Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

But no! the engine must be run at varying speeds, while the mechanics hold back the machine. This
operation alone took three or four minutes, and all that the pilot proposed to do was to circle the

aerodrome two or three times. An onlooker asked a mechanic if there were anything wrong with that

particular machine. "No!" was the reply; "but our governor's very faddy, you know!"

And now for the other extreme! Three mechanics emerged from a hangar pushing a rather
ungainly-looking biplane, which bumped over the uneven ground. The pilot was some distance behind,

with cigarette in mouth, joking with two or three friends. When the machine was run out into the open

ground he skipped quickly up to it, climbed into the seat, started the engine, waved a smiling "good-bye",

and was off. For all he knew, that rather rough jolting of the craft while it was being removed from the

hangar might have broken some wire on which the safety of his machine, and his life, depended. The

excuse cannot be made that his mechanics had performed this all-important work of inspection, for their

attention was centred on the daring "banking " evolutions of some audacious pilot in the aerodrome.

Mr. C. G. Grey, the well-known writer on aviation matters, and the editor of The Aeroplane, says, with
regard to the need of inspection of air-craft: -

"A pilot is simply asking for trouble if he does not go all over his machine himself at least once a day,
and, if possible, every time he is starting for a flight.

"One seldom hears, in these days, of a broken wheel or axle on a railway coach, yet at the chief stopping
places on our railways a man goes round each train as it comes in, tapping the tires with a hammer to

detect cracks, feeling the hubs to see if there is any sign of a hot box, and looking into the grease

containers to see if there is a proper supply of lubricant. There ought to be a similar inspection of every

aeroplane every time it touches the ground. The jar of even the best of landings may fracture a bolt

holding a wire, so that when the machine goes up again the wire may fly back and break the propeller, or

get tangled in the control wires, or a strut or socket may crack in landing, and many other things may

happen which careful inspection would disclose before any harm could occur. Mechanics who inspected

machines regularly would be able to go all over them in a few minutes, and no time would be wasted. As

it is, at any aerodrome one sees a machine come down, the pilot and passenger (a fare or a pupil) climb

out, the mechanics hang round and smoke cigarettes, unless they have to perform the arduous duties of

filling up with petrol. In due course another passenger and a pilot climb in, a mechanic swings the

propeller, and away they go quite happily. If anything casts loose they come down - and it is truly

wonderful how many things can come loose or break in the air without anyone being killed. If some

thing breaks in landing, and does not actually fall out of place, it is simply a matter of luck whether

anyone happens to see it or not."

This advice, coming from a man with such wide experience of the theory and practice of flying, should
surely be heeded by all those who engage in deadly combat with the demons of the air. In the early days

of aviation, pilots were unacquainted with the nature and method of approach of treacherous wind gusts;

often when they were flying along in a steady, regular wind, one of these gusts would strike their craft on

one side, and either overturn it or cause it to over-bank, so that it crashed to earth with a swift side-slip

through the air.

Happily the experience of those days, though purchased at the cost of many lives, has taught makers of
air-craft to design their machines on more trustworthy lines. Pilots, too, have made a scientific study of

air eddies, gusts, and so on, and the danger of flying in a strong or gusty wind is comparatively small.

 

CHAPTER XLVII. Accidents and their Cause (Cont.)

 

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