Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

When undertaking cross-country flights over strange land an airman finds his way by a
specially-prepared map which is spread out before him in an aluminium map case. From the illustration

here given of an aviator's map, you will see that it differs in many respects from the ordinary map. Most

British aviation maps are made and supplied by Mr Alexander Gross, of the firm of "Geographia",


Many airmen seem to find their way instinctively, so to speak, and some are much better in picking out
landmarks, and recognizing the country generally, than others. This is the case even with pedestrians,

who have the guidance of sign-posts, street names, and so on to assist them. However accurately some

people are directed, they appear to have the greatest difficulty in finding their way, while others, more

fortunate, remember prominent features on the route, and pick out their course as accurately as does a

homing pigeon.

Large sheets of water form admirable "sign-posts" for an airman; thus at Kempton Park, one of the
turning-points in the course followed in the "Aerial Derby", there are large reservoirs, which enable the

airmen to follow the course at this point with the greatest ease. Railway lines, forests, rivers and canals,

large towns, prominent structures, such as gasholders, chimney-stalks, and so on, all assist an airman to

find his way.


CHAPTER XLIII. The First Airman to Fly Upside Down

Visitors to Brooklands aerodrome on 25th September, 1913, saw one of the greatest sensations in this or
any other century, for on that date a daring French aviator, M. Pegoud, performed the hazardous feat of

flying upside down.

Before we describe the marvellous somersaults which Pegoud made, two or three thousand feet above the
earth, it would be well to see what was the practical use of it all. If this amazing airman had been

performing some circus trick in the air simply for the sake of attracting large crowds of people to witness

it, and therefore being the means of bringing great monetary gain both to him and his patrons, then this

chapter would never have been written. Indeed, such a risk to one's life, if there had been nothing to learn

from it, would have been foolish.

No; Pegoud's thrilling performance must be looked at from an entirely different standpoint to such feats
of daring as the placing of one's head in the jaws of a lion, the traversing of Niagara Falls by means of a

tight-rope stretched across them, and other similar senseless acts, which are utterly useless to mankind.

Let us see what such a celebrated airman as Mr. Gustav Hamel said of the pioneer of upside-down flying.

"His looping the loop, his upside-down flights, his general acrobatic feats in the air are all of the utmost
value to pilots throughout the world. We shall have proof of this, I am sure, in the near future. Pegoud

has shown us what it is possible to do with a modern machine. In his first attempt to fly upside down he

courted death. Like all pioneers, he was taking liberties with the unknown elements. No man before him

had attempted the feat. It is true that men have been upside down in the air; but they were turned over by

sudden gusts of wind, and in most cases were killed. Pegoud is all the time rehearsing accidents and

showing how easy it is for a pilot to recover equilibrium providing he remains perfectly calm and

clear-headed. Any one of his extraordinary positions might be brought about by adverse elements. It is

quite conceivable that a sudden gust of wind might turn the machine completely over. Hitherto any pilot

in such circumstances would give himself up for lost. Pegoud has taught us what to do in such a case. . . .

his flights have given us all a new confidence.


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