Disaster struck 5 Squadron today when Flight Commander Captain Robert Maxwell-Pike was shot down and killed. Not only that, but the prototype DH2 aircraft he was test-flying fell into enemy hands.
Captain Maxwell-Pike was on a mission in the vicinity of Ypres when he got into a dog fight with an Albatross 2-searter, piloted by Abteilungsfürer Alfred Ritscher with his air gunner Lt Heinrich Maas of the German Navy. A lucky shot from Maas hit Maxwell-Pike in the head. He was able to land just east of Ypres, though the airplane somersaulted in the rough. Maxwell-Pike died shortly afterwards of his wounds.
The DH2 is a single seat pusher biplane designed by Geoffrey de Havilland, armed with a Lewis gun. As the British do not yet have a means of firing through the propeller, the pusher design is the only way of Providing forward firing armament.
As for Captain Pike himself, he was born in Kilnock, Tullow, Co Carlow the second son of Robert Lecky Pike, the then High Sheriff for Co. Carlow on the 30 August 1886. He was educated at Harrow and then joined the Royal Navy on the 15 August 1902. After serving on the Training Ship Britannia, he was sent to the Cruiser HMS Good Hope. From July 1905 to February 1907 Pike Naval career was spent in and out of Naval hospitals as he was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the knee. He was given a Medical Discharge on 17 February 1907.
Sometime in 1914 Robert had taken up flying training, with him receiving his Royal Aero Club Certificate on 21 September 1914 at the Military School, Brooklands, Surrey, England. He joined Royal Flying Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant and was sent to Joyce Green on home defence duties. In April 1915 he was sent to France and joined 5 Squadron. He was quickly promoted acting Captain on 4 May and given command of B Flight.
He was recalled to England in June 1915 to carry out service evaluation of the DH2 Prototype, for which he made this report to Officer Commanding 2 Wing Royal Flying Corps:
“Sir, I have the honour to report that I received an order from the War Office to proceed to Hendon on June 21st and 22nd to inspect and if possible try out this machine. On 21st the machine was ready and had been flown a few minutes previously, but difficulty arose in the pressure feed system and the machine did not fly that day. On 22 June I again proceeded to Hendon and saw Mr (sic) de Havilland try the machine in bumpy weather. She seemed to behave well but was flying rather nose heavy. The tail plane was adjusted one notch and I took the machine up. I found that she climbed exceedingly well and is apparently capable of a climb to 3500 feet fully loaded in well under 5 minutes. The speed without streamlined wires is about 85 mile per hour. The machine was flying a little nose heavy and the tail fin had not been adjusted to counteract the torque, also there was a good deal of vibration which I believe to be due to engine and propeller being out of balance. There were a few main alterations to be made. I strongly advise wing skids and drift wires to the front of the nacelle which should prevent vibration of the instrument board. Also the fin required to be put well over and a slight alteration be made to the tail plane. Even without these alterations, which will make the machine more comfortable to fly, she will be of enormous value out here. With practice one should be able to use the gun effectively and the range of fire is very large, and the vision greater than any other machine I have flown. The alterations are to take about a fortnight and the machine will be ready to take to the Front, should approval be obtained. Streamlined wires have to be obtained and it is estimated that the speed will be increased by nearly 5 miles per hour in consequence. The seat was a little on the high side or appeared so after the Vickers. The gliding angle is surprisingly good and the machine can be landed slow enough for all ordinary purposes a little under 50 miles per hour. The day was not a good one on which to try a new machine but she seemed to go through the bumps without paying much attention to them. There is a suitable telescopic mounting for a Lewis gun fitted in the machine. I have not seen a German machine which can equal this Scout for speed and climbing power.”
On 26 July 1915, the DH2 Prototype (4732) it was sent to France for service evaluation with 5 Squadron due to Maxwell-Pike’s previous experience with the aircraft.