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AN ENCOUNTER IN THE SKIES, Issue 15640, 3 November 1914
AN ENCOUNTER IN THE SKIES
HOW THE MODERN WAR-HAWKS EIGHT.
[By Waidejiab Kaempffebt, in tho ‘Outlook.’]
Bagjt of a crest of hills a battery of artillery had been planted by tho French. One hour after sunrise there is a single dull, heavy report. A shell whistles through the air. A French lieutenant on tho eminence above tho battery raises his glass and watches. Five thousand yards away- stands a peasant’s house, and near by a group of white sheds with thatched roots lio huddled together. The lieutenant sees a little upheaval in one of the huts—a little splash, as it were—and then flames and smoke from a bunting roof. Tho shell has found its mark and done its work. "All right,” says the officer, bnskly. Whereupon a soldier at bis side picks up a field telephone and informs the commander of the battery that tho tost shot has found the range. Five minutes later the air is -split with ten sharp detonations, and as many shells rush towards the white sheds; for a little behind them lies the first of seven lines of outposts back of which the Germans are entrenched. To be tited on by concealed guns is not pleasant. There is no way of retaliating. If the battery behind the hills is to bo silenced, its position must be accurately known. A big, bearded captain of infantry leaps into an automobile and dashes off to the north. Fifteen minutes later he salutes the Commander-m-Chief and reports that unless the enemy’s fire is silenced, which is impossible _ without kmjfring the position of tho hostile guns, the first line of defences must be abandoned at once. The German general calls an officer and orders him to ascertain the number and position of the guns behind Hie hills.
Into a waiting monoplane three men clamber. In front is the pilot; behind him, in a line, ait a trim captain of the Aerial Chips and a man whoso duty it is to manipulate a machine gun. The engine is started. It spits and splutters, and then settles down to a steady purr. The monoplane throbs like a gigantic Jiving bird, with wings outspread, ready to leap into the air. Such is the speed of the Bft propeller that it seems more like a solid disc glittering in the morning sun than two wooden blades spinning at the rate of 1,4C0 revolutions a minute. Shx soldiers hold the machine leash, digging their heels into the earth and straining every muscle against the pull of tho whirling* propeller. The captain taps the shoulder of the pilot in front of him twice —the signal that all is ready. Next he raises his hand, and the six men that hold the machine back release their grip. For perhaps a hundred yards the monoplane bowls over the turf at railway speed, gathering momentum for its leap into the air. The pilot pulls a lever. Instantly tlie elevating rudder tiHs up ever so slightly, and the machine vaults from the ground like a vulture. Once m the air, the pilot knows better than to wing his way directly to the battery behind the hills. Sixty miles an hour is fast—faster than any hawk or eagle can fly. But the machine is big—--50 big that at low elevations an enemy’s machine guns might bring it down with ease. And so the pilot climbs up and up in great circles. He looks at the barograph. Its tiny, sensitive needle responds as the machine rises. Five hundred feet, a thousand, fifteen hundred, two thousand feet, he reads. At last the aneroid indicates three thousand feet. Now he knows that he is safe, for at that height the monoplane, despite its spread, seems like a sparrow from below. Only by a miracle could a shot fired from the ground strike it.
Straight for the battery concealed behind the crest the machine now speeds. Below lies the battlefield—the trenches, the tents, the cavalry, the infantry, tho baggage trains of the Germans, all more like A child’s tin panoply of war than a nation’s picked men under arras. That yellow ribbon trailing off to the north, is a road. The two bright filaments strung with mathematical straightness from. east to west are the steel tracks of railway, and the long serpent that crawls upon them and vomits smoke from its head is a troop train. Tho white shimmering thread that winds through the green fields and is lost in the mist is a stream. Its source lies somewhere among tho hills towards which the machine is rushing. Perched on his eminence, watching the _ of the shells scattering death among *Tli'c outposts of tho enemy, sits the French lieutenant. He has seen tho monoplane screwing its way up and beyond the range of rifles and machine guns. Long before the aeroplane has reaches! a safe height he has telephoned its coming to headquarters. No occult powers are needed to divine its purpose. If the battery is to continue its deadly work, that giant bird of the air, soaring on at railway speed, must be stopped at any cost. Just as tne German monoplane reaches the crest of the hill two armored biplanes, each armed with a machine gun, are scut up from the headquarters of the French. Tile German captain knows that he must turn and run for it, if be is to reach camp alive. But he knows, too, that only if ho cut'bring back accurate informa'tion of the masked batteries’ location can the Genfiafis hold their own. And bo, despite two hostile biplanes, despite the danger that lurks in a one-sided battle in the air, he keeps on long enough to note on his map tho position of each gun. Tho flattery is easily enough plotted, relatively to a church, a railway station, and a large hotel. Four precious minutes have been lost. The biplanes are only a mile away, and I,oooft below him. He leans over and shouts an order into the pilot’s ear. A pedal is pressed, the machine cants over, as it swings around in a graceful circle, and begins its homeward flight. The speedy biplanes lose no time in worming their way up into the air. Up, on a long, easy incline, they flv towards tho receding machine. They Kirch and sway for a moment as they soar over the crest, caught in tho invisible surf of air that beats against tho hill, ami then settle down to tho grim task of destroying the enemy’s monoplane. On and on the three machines race for life. The monoplane has the advantage of position. The gunner in hack of the German captain puts his shoulder to his piece and squints along the barrel. Aiming for the nearer biplane at a downward ingle of 45deg, he fires half a dozen shots, N(J response from tho biplane, nor any sign that a single shot has told. If it is hard to hit a moving thing, it is harder still when the platform of the marksman is moving, too. Tho biplanes are gaining. Once more tho German marksman takes aim and Bres, again without effect. Still no reply from tho foremost biplane. The captain of tho fleeing monoplane decides on a new coarse. Ho orders his pilot to drop SCOft. down to the level of the hostile biplane! If gun-fire is of no avail, perhaps the wash of ftis propeller may prove more effective. Tho monoplane dives, v and then straightens out its course again. •The pilot of the leading biplane is no aerial innocent. He sees the downward glide and knows its meaning. If he is caught in the turbulent air churned by tho monoplane’s propeller his machine will pitch and roll like a rowboat in a stormy sea. Quickly he pulls the lever that controls his elevating rudder, and climbs up out of the wake of the monopiano before him. The pilot of the accompanying biplane does likewise. For a few hundred feet the two double-deckers glide up. Th« increased head-on resistance retards them, and they lose headway. And to the monoplane gains for a few seconds. Once more the German marksman tries hit machine gun. The nearer biplane is somewhat Above him and behind him now ; »is even harder to hit than before. Carefully ha takes aim, as carefully as his ihftfibing. rocking Mat Will permit. The hairnet of the French pilot appears just Oter tho atmofed fuselage. When the unsteady muzzle-sight rests . for ah ‘instant fUttjjl it, the trigger is pulled. Tod effect is magical. For an Instant the biplane seems to hover like a wounded bird. Then it plunges down, down, down, with vertiginous speed. As Jfe* /whins. <iracs< ar?trks.
control lovers frantically—in vain. On© of tho cables leading to an aileron bad boon shot in two, acd tb© is utterly unmanageable. Tho officer behind tho pilot seizes the duplicate emergency levers, and in desperation tries to control the pitching machine. 'lho duplicate controls are of no avail. No power can save him and his companion. Tho machine crashes to the ground a dhapoless mass of splintered wood, tom canvas, and twisted wire, buried beneath which lio the bodies of two brave men.
The German captain smiles grimly. One pursuer at least has been removed by a miraculously lucky shot, .and the chances ore at least- oven. Ihe other, however, keeps on undaunted. It is even becoming nwfo aggressive; for tho machine-gun in Its canvas covered body boa opent-d firo. (hie of tho bullets has pierced the left wing of tho monoplane; but tho tiny hole that it has leit is of no more significance than the ventilating holes in tho pilot’s helmet. Again the gunner in the pursuing machine fires, tiris t-imo with teiling effect. Tim marksman in tho Gorman machine falls to one side, shot through tho heart, his head and an arm hanging limply over tho edge of the fuselage. The machine is unbalanced for a moment. Only by throwing his weight to the opposite side is the pilot able to restore tire monoplane to an even keel. Ho looks back and (sees what has happened. The captain iifts the dead man under the armpits and disposes Iris body so that the machine’s equilibrium is no longer disturbed. It is impossible to use the machine-gun now, for the dead man is in tho way. The captain, however, picks up a rifle. He raises tho weapon to his smoulder and lives. The gunner in the biplane answers. Neither scores a hit. Bullets w'lristie around each machine, unheard by either .crew above tire roar of tho motors. Tho biplane glides down to the level of the monoplane, but carefully keeps to the right so that it may use its gun to advantage. Tho two machines are only 500 yds apart now, with ihe German camp plainly in sight. The men in tho French biplane realise that they must not quickly lest the monoplane escape with nows that may prove the undoing of the battery behind the hill. A hail of bullets pours from the crackling machine gun of the biplane. The gunner handles the weapon as if it were a hose, and the stream of projectiles that spouts from its muzzle as if it were so much water. So short is the distance that lie cannot miss. The canvas of the monoplane is riddled with shot. Both pilot and German captain topple over. Down crashes tho machine to the earth 2,000 ft below. Its work of destruction complete, the biplane turns back. It winds its way far into the clouds until it seems a mere black speck. Then in three long, swift, magnificent stages, it glides down to tho landing ground of the French camp. A ladder is placed against tho machine. Tire officer clambers down, salutes his general reports the loss of one French biplane and the destruction of the German scout. Three hours later the first lino of German outposts are in the hands of the Allies.
AN ENCOUNTER IN THE SKIES, Issue 15640, 3 November 1914
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