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If a propeller bursts in the air through centri-
fugal force, it is a very dangerous experience for
the pilot, particularly in war time, and so infinite
pains have to be taken in the making to prevent
this.

Designing propellers is a most complicated
affair, especially when something occurs which
completely upsets previous calculations. An
example of this was the case of an aeroplane
which, although fitted with a four-bladed screw,
flew quite as well with two of the blades broken
off. That the relation of the propeller to the
aeroplane is a very carefully calculated one may
be judged from the fact that almost every make
or type of machine has a different propeller, the
size and shape of which is regulated by the
aeroplane's engine power and engine speed, by



on. ix THE MAKING OF AEROPLANES 127

the make of its engine, by whether it is a tractor
or a pusher machine, and by many other con-
siderations.

The delicacy and fine-limit working which are
required in the making of propellers are really
characteristic of the whole aircraft industry.
Take, for instance, the camber l of an aeroplane :
the slightest divergence from the originally de-
signed dimensions in this part will make a great
difference to the flying of a machine.

Fine material as well as fine workmanship is
required for aeroplane building. Only the finest
wood and the finest metal are good enough for
a flying machine, and material that in another
trade would pass muster has to be scrapped
unhesitatingly in an aeroplane factory.

At the present time there are many things
appertaining to an aeroplane which are not
manufactured by the aeroplane constructor
proper. The first in importance among these
is the engine. Only in one or two very excep-
tional cases does any aeroplane manufacturer
make his own engines. One would think that
in time this separation of manufacture would
disappear, and the way will probably be led

1 I,e. the curvature of the wing.



128 AIRCRAFT FT. n

by the big engineering firms who have opened
aircraft departments, and to whom the question
of large expenditure in laying down plant is
not very important. Just as it is quite natural
that motor-car firms should make the engines
for their cars, so it is inevitable that the same
should apply to aircraft firms. That motor-
car bodies continue to be supplied chiefly by
coach - builders is no parallel case, for, while
the body of an automobile is merely a piece
of furniture, the engine of an aeroplane is a
mechanical accessory of prime importance which
comes under the direct heading of the engineer-
ing branch. When aviation is advanced suffici-
ently for aircraft to have really elaborate bodies
or nacelles, it is quite possible that these may
also be made by the coach-building firms who
are making motor-car bodies to-day. Taking
into consideration how closely allied are the
aeroplane and its engine, and how indissolubly
bound up is the progress of the one in the de-
velopment of the other, it will be realised as
inevitable that aeroplane-builders will ultimately
make their own motors. There will be many
firms experimenting in special directions who
will want aeroplane engines made suitable to



CH. IX



THE MAKING OF AEROPLANES 129



their requirements. The ordinary engine firms
may be too busy, or not enterprising enough,
or not sufficiently confident of the ultimate
result from a business point of view, to under-
take these experiments ; so that reason alone
will be incentive enough to start constructors
making their own engines.

Besides engines, and, of course, the covering
fabric, such accessories for aircraft as tyres,
various instruments, gauges, etc., are also not
made by aeroplane constructors to-day, but
specialities such as these will probably always
be confined to outside makers.

About the most complete firm in respect of
internal production is probably the Curtiss
Company of America, which is one of the very
exceptional companies referred to which makes
the motors for its own aeroplanes. When war
broke out and brought large orders from the
Allied Governments, this firm executed a re-
markable speeding-up of its output. Within two
months of the declaration of war it increased the
production of its factory to six machines a week,
within a year to six machines a day, and shortly
after to twelve machines a day, which is a unique

feat in the history of aeroplane building.

K



130 AIRCRAFT FT.H

This performance is extremely instructive
in itself, for it shows that a really large output
of aeroplanes is perfectly feasible. Nevertheless,
in aeroplane .work quality must emphatically
always come before quantity, no matter how
urgent the demand. That quality can be con-
sonant with quantity up to a certain point is
true, but after that particular point quality will
suffer, and this must not be the case in aircraft
work under any circumstances. In the case of
motor cars a different state of affairs exists, so
a comparison must not be drawn. The best
British cars are admittedly the finest engineering
jobs in the world, but, so far as output goes,
the largest American firms can produce as many
automobiles in a day as the British companies
can in a month or even twelve months. But the
relatively poor standard of workmanship and
material embodied on the popular American
cars, although good enough, or at any rate safe
enough, in a motor-car on which no great
strain is placed except on one or two isolated
places, which can be specially strengthened
would be absolutely fatal for aeroplanes.

This does not in any way depreciate the
quality of the Curtiss biplanes because they are



CH.IX THE MAKING OF AEROPLANES 131

produced rapidly. As a matter of fact, the
output of no aeroplane firm in the world is large
enough to-day for the quality of the work to
suffer on that account. It is only pointed out
that over-production will have to be sedulously
guarded against in aeroplane works, particularly
in the United States, where more is known
about factory organisation and output than
anywhere in Europe, and whence the really
large output of aeroplanes which will in
consequence be produced cheaper than else-
where may eventually come, unless we are
careful. In fact, the boot is often on the other
foot, and European manufacturers have fre-
quently to be thoroughly shaken up in order
to obtain a really efficient output from their
factories, so that the danger of poor work from
too great speeding-up is not likely to come from
this side of the water.

American organisation and American efficiency
in factory output should prove of the very
greatest value to British aeroplane constructors,
if they will only make up their minds to learn
from them but they will, nevertheless, have
to use their own discretion where to draw the
line. Thus, in the future, American constructors



132 AIRCEAFT PT.H

will probably introduce, or endeavour to intro-
duce, the chain system in aeroplane workshops.
The chain system, as most people are aware, is
so called because of the continually moving
chain or passage on which the articles auto-
mobiles in particular are placed, and on which
they pass through the assembling shops ; the
assembling is done almost instantaneously while
the articles are on the move, and it is an essential
adjunct to the system that each man performs
only one simple skilled function, which, of
course, necessitates a far greater number of
workers than does the ordinary method.

At the present stage of development in aero-
plane construction no one can decide whether
it will be possible to use this chain system
and still maintain a high technical standard
of work ; but eventually it will probably
rest with Europe to judge at any rate the
results. This is because aviation has been
practically at a standstill for years in America,
except in the case of the one or two firms who
have lately commenced to supply aeroplanes
in quantities to the Allied Governments. The
chief cause of this is that the United States
Government has taken hardly any interest at



CH.IX THE MAKING OF AEROPLANES 133

all in aircraft. Anyhow, the fact remains that
at present, and, so far as can be seen, for some
time to come, apart from the few civilian
buyers and supporters of aviation in the States,
American constructors of importance are, and
will continue to be, wholly dependent for their
existence on great European Governments, who
certainly are extremely particular about the
quality of the work they accept. In this way
the standard of workmanship will be maintained.

France has for long shown that beautifully
constructed aeroplanes can be turned out in
fairly large quantities, and, indeed, an aeroplane
is actually simpler to make than a first-class
motor car. In time to come, therefore, a first-
class aeroplane of ordinary present-day size
might be made in the same time as it takes to
construct a fairly good automobile in Europe
to-day.

There are at the present time, however, many
difficulties most of which may be described
as temporary attached to aeroplane production
on a large scale in these islands, and probably
in every other belligerent country as well.
Primarily there is the ever-moving element of
Change. The exigencies and experience of the



134 AIRCRAFT w.n

firing line continually demand that service
aeroplanes shall be modified, improved, altered
or revised, and it can be easily imagined that
engineering firms, particularly those just com-
mencing to build aeroplanes, find it a great
impediment to their output to have even small
details on their machines frequently altered.
Then, again, it is very difficult for these firms
who have recently entered the industry to
obtain really experienced workers ; and ex-
perience is an enormous asset in building aero-
planes, even of the Government's own design,
for which complete drawings are supplied. It
is, indeed, difficult to imagine a manufacturing
industry in which individuality one might
almost say personality finds more play than
in the production of aeroplanes.

All sorts of firms have commenced making
aeroplanes since the beginning of the War, and
those who thought it was going to be an easy
job have had a rude awakening. All the new-
comers, who consist chiefly of motor-car con-
structors, coachbuilders, and even furniture
makers, were asked to make aeroplanes to
Government designs, and were supplied with
complete drawings of every single part, which



H .x THE MAKING OF AEROPLANES 135

no doubt helped to create the illusion of sim-
plicity. Curiously enough, these particular aero-
planes are far more complicated and difficult to
construct than almost any of equal or greater
merit designed by private aeroplane constructors
and now being made by their respective designers
for the Army or the Navy.

It is, of course, unwise and unusual for a
firm only recently engaged on aeroplane work
to attempt designing original machines of its
own, unless it happens to secure the services
of a really able and experienced aeronautical
engineer, at present a most difficult matter.
Designing must be left to the older -estab-
lished aeroplane firms proper, at any rate for
the time being, while the others gain their
experience.

For these pre-war aircraft firms, with their
valuable experience, mere repetition is not a very
difficult matter, especially if they can be given
bigger orders for one type of aeroplane than
most of them have received hitherto. If a
factory sets out to make a few hundred machines
all of one type, the output will naturally be
vastly larger than if it has to make twenty
of one kind of aeroplane, fifty of another kind,



136 AIRCRAFT PT.H

and so on, even if the total sum of the several
small orders equals or even exceeds that of one
big contract. The best course possible would
be for constructors to supply machines of their
own design, should they be effective for war
purposes. For, having a first-hand knowledge
of the development and behaviour of - the
machine, and its aerodynamical and practical
basic principles, the constructors may, if
necessary, be able to overcome, by some simple
but perhaps not obvious alteration, difficulties
which may hinder the quick production of the
machine in large quantities. And it is only
natural for a firm to take more pride and
enthusiasm in its own production than in one
of a strange origin. It is, on the other hand,
most important to reduce as far as possible the
number of types of machines in use, in order
not to multiply the variety of spare parts at
each aircraft base.

i / About ten months after the outbreak of the
War there was, it will be recalled, a widespread
demand, originated by Mr. H. Gr. Wells, for ten
thousand aeroplanes. That number hardly exists
in the whole world, and one might assume, the
majority of Mr. Wells' supporters had not much



i-ii. ix THE MAKING OF AEEOPLANES 137

more idea of the significance or the potentialities
of ten thousand aeroplanes than they had of
double or half that amount. With the exception
of Mr. Wells himself and a well-known writer
on aviation, Mr. C. G. Grey, the editor of the
Aeroplane, all these enthusiasts imagined the
ten thousand aeroplanes as being an effective
striking force, without making any allowance
for the large number of machines required for
training an adequate supply of pilots to fly
them, nor the quantity necessary for reserves
and spares. No : we were to build ten thousand
aeroplanes before the Germans could build even
an equal number, although they started the War
with incomparably better facilities for turning
out aeroplanes in large quantities than we did.
After that we were to invade Germany by
air and end the War. Very simple, no doubt
on paper. But we must remember that,
even although we possess a distinct ascendancy
over the Germans as regards most of our pilots
and some of our machines, that margin of
superiority has always been extremely hard to
maintain ; so an aerial invasion of Germany in
force would not prove exactly a walk-over for
us, assuming that there was a force of aircraft



138 AIRCRAFT w.n

against us equal to our own. Probably by the
time we had beaten the German air fleet, if we
were able to do so, the damaged remnant which
would remain of our own air fleet would not
prove the most effective weapon for bringing
Germany to her knees.

It is hardly possible, therefore, to accept this
demand as a serious means of carrying out a
definite military programme ; but we can ap-
plaud it sincerely as a movement in the direction
of obtaining more and more aeroplanes, and still
more after that. The exact specified number
asked for really does not matter if we regard it
in that light. As a matter of fact, ten thousand
aeroplanes is not altogether an impossible
number for Great Britain, France, and America
to build within a reasonable time.

At any rate, our output is increasing enor-
mously, and, even if that particular figure still
seems quite far away, we are certainly progress-
ing in the right direction towards it at a rapidly
increasing speed.

The British aircraft industry has done marvels
considering the comparatively unorganised state
it was in when war broke out, and our aeroplane
constructors will continue to exert every possible



CTT.TX THE MAKING OF AEROPLANES 139

effort in order to equip our Army and Navy
with an adequate supply of seaplanes and
aeroplanes.

And it will be seen that their efforts will not
have been in vain.



PART III
THE FUTURE OF AIRCRAFT



CHAPTER X

WHAT THE WAR HAS DONE FOR, AVIATION

IN the past, war has not often meant progress
for the sciences, except for those few entirely
devoted to purposes of destruction. As for the
great general sciences which help to educate,
improve, and civilise the world, they, like the
arts, remain at a standstill or sink into temporary
oblivion, because nations are too occupied with
other things in time of war to give attention to
them. But in the case of aviation, the youngest
of the sciences, which is, or will be, just as im-
portant for the peaceful purposes of humanity as
for its warlike tendencies, an exception is made
by the present campaign.

The full benefit of the enormous development
which aviation is receiving during the gigantic
struggle which is taking place to-day will only
commence to be enjoyed by the world in general

143



144 AIRCRAFT PT. m

after peace is declared. Probably more was
learnt about aircraft during the first year of war
alone than would have been discovered in
perhaps ten years of peace ; and although hardly
a particle of this newly-acquired knowledge has
been made use of yet, its existence will enable
aeroplanes and airships to reach a much higher
stage of evolution far more rapidly than would
otherwise have been possible.

These are three principal reasons why much of
the practical experience which has been gained
since the beginning of the War has not yet
been put into practice and in aviation practical
experience is infinitely more valuable than
theoretical research. First, because constructors,
generally speaking, have not had sufficient time
in which to perfect their improvements, for they
have been working at top pressure turning out
standard machines, and so could not spare much
time attempting aeroplanes which might turn out
dead failures. Secondly, because much of the
knowledge gained during the War about aircraft
will probably be only indirectly valuable for
military aeronautics, and so does not receive
immediate attention. For instance, although a
great deal of fresh light has been shed on such



THE WAR AND AVIATION 145

considerations as stability, comfort, refinements
for the pilot, etc., these things, important though
they are, are not of sufficiently urgent military
value to justify much trouble being taken over
them at present, owing, in the case of the first
item, to the fact that great stability in an aero-
plane has not, in the past, been compatible with
effective speed and climb. Thirdly, a great deal
of this knowledge does not exist on paper,
properly formulated or tabulated, but only more
or less vaguely in the heads of service aviators,
commanding officers, and aeroplane engineers
and designers. It will, therefore, take some time
to leak out, if one may so term the process.
At any rate, the encouraging point is that it
exists, and it can be safely assumed that none
of it will be lost or forgotten.

It is not difficult to realise why we are gaining
such an exceptionally instructive experience of
aircraft. Under the necessity of warfare, aero-
planes have to be subjected to risks which would
not be taken in peace time. Not, of course, such
comparatively familiar, if useful, feats as looping
the loop or tail -sliding, even if performed in-
voluntarily. Rather, for example, discovering

how long an aeroplane will stand being flown

L



146 AIRCRAFT

regularly 300 or 400 miles a day, in every sort
of bad weather, including hailstorms and gales ;
exactly where it can stand the strain of being
hit by bullets and shrapnel without smashing;
how much landing chassis will be left after
a few descents in small back gardens or
ploughed fields ; or how a machine, which is
normally fairly stable, behaves when the air
zone in its line of flight is whirled round from
the disturbances created by " Archie." These
are a few of the innumerable things of the utmost
value which the experience of war is teaching
constructors, designers, and pilots.

But that is not by any means all that the
present campaign has done for Aviation, especially
in this country. It has, as a natural consequence
of the sudden great demand for aeroplanes,
enormously strengthened and enlarged the air-
craft industry. It has enabled the businesses
of British aeroplane constructors to emerge
from the almost philanthropic conditions under
which, with a few exceptions, they were
conducted, and be placed on a sound financial
footing. And, moreover, the convincing proofs
of aircraft's indispensability for military pur-
poses which the War has demonstrated will



THE WAR AND AVIATION 147

ensure that the trade will remain on that sound
footing.

But aviation has also been firmly estab-
lished in the minds of the world's inhabitants,
another and perhaps more important connection
than the industrial sphere. Both belligerent and
neutral nations have been enormously impressed
by the performance of aircraft in the campaigns,
and rightly so. No longer is flying regarded with
misgiving and doubt. In the first chapter a
quotation was given from a speech by Mr. Lloyd
George, merely to take a typical example of the
importance which is now attached to aeroplanes
by the heads of the Government. Our military
and naval authorities have always had far more
enthusiasm and confidence in aviation than most
of the civilian ministers, but as it is the latter
who in times of peace must be convinced in
order to get money voted for the air services,
their support an~2T interest are absolutely essen-
tial to aviation, from either a national or an
international point of view. Therefore, Mr.
Lloyd George's speech was significant for
that reason. Not less fervid, however, in
new - found admiration and faith in aircraft
is the whole nation, and this will prove ex-



148 AIRCRAFT pr.m

tremely important in at least one direction of
progress.

'^Further, with the expansion of the flying
services, and the increased demand for test pilots
by private firms, the total number of certified
British aviators was nearly doubled in the first
year of war. That is to say, the number of pilots
who took the Royal Aero Club's certificate during
the first twelve months of war was almost equal
to the total number previously trained in this
country during the preceding four and a half
years.

In addition, a number of new aerodromes have
been opened in various parts of the country, and
although these, of course, are under the control
of the R.N.A.S. or the R.F.C., after the War it is
conceivable that civilian pilots might be allowed
to use them. But besides military or naval
flying grounds, new civilian aerodromes, well
equipped and within easy access of large towns,
similar to the Hendon Aerodrome, will certainly
make their appearance, not only in the United
Kingdom, but in every country.

The War, then, has witnessed the triumph
of the aeroplane, and, as a natural corollary, an
increase of all its appurtenances, aerodromes



THE WAR AND AVIATION 149

and factories, and, of course, in the total number
of certified aviators. We can derive some
satisfaction from the thought that most of our
recent pre-war efforts, both official and private,
in connection with the manning and equipping
of the R.F.C. and the R.N.A.S., have proved
to have been consistently correct in conception,
although not adequate in magnitude in the face
of unprecedented demands. Thus, when we
watched the German authorities spending an
enormous amount of trouble and money on
their airships, it was not from apathy that we
did not emulate them, but because the War
Office realised that dirigibles would be useless
for military purposes.

In other words, comparatively few of the
endeavours for aeronautics which have been
made in peace time, and during the War, have
proved absolutely wrong, and this is a great
deal to be able to say. Let us hope that our
future progress will be equally successful.



CHAPTER XI

MILITARY 1 AND CIVILIAN AERONAUTICS
IN THE FUTURE

IT is only very short-sighted people who prophesy
definitely a complete future programme for
aviation, because a far-seeing and fairly imagina-
tive person realises that several unexpected but
quite possible things might happen such as, for
instance, the invention of a successful helicopter 2
which would, to a large extent/ completely
change many aspects of aeronautics. What one
can safely do, however, is to indicate roughly the
chief lines on which the progress and development
of aircraft will proceed, presuming the conditions
which at present surround and influence it con-

1 In this chapter for the sake of convenience the word " military "
is used in a general sense, implying military and naval as opposed
to civilian aeronautics.

2 A helicopter is a flying machine raised dynamically by air-
screws operating vertically, the result aimed at being an ability to
hover.

150



on. xi AEEONAUTICS IN THE FUTUEE 151

tinue to exist. That almost all the pre-War
circumstances have already been drastically
altered is evident ; but existing conditions
appear sufficiently settled for a careful spectator


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Online LibraryWilliam Alexander RobsonAircraft in war and peace → online text (page 7 of 9)