James R. Driscoll.

The Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps online

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show. I shall read their official reports with interest. It isn't
very often a young fellow gets such a baptism, and it's still more
rare for one to pull it off the way Hill did. Why, those two got
two, if not three Boches. Think of it! If Hill keeps on the way
he has started out he will make a name for himself."

"I picked him as a possible good one," said the squadron commander
proudly. "I think he will keep it up."

Jimmy, though tired, did not go to sleep the minute he went to bed that
night. He lay for ten or fifteen minutes going over what the day had
brought him. Curiously enough, the last thing he said to himself,
before he dropped off to sleep, was very much akin to what his
squadron leader had said.

"It's not a bad start," was his good-night thought, "but I must keep
it up."




CHAPTER VIII

THRILLS OF THE UPPER REACHES


To the great delight of the Brighton boys, Will Corwin paid a visit to
them one evening, and stayed to dinner at their mess. Will was not
much older than his brother Harry, so far as years went, but he looked
ten years older. The constant work on the French front had bronzed
him and made him leaner and harder than when he left his home in America.

He had many questions to ask the boys about the home folks, and said
that he had been trying to get a chance to visit Harry for weeks.
Will was particularly interested to hear what had been the experiences
of the Brighton fliers in connection with their first real work at
the front.

Four of the boys had been over the German lines by that time. Like
Jimmy Hill, Joe Little had been out on a hunter machine. His experiences
were uneventful, however. His job had been to watch, with another
hunter, while a speedy, big bomber dropped hundreds of pounds of
explosives on an enemy munition dump.

The whole affair went through like a dress rehearsal, and without a
hitch. They flew straight for their objective, found it without the
slightest difficulty, deposited a load of high explosives upon it in
quick time, and soared away back home without a single encounter with
an enemy plane. They were, it was true, severely "Archied," as they
called it, but no one of them was the worse for it.

Harry Corwin had been over the Boche lines three times, and had found
the experience quite sufficiently exciting, though he had not been in
actual combat at close quarters with the enemy as had Jimmy Hill.

His work for three mornings had been to escort a certain observation
plane which had been sent each day to watch the development of a
reserve line of dugouts well in the rear of the German front line.
As a matter of fact, the pilot of the observation machine, a swift
triplane, was well known as a dead shot. He needed an escort machine
less than Harry did, Harry thought.

That triplane was about as formidable in appearance as any aircraft
could be. It was only a two-seater, but it was armed with two
machine-guns, singularly well placed. The front rapid-firer was fixed
between the two supporting planes, the barrel next to the motor and
parallel with it. This front gun was fired by Richardson, the pilot
of the triplane, who controlled it with his right hand. This was a
radical departure from some of the more usual gun positions, in which
the gun was customarily located on the upper plane and operated by the
observer.

Having a gun all to himself had pleased Richardson mightily, and he
had become a wonderful shot.

The second gun on the triplane was placed on the framework behind the
observer's station. It was mounted on a revolving base, and had an
exceptionally wide range of fire.

"It is a pure joy, sometimes," Richardson was once heard to say, "to
see the way the little major grins when some chesty Boche has thought
he had us sure, and comes creeping up behind, only to get a dose right
in the nose. That gun of the major's carries further than anything
we have run against yet, and he just couldn't miss a Hun to save
his life." The major was Richardson's observer.

Another yarn that Richardson was accustomed to tell on his companion
of the upper reaches ran as follows: "When they first put me at
carting observation planes around I was pretty green. I had but
very shortly before done my first solo in England. The British
were fairly short of fliers then, or I should not have been sent
out. I arrived at the airdrome full of conceit, thinking I was a
real pilot.

"The morning after I got there they led me out and stood me alongside
a double-seater. The boss of that shop told me he wanted to see me
take it around for a try-out, and then it was off and away for the
front. He said considerately that I might wait a few minutes until
another new arrival had done his little preliminary canter.

"The other victim started up, taxied toward the other side of the
field that served for an airdrome, and lifted too late, with the
result that he caught the wheels of his chassis in the tall hedge
and came down in mighty nasty fashion on the other side, just out of
sight. That is, he was out of sight. The tail of his plane stuck up
to show what a real header he had taken. I found out later that he
got out of that smash with a broken leg and a bad shake-up, but when
I was standing there by that machine, waiting to go up, I thought
the poor devil who had the tumble must have been killed, sure.

"Then up came the major. He was a captain then. He was going to get
into his seat when the boss-man said to him: 'I suggest that you wait
until he has done a round or so alone.'"

"The little captain snorted at this, but the boss evidently thought
it best, so up I went, alone.

"I did well enough, and after feeling the machine thoroughly, came
down, making a fine landing. But fate was out with her ax that
morning. No one had said a word to me about a ditch that had been
dug on the left side of the field, and, of course, I had to find it.
When I saw it, no time was left to avoid it, so in I went. Over
toppled the poor plane, and smash went my under-works. In fact, I
came out of my seat rather quickly, but wasn't really hurt. The
boss chap was a bit mad, but the little captain man just laughed.

"Good thing I waited till he had had his little fun," he chuckled.
"now we can off and do our work, I suppose."

"I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He did not mind my smash a
bit. I saw that. He went right on up with me in another machine ten
minutes later just as though we had been going up together for years.
That is the kind of nerve my major has."

Richardson did not realize how very much cool action of the observation
officer had to do with the implanting in the pilot of a good sound
confidence in himself. Had Richardson but known it, the captain, as
he was then, had never been more apprehensive of trouble. He did
not like to trust himself to green fliers, any more than another man
would have done. But he knew that quick, sure show of confidence was
the only thing that would put confidence into Richardson in turn.
Such moments are sometimes the crucial ones. At such times fliers
may be made or marred in a manner that may be, for good or for ill,
irrevocable.

Sent to watch and assist this pair of doughty warriors, Harry Corwin
found most of his time in the air spent in keeping in the position
which had been assigned to him. Archies were everyday things to
Richardson and his major. They did not by any means scorn them, the
anti-aircraft guns, as continual improvement was noticeable, not only
in their marksmanship, but in their range. But Richardson was a
pastmaster at judging when he was well out of range, and equally clever
at getting into such a position.

Once Harry had seen a fascinating duel between Richardson and a Boche
plane, in which the latter retired before a decision was reached.
Once the two American pilots had been compelled to run from a squadron
of hunters, who gave up the chase as soon as they drew near to the
Allied territory. But Jimmy Hill's exploit, and the fact that he had
not only been the hero of a fight against big odds, but had actually
brought down a flier and smashed up a hunter machine, loomed so large
with the Brighton boys that the more ordinary experiences of the
others paled into insignificance in their eyes.

Bob Haines had been on a photographing trip, and had earned great
commendation from the observation officer whom he carried. Bob had
taken keenly to the scientific work of trench photography, and spent
his spare hours in the photographic workshop, which was a storehouse
of wonders to him. He was fast getting sound ideas on subjects in
connection with air-pictures, which made him all the more valuable
as a pilot of a machine that carried some officer of the photographic
department.

He had witnessed a very pretty fight between an American and a Boche
not far distant, but he could not take part. His observer was a good
hand with a Lewis gun, too. They had on board at that time, however,
a set of negatives that were of considerable value, which they had
been sent specially to obtain, so their duty was to leave the hunter
to fare as best he could, while they scurried home in safety with
their negatives.

Thus Will Corwin found that the Brighton boys were fast becoming
broken in to practical flying work. Archie Fox had been as busy
as any of the rest, tuning up a new machine that had a hidden kink
in its anatomy somewhere that defied detection.

Dicky Mann had been selected by the flight commander to work up a
special set of maps - -office work that required great care. He had
been absorbed day and night, and had cut down his sleeping hours to
five or six hours instead of the eight or nine he used to indulge in
at Brighton.

It was not so exciting as flying, the commander had told him when
he was selected for the job, "but of equal, if not greater, importance."
At all events, Dicky was at it, heart and soul, and the evening that
Will Corwin made his appearance was the first for some days that
Dicky had joined his messmates for a chat after dinner.

"How do you think we Yanks are making out against the Teutons in the
air, Will?" asked Harry. "Do you think they are beginning to recognize
that we have 'em beaten?"

Will Corwin grinned. "'Beginning to' is good, but that's along way
from the finished realization, and I don't guess that will come for
some little time yet. It's up to America and the Allies to keep on
turning out planes and fliers at top speed."

"What about the wonderful speed of the German machines, Will?" asked
Joe Little.

"An awful lot of rot is talked about speed, as you boys must know.
We captured a very decent German flier once, who got lost in a fog
and ran out of petrol. When he had to come down he found he was
right near our airdrome, so he volplaned right down on our field.
We were surprised to see him. He was in an Albatros of a late type,
too. As you can imagine, we gave him a very hearty greeting. He
took it pretty well, considering everything. I had him into my shack
for lunch, and we got quite friendly before they took him back to
the base. I remember at that time that the usual talk about Boche
flying machines on this front would lead you to believe that they
were much faster than we were. At home you could hear almost any
speed attributed to the German aeroplanes. I think some Americans
thought they could do about two miles to the English or French planes'
one.

"I was particularly interested in the Fokkers, Walverts and L.V.G.
machines, which were the ones we had to fight most. Now, according
to that candid young German, who seemed ready enough to talk frankly
about things, anyone of those three planes that did one hundred miles
an hour at an elevation of ten thousand feet was considered a mighty
good plane. If it did one hundred and twenty miles at that
elevation it was thought to be a hummer. They were fast climbers
for their speed, and usually did most of their fighting, if they had
a choice, at thirteen to fourteen thousand feet up. Only the Albatros
could be depended upon to beat one hundred and twenty miles an hour
regularly. He said he would rather not tell me the speed of the
Albatros, I did not press him. The point of all this is that those
very machines he was discussing were credited with speeds of
anything up to one hundred and thirty-five or one hundred and fifty
miles per hour by lots of people who thought they knew all about
it. There will never come a day, in our generation, when one hundred
and fifty miles an hour at ten thousand feet up will not be mighty
good flying."

"You have been at this game some time now, Will," said Joe Little.
"Can you think of anything we ought to specially learn that we won't
get hold of in plain flying? A tip is often worth a lot, you know."

"From what I hear from you boys, I guess what Joe means by plain
flying means pretty well every sort of stunt. I don't think one
fellow can tell another much about that sort of thing. Some of it
comes natural and some of it has to be learned by experience. I think
fliers are born, not made, anyway. There is one thing you might get
some tips upon. That relates to cloud formations. You can't know too
much about that. I am expecting a book from home on that subject
shortly, and when I wade through it I will let you boys have it."

"The state of the atmosphere plays a bigger part in aerial battles
than one might think. Calm days, without the least wind, when the
sky is covered by large gray clouds, are, as you all probably know,
very favorable for surprise attacks. The clouds act as a screen
and allow the aviator to hide himself until the very moment he thinks
he can drop on his enemy and take him by surprise.

"The Germans have a scheme they worked pretty successfully for a
while. When the clouds lie low, one of their machines dashes around
below the clouds, only two or three hundred yards up, and in the
area into which the Allied planes are likely to come. This sole
machine acts, if the scheme works, as a sort of bait. Sometimes
they pick a slow machine of an old model for the part, and it looks
easy meat. They tell me that the French fliers never could withstand
the temptation of seeing such a plane hovering round. The French
flier would give chase, even far over the enemy lines, and at the
very moment the Frenchman was about to attack under conditions that
left but little doubt in his mind of the issue, unexpectedly, suddenly,
he would find himself surrounded by three or four enemy planes of the
latest model, with full armament.

"You see, the Germans would have been flying above the clouds, watching,
the two planes below, and not showing themselves until the decoy plane
had drawn the French flier ten or fifteen miles from his base. It pays
to be mighty wary of anything that looks too easy in this game, and
you can't be too much on the lookout for surprise parties when the
clouds lie low."

"Tell us about the most exciting thing you have seen since you have
been out here, Will," begged Dicky Mann. "I have been stuck on office
work, and don't get a chance to have the fun the rest do. I would
like to hear something about a real red-hot scrap that you have been
in or seen."

"What work are you on?" queried Will.

"Maps."

"That isn't dull work, by a long shot. You can learn much in the map
room that will be worth lots to you one day, too. A good knowledge
of the country, the rivers, the canals, the railroads - -the ordinary
roadways, for that matter - -has saved more than one chap from making
a fool of himself."

"Dicky is as happy as a clam," said Harry. "He knows he is doing
good work, and the amount of time he spends over his blessed maps
shows well enough that he is out to get some of the map lore stuck
in his head. Quit kicking, Dicky."

"All the same, you fellows have the fun," insisted Dicky. "I like
the work well enough. I will admit that. And there are things
worth picking up in that department, too. A man would be a fool
not to see that. But tell us, Will, about the most exciting thing
you have seen in the air."

There was a general seconding of Dicky's request, at which Will lit
his pipe for the thirtieth time and said thoughtfully: "It is not an
easy matter to choose, but the thing I had the hardest time to
forget, and about the most spectacular thing a man could see, does
not make much of a story. Like many things that take place in the
air, it happened so quickly that we were unprepared for it.

"I was out with an observer, a very good pal of mine, on a big
pusher-plane that had one of the finest engines in it I had ever
seen. I don't know why we haven't had more of those out here.
Something to do with the plane itself, I think. I understand the
plane did not do so well as the engine, and they are getting out a
new thruster to take that engine. When it comes along it will be
a daisy. We had been doing what my observer called dog work. By
that he meant just plain reconnaissance. We had taken in a given
area, and followed all the roads to watch for traffic. We had noted
nothing of particular interest, and at last we turned for home.

"We had not gone far when right ahead came a Boche flier pounding for
home himself, apparently. It was a two-seater. He evidently liked
our looks but little, and started to climb for safety. But we
could climb, too. He had never met one of that pusher type, I
guess. We kept on going up, getting higher and higher, and gaining
on him all the time. It must have been a big strain for the men in
that enemy machine.

"I could imagine them discussing us."

"What is it?" one may have asked.

"He will quit soon; we will be at twenty thousand feet before long,"
the other may have replied.

"It was at just about twenty thousand feet that we at last got within
range. We had both been in chases before. We were cool enough about
this one, I think. My observer was. He sat there calmly enough
waiting till I could get near enough for him to let fly. I was too
busy watching the fellow in front to think about much else. I have
always thought that he must have miscalculated the distance that
I had gained. Maybe something went a bit wrong with his engine
that took his attention. He was about as far up as he could get
his bus. Twenty thousand feet is nearly four miles, you know. We
are likely to forget that. It is a long way up, even now, and it
seemed further up then.

"I am afraid I am stringing the story out, rather, but it strung
itself out that way. It was 'most all climb, climb, climb, with an
eye on the two men in the plane ahead. Then I got him in range,
and before I realized it." "Brrr-r-rr-rrr-rrrr!" started the quick-firer
behind me. That was the most exciting moment I have gone through
out here.

"They moment the machine-gun started something truly extraordinary
happened. The Boche pilot, at the very first burst of fire from us,
either jumped out of his seat or fell out.

"I could hardly believe my eyes. Yet there could be no mistake. He
went over the side of his fuselage and dropped like a man who
intended dropping just a few yards. I could see that he fell feet
first, head up, and arms stretched up above his head, holding his
body rigidly straight. Neither I nor my observer saw him the moment
he left his seat, but both of us saw him leave the side of his machine
and start down, down, down on that long four-mile drop.

"He disappeared, still rigidly straight, with something about his
position that made us both remark afterwards that he looked as though
he was doing it quite voluntarily and had planned it all out just that
way. It was weird.

"Of course it all happened in a twinkling. The big plane in front
of us went on uncannily, without a tremor, apparently. An instant
afterwards my observer and I exclaimed loudly together. The observer
in the enemy plane had not fired a shot, probably for the reason that
his gun was fixed and we were never in range of it. Suddenly we saw
him climb out of his seat on to the tail of the plane. My observer
had a good target, but his gun was silent. Perhaps that Boche
observer had an idea of climbing into the seat vacated so curiously
by the pilot, dropping, dropping, dropping, down that trackless
four mile path we had come up. If he had such a plan it failed
almost before he started to put it into execution.

"He had no more than climbed out on the tail proper than he lost
his hold and plunged headlong after his comrade. He went down pawing
and clutching into the void below like a lost soul, in horrible
contrast to the rigid figure of the pilot. Then the aviatik turned
its nose down with a jerk and fell after its human freight, all the
long twenty thousand feet to the earth below.

"We did not say a word to each other till we landed. It gave me a
nasty shock. I had seen enemy planes go down with enemy fliers in
them, but that rigid figure got me. The struggling chap I forgot
long before I did the other. We more than once discussed what might
have happened to him, and what his idea might have been - -but without
being able to frame any explanation. It was just weird. We let
it go at that."

As Will ended his story he pulled out his khaki handkerchief and
wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The night was anything
but warm, and the room in which they sat was quite cool; but the
memory of that scene, four miles up, brought the moisture to Will's
brow, after months had passed since the occurrence.

Two young officers in the mess had been interested listeners. One
of them, a slight youth named Mason, who hailed from the Pacific
Coast, now joined in the conversation.

"There has been an instance of an observer taking control of a plane
and effecting a good landing after his pilot had been killed," said
Mason. "He came down not a long way from an airdrome where I was
stationed. A bit of anti-aircraft shrapnel caught the pilot in the
back. It did not kill him instantly, but he was not long in
succumbing to his wound. He had just energy enough left, after he
realized that he was very badly hurt, to tell his observer that he
was going off. Before he actually relinquished control of the machine,
the observer, who was a daring chap, climbed right out of his
seat, pulled himself along the fuselage, and half-sitting, half-lying,
managed to stick there, within reach of the control levers and the
engine cut-off.

"He was an old-time flyer himself, and understood aeroplane construction
pretty well, and he made a very decent landing not very far from our
front lines. Fortunately he was on the right side of them, though
from what he told us afterward that was more luck than judgment. He
thought he was much further back than he was.

"He had become very tired, owing to his strained position on the body
of the plane, and was afraid he would fall off. So he came down.
He had a bad shock when he found that his pilot was stone dead,
and had been for some time. He must have died when the observer
took over the control of the plane, but the observer, oddly enough,
never thought of him as dead, and quite expected to be able to bring
him around if he once got him safely landed."

"Well, that was enough to give anyone a shock," said Will. "But he
would have had a worse shock if he had come down on the Boche's
side. More than one chap has done that just through not knowing
exactly where he was. I can't imagine anything more tough than
to get yourself down when something has gone utterly wrong, thanking
your lucky stars that you are down with a whole skin, and then discover
you are booked for a Hun prison, after all. I could tell you a
thriller along that line, but it'll keep. You've had enough now to
make you believe that the Air Service demands of a man the very best
there is in him, brawn and brain."

The hour was late before the boys knew the evening had passed, and
they were most cordial in their invitation to Will Corwin to come and
pay them another call. Will said he would do so when he could, but
that next visit was to be long deferred.

Less than a fortnight later Will took part in a gallant fight against
three machines that had attacked him far within the German territory.

He accounted for one, crippled another, and outsped the third - -but
when he landed his machine in his home airdrome he settled back
quietly in the driving seat as the machine came to rest. When his
mechanics reached him he was unconscious!

Examination showed that Will had been hit by a machine-gun bullet,
that had lodged in his shoulder. In spite of his wound, which was


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Online LibraryJames R. DriscollThe Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps → online text (page 7 of 11)