1 September 1917 – Three it’s a magic number

Following the success of the Sopwith Triplane, the German’s attempted to create their own version. A captured Sopwith Triplane was sent to the Fokker factory and Fokker instructed designer Reinhold Platz to build a triplane, but gave him no further information about the Sopwith design.

AEA03C49-F973-478F-B1CE-E1C0A58D8480-606-000000619C90DEFEPlatz responded with the V.4, an aircraft that bore little resemblance to the Sopwith other than the three wings. It was a small, rotary-powered triplane with a steel tube fuselage and thick cantilever wings – unusual at this time, first developed during Fokker’s government-mandated collaboration with Hugo Junkers. Initial tests revealed that the V.4 had unacceptably high control forces resulting from the use of unbalanced ailerons and elevators.

Fokker produced a revised prototype designated V.5. The most notable changes were the introduction of horn-balanced ailerons and elevators, as well as longer-span wings. The V.5 also featured interplane struts, which were not necessary from a structural standpoint, but which minimized wing flexing.

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Walter Kember

On 14 July 1917, Idflieg issued an order for 20 pre-production aircraft. The V.5 prototype, serial 101/17, was tested to destruction at Adlershof on 11 August 1917.

Two further prototypes now designated F1, were issued on 28 August for combat evaluation to Manfred Von Richthofen (102/17) and Werner Voss (103/17).

Early this morning Manfred Von Richthofen flew his first mission in the aircraft at was successful in shooting down Lieutenant John Bristo Culley Madge and 2nd Lieutenant Walter Kember from 6 Squadron RFC in their RE8 (B782) near Zonnebeeke. Madge was wounded in the back and taken prisoner, while Kemble was killed.

The following video (at 01.44) shows Von Richthofen preparing for take off in 102/17.

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28 August 1917 – No low flying for the DH4

The Airco DH4 has been in service since January 1917, and has been proving popular with crews. However there is a severe shortage of the Rolls Royce Eagle engines which power it such that the RFC and RNAS are struggling to keep up with the requirements of existing squadrons never mind equipping any new ones. .

The engine issue is exacerbated by the problem that the engines have to be returned to Rolls Royce for repair and they do not have the capacity to repair damaged engines and build new engines at the rates required.

Rolls Royce have also refused to allow other manufacturers to make the engines as they fear a loss in quality.

Government inaction has further exacerbated the problem. Rolls Royce had proposed in the autumn of 1916 to set up a repair factory with government assistance but this has been repeatedly delayed until finally being agreed by the Air Board in July 1917. The factory is in the process of being set up but is not yet operational. The Government also recently took over the Clement Talbot Company to carry out repairs under Rolls Royce supervision, but again it will be many months before this is operational.

The end result of all this prevarication on the part of the Air Board is that the respective air service headquarters have had to issue orders that DH4s on the Western Front must carry out bombing missions below 15,000 feet to reduce the chances of being intercepted by the enemy and in turn to reduces losses and damage.

31 August 1917 – Observer seniority

A rather boring injustice in the determination of seniority for observers was addressed today by RFC high command.

Up to this point, an observer’s seniority commenced on being noionally available for operations. However, the improved training undergone by observers now means that many are accumulating seniority whilst training back in England not having seen any action at the front.

Today the RFC issued an order stating that from now on seniority would commence once the pilot had reported for overseas duty having passed his courses at home. The importance of seniority was that officers did not receive flight pay without it.

In typical fashion, the order was superseded by the War Office in December 1917, who did not appear to know about the change. It appears though that this was ignored by the RFC.

 

30 August 1917 – Forest Fires

Well away from the Western Front, the fledgling air foces of the United States have come under threat from an unusual source.

Unusually warm weather and a lack of rain in the Northwest of the country has contributed to an increase in forest fires and more rapid spread of those that have started. Large fires have been raging for weeks in Idaho, Montana and Oregon thwarting all efforts to put them out.

Today the Sacramento Union reported that the situation was now so bad that the loss of wood threatened to set back the construction of aeroplanes.

Whilst wildfires are normal at this time of year, this being wartime, rumours of fires being deliberately started as sabotage abound.

So much so that the New York Times reported on 26 August that troops in Oregon have been patrolling the forests with orders to kill anyone caught starting fires.

29 August 1917 – Double Disaster

Despite the improvements in flying training and the quality of aircraft, learning to fly remains a dangerous business.

Today, 50 Training Squadron based at Narborough felt the brunt of this with two fatal accidents in the same day.

IMG_1160First, 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Edward Stuart-Vaile and Lieutenant John Jacob Bennett crashed their Armstrong-Whitworth FK8 (B219) killing Stuart-Vaile and injuring Bennett. As the aircraft had crashed in the UK, a court of enquiry was held. It found that the pilot had attempted a turn but the air speed was insufficient and the aircraft was too close to the ground. As a result it had sideslipped and nose dived into the ground.

Another instructor Norman Victor Spear had been sent with a mechanic, S Burrell, to repair and collect another Armstrong-Whitworth FK8 (A2730) which had force landed near Pulham St Mary in Norfolk. On the way back the aircraft crashed. The court of enquiry found that shortly after taking off the aircraft developed engine trouble and Spear attempted to turn back. Unfortunately, the aircraft side-slipped as it did not have sufficient speed to make the turn. There was not enough time to recover and the aircraft nose-dived into the ground.

That said, 50 Training Squadron has a reasonable record as these are the first fatalities since its formation in December 1916.

27 August 1917 – 6 and 11 No More

Such is the shortage of pilots that the Navy has been forced to disband two of its squadrons currently assisting the RFC on the Western Front to reinforce its other squadrons.

6 (Naval) and 11 (Naval), both fighter squadrons were those to go, with the remaining pilots and aircraft going to reinforce 9 (Naval) and 10 (Naval) Squadrons.

Both Squadrons were subsequently reformed in January 1918 as bomber squadrons.

25 August 1917 – Naval Air Policy

Admiral Beatty, the Commander in Chief of the Navy, had written to the Board of the Admiralty on 20 August requesting clarification on the overall policy on Naval Aviation.

<blockquote>“A correct policy is of vital moment to our air supremacy at sea during the year 1918…Possibly a definite policy has been decided upon by the staff, assisted by the experts concerned. If this is so, I should be glad if a member of the naval staff visited me and explained the proposals ; if no definite policy has yet been formulated, it is urgent the matter should be discussed between the naval staff, the technical experts, and myself at the earliest possible date.”</blockquote>

The Admiralty realised that no definite air policy had been laid down in black and white. There was a rapid exchange of memoranda on the question between the various Sea Lords and today a preliminary general statement of naval air policy, drawn up by the First Sea Lord was sent to Admiral Beatty.

<blockquote>ADMIRALTY MEMORANDUM ON NAVAL AIR POLICY

The Air Policy to which the Admiralty is working is as follows:

(i) Lighter-than-air craft.

To provide a type of airship, in sufficient numbers, which will be able to scout with the Fleet, and, in this respect, to perform the duty of light cruisers.

To provide also a type of airship for coastal patrol work and for escort of merchant ships and convoys unless and until this duty can be performed by heavier-than-air craft.

To provide also a sufficient number of kite balloons for the work which is required of them in the Fleet, in destroyer flotillas which are engaged in submarine hunting or in convoy work, and in trawler flotillas engaged in similar duties.

(2) Heavier-than-air machines.

(a) Those for use in seaplane carriers.
Under this heading the policy is to provide a sufficient number for reconnaissance, for engaging enemy aircraft, for observation of fire and for torpedo carrying. The policy also is to provide, when conditions admit, a sufficient number of seaplane carriers to work with the Grand Fleet, with the Harwich Flotilla, the Dover Patrol, Tenth Cruiser Squadron, Ireland, Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean.

(b) To provide also, when a satisfactory type is evolved, a sufficient number of lighters for carrying seaplanes for extended reconnaissance and for engaging enemy aircraft in Southern waters.

(c) The provision of heavier-than-air craft apart from Fleet work.
The policy is to provide machines for offensive action against submarines, mine-laying and attack of enemy aircraft, detection of minefields, protection of trade (by patrol or convoy), reconnaissance of such places as the Belgian coast and other enemy naval bases within reach of this type of machine.
To provide also torpedo-carrying seaplanes for work against the enemy bases in the Mediterranean, in addition to aircraft to carry out in the Mediterranean duties similar to those for which they are required in home waters.

(d) The policy also is to develop wireless, D.C.B.’s (Distant Control Boats), and vessels of larger type, dependent upon the result of experiments now in progress.

It must be recognized that it is one thing to lay down policy, and another, quite a different one, to carry it out after three years of war, when difficulties of every sort connected with the supply of labour and material are met with in every direction, and therefore, although the policy is as above mentioned, it may be anticipated that very considerable delays will be experienced in carrying out that policy.</blockquote>