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A Near View Of French Aviators (1917)

Some of the largest battles of the First World War were taking place in France when Aviation Week (then Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering) was first published.

In January 1917, the magazine published a report by writer Robert Glendinning who had recently visited France, on how aviation students were being taught to prepare for the frontline.  By being given an admission card by the Minister of War, Glendinning was able to visit several aviation schools and the Somme.

Acknowledging the battles, Glendinning wrote: “Anyone must necessarily feel a certain depression, and share with the whole country the sorrow and grief and suffering which has been brought to its door.”

He added, with awe: “It may be stated without fear of contradiction that the French are without doubt the leaders in the air, and from the impression received they are likely to continue to hold it and, if anything, improve the science of flying more rapidly than any other country.”

He observed that their “whole system of teaching is different”. Students are thrown in at the deep end by being taught alone “in a machine”, because teaching is expensive and many machines “are destroyed as a result of carelessness or accidents, but a student will necessarily become very much more self-reliant and have more confidence if alone”, rather than being guided by an instructor using dual controls, as in the U.S.

Students at Buk, near Versailles, begin in “Penquins” Glendinning described as a form of Bleriot monoplane, with a wingspan of 6ft, “which do not permit the machine to rise off the ground, retain a speed of fifty miles an hour, and which teach students to fly in a straight line.”

Once they have mastered this, the students move on to a monoplane that can rise off the ground by up to 6ft, in which they must perform between 60 and 75 landings. They are “promoted to a higher-powered machine and taught the art of turning in the air and landing from a height of 50ft.”

As they progress students learn to perform spirals and remain in the air at an altitude of 2,000 meters (about 7,000ft.)

Next on the curriculum is a cross-country flight of 240km (150 miles) and on graduation he will be sent to Caseau “where he is taught shooting and the handling of machine guns.”

From there, he will complete a finishing course at Pau learning skills which “will prepare him for the front” such as diving, “execute a tail spin (which is a vertical drop, with the machine turning rapidly in the air, and very dangerous); looping the loop, flying upside down and actual battle practice of fighting machines in the air, with smoking bullets, “and only the most proficient students are allowed to take this test.”

Concluding his article, Glendinning said that he could not imagine anything more patriotic or a finer example of loyalty to France than “entering the Flying Corps and getting an education in the air, which certainly could not be offered anywhere else in the world.”

Read the January 15, 1917 issue of Aviation and Aeronautical Engineering in Aviation Week’s digital archives.



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