go beyond the effective radius of their radio, and at
other times its use is inadvisable, as its messages might become known,
or else blocked by the enemy.  Resort has been had, therefore, to
carrier-pigeons.  These are released the moment any important
information has to be conveyed to headquarters, and these swift little
messengers have proved extremely useful and reliable.  Their use has, in
consequence, become general.

The bimotor Caudrons are employed also by the photography section of the
army, though much of this work is actually done by artillery machines
detailed for this service.  Photography is a dangerous duty, because the
flights have to be made at low altitudes to obtain the best results. On
the other hand, it is not at all tedious. The mission upon which the
machine has been sent is usually accomplished in a brief space of time,
and the machine often stays out less than an hour.  In comparison with
the amount of flying required of the aviators in the other branches of
the service, which varies in length from three to five hours a day,
photography is easy work.

"Réglage," or fire-control, on the other hand, is the most difficult and
the most dangerous work to be performed by the Flying Corps at the
front.  The machines used are large and unwieldy, built to carry the
weight of two men and all sorts of equipment.  They are fairly fast, but
their spread of wing is so large that it is almost impossible for them
to make a turn quickly when attacked.  They are armed with a machine
gun, it is true, but they are always at a great disadvantage in the
presence of an enemy fighting-machine which can out-manoeuvre them at
every turn.

The first duty to which I was assigned was "réglage," and this, I found,
involves many complications.  The chief source of trouble usually is the
wireless apparatus, which has to be maintained in perfect working order.
Before leaving the home field you usually circle over it, while your
observer tests his sending apparatus.  The receiving operator then
answers by visual signals.  Usually these are large white sheets laid on
the ground in different formations, which have a prearranged meaning.
When the radio is found to be in perfect order you are off to the
battery you have been ordered to co-operate with.  By wireless your
observer then reports to the battery commander, and receives his orders
by means of the same visual signals.  You then head in the direction
indicated to you before leaving, and, hovering over the position to be
bombarded, the observer signals back "fire."  The moment the shells have
landed you turn quickly about and inform the artillery just how many
metres their fire was long, short, or to the right or left.  Your
message is once more answered with the sheets.  Again you fly back
toward the enemy’s position, circling in this way backward and forward
between the battery and the target until the réglage is completed.
Naturally every care must be taken not to disclose the position of your
own guns to the enemy, or retaliation—"strafe," the English call
it—summarily follows.  Sometimes it is the battery which interrupts the
work with the signal, "Avion ennemi," when the fire instantly ceases
until the German aeroplane has disappeared or been driven off.

With such occasional interruptions the work continues until your
observer can send back the signal "fire correct," which is generally
answered by the "sheet signal" with the information that you may return
home.  Until this dismissal occurs, however, the ground below wholly
engrosses the attention of your observer. You yourself are forced to
keep a close watch for Boche fighting-machines so as not to be caught
unawares by one of them. This is often a very trying task, as the models
of some of the French and German aeroplanes are so very much alike that
they cannot be distinguished until they are within range.  The tricolor
cockade and the black iron cross painted on the top and bottom of each
wing serve to identify the fliers of the two belligerents, but these
colors cannot be seen very far.  You consequently have little warning as
to whether the approaching planes are friends or foes.

Sometimes the enemy’s anti-aircraft batteries become a bit too familiar.
On such occasions the observer tries to signal to his batteries to drop
a shell or two where these pieces are mounted.  Often quiet is not
restored until the machine has been more or less riddled with shrapnel

One réglage is very much like another, and when you have read the
description of one you become familiar with them all.  It is only in the
results accomplished that the details vary.

It is a curious fact that in the first months of the war many artillery
officers refused to follow the directions of their aerial observers.  A
colonel of artillery who has been firing big guns all his life cannot be
blamed for not thinking that a young observation officer and a mere
aviator know enough about the work of batteries to tell him where his
shells are falling.  Orders, consequently, had to be issued placing the
artillery absolutely under the direction of the observers and calling
upon the pilots to report any case where a battery refused to be guided
by the signals it received.  That put an end to the trouble.

At first I felt a strong aversion to flying over batteries in action.
You are bound to get in close proximity to the trajectory of the shells,
and the constant sensation and sound of the passing projectiles is none
too pleasant.  You get them both coming and going, and, no matter which
you are trying to avoid, you are always taking a chance with the other.
It is a question of choosing between the devil and the deep sea, with
the devil constantly stepping into your path.

[Illustration: Reduced facsimile of the photographic report supplied
to the Headquarters Stall of the fighting at Cumières.]

When you are observing for the artillery you must stay and die, if
necessary, in the performance of your assigned duty.  It is another
matter with reconnoissance or photographic work.  Here the main thing is
to get back to headquarters with the information you have gained.  If
you are attacked and you see no chance of successfully fighting off the
enemy, it is your business to run.

After some weeks of service with the fire-control detail I was ordered
to serve as a photography pilot.  This I found a most interesting duty.
Whenever we received orders to photograph a position we would start out
immediately, flying very low—say, from one thousand eight hundred to
three thousand feet.  As we reached the part of the enemy’s positions to
be photographed I would fly in parallel lines, while my observer took
the photographs with a specially constructed telephoto camera.  We would
then hasten back to camp and immediately hand the plates over to the
sergeant in charge of the dark room.  This taciturn non-com would waste
no time with words.  In a few moments the photographs would be ready and
on their way to headquarters.  On several occasions I have seen
photographs placed in the hands of the Etat-Major within an hour and a
half after the order had been issued by the commanding officer
there—examples of celerity and efficiency of service which have placed
the photographic branch of aviation "hors concours."

                        *ALL IN THE DAY’S WORK*

It is strange how easily you become accustomed to being at the front.
At first you sense your proximity to the vast military operations that
are in progress, but after a while the newness wears off. One day passes
like another without special notice, although daily something out of the
ordinary is occurring somewhere along the western front.  These
experiences, however, generally fall to the lot of the
fighting-machines.  We of the artillery and photography sections share
only the dangers. It is all in the day’s work.

I remember one curious incident that occurred while I was in the Verdun
sector. Victor Chapman, who was doing combat work with the American
Escadrille after a brush with four German aeroplanes, was forced to
descend to our field.  Not only had he received a bad scalp-wound from a
bullet but his machine had been riddled and nearly wrecked.  One bullet
had even severed a metal stability control.  By all the rules of
aviation he should have lost control of his aeroplane and met with a
fatal accident.  But Chapman was an expert pilot.  He simply held on to
the broken rod with one hand, while with the other he steered his
machine.  This needed all the strength at his command, but he had the
power and the skill necessary to bring him safely to earth.  A surgeon
immediately dressed his wound, our mechanics repaired his machine.  The
repairs completed, he was off and up again in pursuit of some more
Boches.  I must say that every one considered him a remarkable pilot.
He was absolutely fearless, and always willing and able to fly more than
was ever required of him.  His machine was a sieve of patched-up
bullet-holes.  A few days later came his last fight.  He was carrying
two bags of oranges to Clyde Balsley, who lay wounded in a hospital not
far away.  There was an aerial combat against odds within the German
lines, and Chapman lost no time in going to the aid of his hard-pressed
comrades. He brought down one of the enemy airmen, but the others were
still too numerous, and the fight then was only a matter of seconds.  He
was last seen falling behind the German lines.

Balsley had been wounded in an encounter with several Germans.  He was
doing well, when he was struck in the thigh by an explosive bullet which
burst in his stomach.  He immediately lost all consciousness.  His
machine began to tumble straight toward the lines.  Just before reaching
the ground, however, Balsley regained his senses sufficiently to realize
what was happening.  By a superhuman effort he managed to right his
machine and make a landing in a neighboring meadow.  He was carried to a
near-by hospital, where for days he wavered between life and death.  Two
fragments of the explosive bullet were removed from his intestines.
These he kept wrapped up in a handkerchief as proof that the enemy,
despite their denials, do violate the rules of civilized warfare.  For a
long time the only nourishment he could take was the juice of oranges,
and that was why Chapman was on this mission on that unfortunate day.

A sad accident occurred on a neighboring aviation-field while I was at
the front. The captain of one of the escadrilles had visiting him his
younger brother, a bright lad of nineteen.  The boy was unusually
well-informed about aeronautical matters, but he had never made a
flight.  His request to go up was acceded to, but the captain did not
want to take him, so he asked one of his officers, the best pilot in the
escadrille, to take him as a passenger. I suppose that the lieutenant
was on his mettle, for before his machine was three hundred feet from
the ground he began to do stunts.  He was a past master in his art, but
a bit too bold.  Suddenly his machine slipped off on the wing, and
crashed to the ground.  Even the best pilot was not immune against fate.

Our escadrille also met with a heart-breaking tragedy.  One of our
pilots, who had only recently joined us, was making his first flight
over the lines with a young artillery officer, who was also
inexperienced. Unluckily they flew too low and were brought down by
rifle-fire.  No one yet knows whether the pilot was mortally wounded or
if it was the machine that was disabled.  At any rate, the aeroplane
came down in no man’s land, between the French and German lines.  The
poilus immediately made a sally to rescue the two men and save their
maps and important papers. The Germans had like intentions and opened a
murderous fire upon them with their machine guns, trying themselves to
reach the aeroplane.  The result was a hand-to-hand struggle, and then a
deadlock.  Each feared that the other would reach the goal under cover
of darkness. For a while there was a lull on both sides. Then an inferno
burst loose.  Machine guns and field-pieces showered the unfortunate
aviators with shell and shrapnel. In a short while the machine and its
occupants were completely annihilated.  The men, I believe, were alive
when they landed, but it was impossible to save them. If the pilot could
have steered fifty yards to the right or left, they would have been
inside either line and their lives would have been spared.  As it was,
there never will be a monument to mark the spot where they perished at
the hands of both friend and foe.

Occasionally the bombarding escadrilles have thrilling experiences to
narrate.  I remember one case in particular.  The raiders were returning
from a long flight into the enemy’s territory when they were attacked by
a group of German fighting-planes. An incendiary bullet pierced the
gasolene-tank of one of the French machines and ignited it.  The pilot
knew that he was sure to be "grillé" and that he did not have time even
to reach the ground.  His minutes were numbered. Without a moment’s
hesitation he turned his machine sharply about and headed straight for
one of his pursuers.  The German tried to avoid the head-on collision,
but he was too late.  There was a sickening crash and both machines fell
to earth.

[Illustration: Handbill dropped in Germany by French aviators.]

Another case of desperate courage that attracted wide-spread comment
occurred about the same time.  This also related to a bomber who had
been over the German trenches.  The pilot was about to spiral down for
the landing, when his passenger looked out to see if everything was in
good order.  To his horror, he noticed that two of the bombs were still
unreleased, having become caught on the chassis or running-gear of the
machine.  If they landed in this condition, there was every likelihood
that there would be nothing to mark their landing-place but a deep
crater in the ground.  The two men were desperate. To climb down and
unhook the bombs seemed impossible.  No one had ever been known to do
it.  It was like clambering up to the main truck of a sailing vessel in
the teeth of a hurricane.  It was the only alternative left to them.
The passenger mustered up his courage and climbed out on the wing and
then down on the running-gear.  Holding on with only one hand, he leaned
down and carefully loosed the bombs with the other.  It was a splendid
exhibition of nerve and courage, and it saved the lives of both men.

Now and then you meet a pilot who has had a real adventure, but this is
something only the most venturesome have to their credit.  Not long ago,
during an extensive reconnoissance behind the German lines, one of the
pilots found himself flying parallel with an important railroad line.
Presently he overtook a troop-train going in the same direction.  Flying
very low, he raked the cars with his machine gun until his magazine was
empty.  He then caught up with the engine and shot the engineer and
fireman with his revolver.  A little farther there was a sharp turn in
the road, which the train took at full speed. Every car left the rails,
and hundreds of soldiers perished when the train crashed down into the
ravine below.  The pilot confessed that he was sickened by the sight of
the disaster, but it was war and he simply had to do it.

As far as my own experience at the front is concerned, it was unusually
uneventful.  My machine was never once hit by shrapnel nor was it
attacked by the enemy.  In fact, the work was very monotonous, one day
being exactly like another.  After six weeks I applied to my captain for
permission to pass into a fighting escadrille, where the experience I
had gained on the slower machines would be very useful and the work more
agreeable. To my delight, my request was granted, and forty-eight hours
later I received my orders to proceed without delay to the Ecole de
Combat at Pau for further training.

It seemed rather strange, after weeks of actual service, to be leaving
the front to go again to school.  I had become so used to the life that
the muddy fields and the little tents began to seem like home to me. Now
that it was over, the "popotte" served to us in the mess-tent was most
palatable, and I knew that I would miss the restraining influence of our
system of fines.

The captain took me to Bar-le-Duc in his own automobile.  As we left the
field of our activities I looked back at our little camp.  The mechanics
were busy in the great canvas hangars, cleaning and repairing the
aeroplanes and motors.  Others loitered outside waiting for the return
of their "patron" or for their pilot to go up. No one complained of the
work or of the danger.  It was indeed a privilege to be with such men.
I felt a pang of regret at leaving them.  Though they called out a
cheery "Au revoir!" and "Bonne chance!" I knew that the parting was not
so light-hearted.

                           *JULY 14TH, 1916*

My trip back to Paris was very much like the one I had made in the
opposite direction about six weeks before. Bar-le-Duc seemed unchanged
as far as the outward signs were concerned.  The movement of troops was
just as great as during the previous weeks, only this time the regiments
were leaving Verdun.  The German efforts to take the fortress had failed
signally and the offensive had passed to the French in the region of the

My train was very late in starting. Although scheduled for five in the
afternoon, it did not actually get off until after midnight.  It was
filled to overflowing with permissionnaires and the crowded cars
reminded me of a New York City rush hour in the subway.  Fortunately
there was a dining-car attached to the train.  As this was kept open all
night, we did not have to go hungry, and every one kept in the best of
humor.  It was interesting to see how quickly the men forgot what they
had been through at the front.  Within a few hours the permissionnaires
were thinking only of the holiday which they were going to enjoy, of the
good times they were going to have on the boulevards, and of home.  The
horror of battle was entirely left behind.

When we arrived at the Gare de l’Est it was barely five o’clock.  The
quais, however, were crowded with women who had apparently waited all
night to greet their loved ones.  Every one seemed so happy. The men
made no attempt to control their feelings.  Tears veiled many a pair of
eyes. How strange the contrast between this return and the departure for
the front that I had witnessed not very long before!

Before leaving the station I had to have my papers stamped by the
military authorities.  This done, I hurried to a hotel.  I was so tired
after the journey that I could hardly keep my eyes open.  It was not
long before I was fast asleep.

When I awoke it was already late.  I dressed and went out on the
streets.  To my surprise, large crowds lined the sidewalks.  All seemed
so gay.  This was almost too sudden a transition from the type of crowds
I was used to seeing in the Verdun sector.  Then I remembered.  It was
the fourteenth of July, the "Fête nationale," always a great day for the
French people, but especially so this year.  Some one soon informed me
that there was to be a great review of the Allied troops, and that every
one was in consequence "en fête."  At the front, however, I had heard
little of this.

At the Place de la Concorde the throng was immense.  The more
enterprising had provided themselves with boxes and ladders to stand and
sit on.  Others good-naturedly climbed up on the lamp-posts. The rest
craned their necks in an effort to miss nothing of what was going on.

Earlier in the day the statues of the cities of Strasbourg and Lille had
been bedecked with flowers.  At the Petit Palais the President of the
Republic had decorated, as is now the custom, the wives and children of
those who had fallen on the "champ d’honneur" before their gallantry and
patriotism could be rewarded.

As I reached the place the head of the parade swung out from the
Champs-Elysées. It was the most impressive spectacle I have ever
witnessed.  Every one in the crowd showed his emotion.  The women could
not conceal their tears, and the men only with difficulty restrained
their feelings.  First came the Dragoons, followed by the Belgian
Bicycle Corps. Then the khaki-clad French African troops, with only
their red fezes to remind one of their once showy uniforms.  Their
mitrailleuses came next, brought back from the front to accompany the
gallant regiment on this occasion.  The crowd then commenced to roar.  A
battery of 75’s then came into view, the "soixante-quinzes," which to
the Frenchman symbolize victory.  Suddenly the crowd became attentive
and quiet.  The Russians were singing their deep battle-hymn as they
marched.  They were fierce-looking giants, and as they swung by to the
wild, measured beats of their chants, the people were silent with

After the "barbarians," as the Germans call them, followed the
Anglo-Saxons, clad in their khaki uniforms, the perfection of utility
and smartness.  There were the English, the Australians, and the
Canadians, and, following them, a regiment of Indian cavalry.  Then came
the Scotch, headed by their pipers.  They marched perfectly, swinging
their legs in unison. Each time their right feet came forward a hundred
white tartans rose together and exposed to the view of the astonished
populace a hundred kilts and a hundred bare knees.

After the Allies came the French.  The first regiment was from the
Twentieth Corps.  These were the men who had saved Verdun.  There were
many other units represented, many other regiments and brigades, but
none received the welcome and the enthusiasm caused by the appearance of
"Pétain’s Iron Brigade" as they marched by in their quick, business-like
step, with bayonets fixed to their rifles.

There have been many parades in Paris during the past decade, but there
never was one like this.  It was not a review—it was a war.  Yesterday
all these men were at the front.  To-morrow they would be back there
again.  For them this was only a momentary drop of the curtain on the
tragedy in which they had been called upon to be participants.  I could
not help thinking of these poor fellows, some of whom I had very likely
seen before, passing me in ambulances and motor-buses, muddy from head
to foot and benumbed by the shock of battle.  How many of these that I
was seeing to-day would be in the ranks at the next review?  I doubt
whether these thoughts were in their minds. To-morrow they would be on
their way to take part in the battle of the Somme, but with refreshed
spirits and light hearts.

There was very little gayety or color in the parade.  All the troops
were in their service uniforms.  This was an hour of heroism and
suffering, an hour of fixed determination which impressed upon one the
feeling that the Germans could never win the war.

After the troops had filed by I joined some friends on the boulevards.
It seemed difficult to believe that only a few miles away the hostile
lines were linked in a death-grapple.  Paris seemed normal.  Of course
there was not the animation that we formerly associated with the French
capital, but there was little to remind one of the great conflict—only
the aeroplanes patrolling overhead and the hundreds of permissionnaires
wandering about the streets in their weather-stained and battle-stained

That night I had to leave Paris for Dijon, to report at headquarters
before going to Pau.  By a strange coincidence I arrived at the same
hour as on my first appearance to enlist.  Now I viewed everything with
different eyes.  Instead of being a mere "petit bleu," as they call the
young soldier, I was now a "pilote" who had been at the front.  I felt
privileged therefore to walk right up to the buffet, and before long I
was sharing a bottle of wine with a captain, a sergeant, and a
second-class poilu.  Such is the democracy of war.

                        *THE FINISHING TOUCHES*

Great changes had taken place at Pau since my first visit six months
before.  The school had been improved and enlarged.  Permanent sheds had
replaced the canvas hangars, and the German prisoners had built a
narrow-gauge railway from the town out to the field. The trains ran out
to the aviation school every morning and afternoon, and returned before
luncheon and again in the evening.  This was a great convenience for
many of us and in bad weather saved us many a long, weary walk.  When
the days were clear, however, we often made the journey on foot, as in
this way we had sufficient exercise to keep us in good physical

Only men who had already qualified as pilots or who had had previous
experience at the front were allowed at the Ecole de Combat.  We enjoyed
practically the same liberties as at the front.  We were free to go
where we pleased, except during the working hours, when strict
attendance and discipline were enforced.

I thought that my previous experience with the heavier machines would
enable me to omit some of the more elementary courses, but this was not
the case.  I had to start at the very bottom.  The management of a
monoplane or of a small Nieuport is more delicate than anything I had
ever tried, and the pilots have, therefore, to acquire a new "sense of
touch" which is not required when flying in the larger biplanes.

[Illustration: A Penguin.]

My first assignment was to a Penguin, so called because it is nothing
more than a Blériot monoplane with its wings cut down so that it cannot
fly.  The Penguins, however, are just as difficult to manage as a
full-fledged flying-machine, for on the ground your movements have to be
more rough than when flying in the air.  There are so many
irregularities and air currents to affect your course that you have to
be very quick with the controls.  The Penguin, besides, does not answer
the rudder as easily as the other types.  I found that it was very
difficult to keep a straight course when tearing across a field at the
rate of about forty miles an hour.  It was comical to see how the clumsy
contraption behaved, turning circles, making "chevaux de bois," rolling
over on its wing, and behaving in every way like a drunken sailor trying
to walk on a chalk line.  You have to keep your head all the time,
because the slightest misjudgment may result in an accident.  When
engaging a "chevaux de bois," you must turn off your motor instantly,
for neglect to do so will probably cause your machine to fall over
sideways on its wing.  When moving you must constantly keep the tail of
the Penguin in the air in an imaginary line of flight, and if the tail
is lifted too high you run the risk of sticking the nose of the machine
into the ground and turning an unpleasant somersault.  It was really
interesting to discover how much skill it takes to manage a Penguin.  It
was several days before I could make the six straight lines required
before you are allowed to pass into the next higher class.

In the second course a thirty-horse-power Blériot is used.  I was made
to fly in straight lines at very feeble altitudes, varying from
twenty-five to fifty feet. The object of this instruction, it seems, is
to teach the aviator how to take small, fast machines off the ground and
bring them down properly.  These smaller machines are able to climb much
faster than the larger artillery types.  This advantage is
counterbalanced by the fact that they volplane much less, and are much
more prone to slip off the wing.  You have to handle them with the
utmost care and gentleness.  This point is very much emphasized in the
instruction which you receive when flying in the 30-Blériots. Their
motors are so small that you have to be very careful with them.  You
have to go about everything very gradually, except when making a
landing.  Then you must dive, and dive quickly, in order to retain your

As soon as I had been pronounced "apt" on the "ligne droite," I was
assigned to the 50-Blériot.  This, to my joy, included real flying.  The
difference between this machine and the ones I had flown in at the front
was astonishing.  There was practically no effort required of the pilot.
The slightest move on the controls produced an instant response in the
aeroplane.  As in the case of the 30-Blériot, I found that the moment
the motor was shut off, on account of the lack of volplaning qualities,
to descend I had to point the machine straight at the ground.  With the
Farman I used to glide from unbelievable distances, but now I had to
change my tactics completely and learn everything over again.

This course completed, I was granted leave of absence to return to
America. Needless to say, I did not lose a moment in gathering my
effects and engaging my passage.  Next month, upon my return to Pau,
however, I will have to take up my work where I left off.  The first
test required is a series of figure eights in a 50-Blériot and a number
of difficult landings after this performance.  Then follows a course in
a Morane-Parasol.  This machine, as I stated in an earlier chapter, is
by far the most tricky machine in use to-day.  After you have learned to
handle a Parasol, everything else is child’s play. That is the reason
why every pilot of a fighting escadrille is made to master them. It is
the best experience to give you a sense of balance yet discovered.

Before you are allowed to fly in a Nieuport and attend the School Aerial
Acrobatics there is another requirement.  This is a brief period of
instruction at the Mitrailleuses School at Casso, where, on the shores
of the long lake, the French army has established an ideal range for the
training of its pointers.  It is less than an hour by rail from Bordeaux
and well within the reach of every military depot in the south-western
part of France.  Each branch of the service has its own course.  For the
Flying Corps the range consists of a number of captive balloons and of a
series of moving targets on the lake.  The pupil is taken up as a
passenger in a double-seated aeroplane and operates the mitrailleuse.
After two or three weeks of this practice he becomes quite used to
shooting from an aeroplane and finds that he can score hits almost as
easily as if he were on terra firma. In the beginning, however, one
experiences great difficulty in adjusting himself to the changes of
perspective found in the air.

After this the pilot is sent back to Pau, where he has to perfect
himself sufficiently in his art to master the various stunts essential
in combat-work.  Until then he may not go to the front for service in an
"appareil de chasse."

The first test is looping the loop.  The machine is made to dive very
fast for a short distance.  Then the pilot gives a sharp pull on his
controls, which makes it climb very abruptly, at the same time shutting
off the motor.  The little Nieuport climbs until it loses its speed, and
then falls over backward.  At the instant of reaching the line of diving
the spark is then turned on again and the flight is resumed.

The next requirement involves cork-screw looping, or, as they say in
French, "le renversement sur l’aile."  This requires still greater skill
than the previous test. It is not an easy manoeuvre to explain and,
besides, I have not yet attempted it myself.  The theory, however, is as
follows: If you tip your machine enough to fly in a vertical position,
your controls become reversed; in other words, the control for climbing
and diving becomes the rudder and the rudder becomes the climbing
control.  To do the "renversement" the machine is put in a vertical
position and the spark is shut off.  The machine then loses its momentum
and starts to fall.  At that moment you must give a pull on your control
and push the rudder "hard a-port," as a sailor would say.  This forces
the machine to complete the turn and dive from the normal horizontal

The final examination for the second brevet involves the dreaded
"vrille," or tail-spin.  For many years any aviator who engaged in a
vrille was given up for lost.  Even to-day many aviators are killed
attempting to master this most important trick.  Yet it has to be
learned, for in modern aerial warfare it may sometime be the one
manoeuvre which will enable you to escape from an assailant or make a
sudden attack.  The modern aeroplane is so stable that when it is made
to dive it always attempts to rise and resume its flight. In the
"vrille," on the other hand, this resistance is overcome, and the
machine spins down with incredible rapidity.  The beginner usually
commences by making one turn.  He allows his machine to lose its speed
and slip off on the wing.  After engaging in a spiral, instead of
continuing he then resumes his flight.  The second time two turns have
to be made.  More and more are made until the pilot feels that he has
mastered the trick to his satisfaction.  The first turn is usually made
very slowly, but after that the speed increases with each succeeding
turn until the machine is spinning on the corner of one wing as an axis.
I have seen the more brilliant pilots at the front make as many as seven
or eight turns, while they fell as far as five thousand feet.  Every
time I have seen any one doing a "vrille" I have thought of the young
lieutenant who was killed at Pau when I attended the school for the
first time.  What are dangers for the beginner, in the hands of the
expert become weapons.

On completing this final course the pilot has learned everything that
his instructors can teach him.  It remains only for him to prove that in
action he can avail himself of all the tricks that he has mastered. He
has a machine that can manoeuvre to the best advantage, and he will
enjoy a superiority which he never possessed with the heavier Farman
biplane.  Often I thought of this when flying over Verdun in the
artillery machines.  The little Nieuports seemed to circle about with
such ease, doing whatever they pleased, while we lumbered about in
constant danger of being attacked by some fast-flying "Fritzie" from the
enemy’s lines.

The principal task assigned to our "avions de chasse" is to keep the
German airmen away from the French lines, and of attacking them when the
opportunity offers.  From an altitude of about thirteen thousand feet
the Nieuports maintain a constant vigil.  Although so small they are in
fact the protectors of the larger artillery and reconnoissance machines.
Far within the German lines several of the enemy’s artillery biplanes
are flying low.  Farther up their fighting planes are waiting for an
opportunity of coming over to attack the French.  The shrapnel-puffs
from our own guns reveal that some one is crossing our lines.  A German
artillery machine is coming to make a "réglage."  One of the Fokkers is
flying high above it, but the Nieuports are doing "ceiling work" and
will look out for the intruders.

Different models of aeroplanes have a different position for their
mitrailleuses. The attacking pilot always tries to find out from where
he can make his attack without being riddled by his opponent.  The
proper position being obtained, the Nieuport is quickly turned toward
its prey and at fifty yards the machine gun begins its staccato bark.
To simplify the pilot’s task the guns are always mounted in a fixed
position and aimed dead ahead.  Thus the pilot has only to think about
pointing his own machine at the enemy.  If he had to fly one way and
shoot another he would be placed in a most disadvantageous position.

Combatants pass each other at terrific speed.  There is time only for a
few shots. If a hit is not scored during the first encounter, the
attacking pilot goes through the same manoeuvre a second time.  In the
meanwhile the German airman is also doing his best to catch his opponent
unawares.  If the enemy succeeds in getting the Nieuport into a trap,
then is the moment when he can put himself "en vrille" and escape.

Such is the course of training imposed upon every airman in France.  It
is the system which has been perfected under war conditions from the
lessons learned during two years of the most desperate air conflicts.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "With the French Flying Corps" ***

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