Excerpts from Royal Flying Corps monthly report of December 1917.
The report was signed C. St. John-Culbertson, Royal Flying Corps Colonel and was dated 21 December, 1917.
Another good month. In all, a total of 35 accidents were reported, only six of which were avoidable. These represented a marked improvement over the month of November during which 84 accidents occurred, of which 23 were avoidable. This improvement, no doubt, is the result of experienced pilots with over 100 hours in the air forming the backbone of all the units.
RESUME OF ACCIDENTS
There were six avoidable accidents this last month.
The pilot of a Shorthorn, with over 7 hours of experience, seriously damaged the undercarriage on landing. He had failed to land at as fast a speed as possible as recommended in the Aviation Pocket Handbook.
A B.E.2 stalled and crashed during an artillery exercise. The pilot had been struck on the head by the semaphore of his observer who was signaling to the gunners.
Another pilot in a B.E.2 failed to get airborne, by an error of judgement, he was attempting to fly at mid-day instead of at the recommended best lift periods, which are just after dawn and just before sunset.
A Longhorn pilot lost control and crashed in a bog near Chipping-Sedbury. An error of skill on the part of the pilot in not being able to control a machine with a wide speed band of 10 MPH between top speed and stalling speed.
While low flying in a Shorthorn the pilot crashed into the top deck of a horse drawn bus near Stonehenge.
A B.E.2 pilot was seen to be attempting a banked turn at a constant height before he crashed. A grave error by an experienced pilot.
There were 29 unavoidable accidents from which the following are selected:
The top wing of a Camel fell off due to fatigue failure of the flying wires. A successful emergency landing was carried out.
Sixteen B.E.2's and 9 Shorthorns had complete engine failures. A marked improvement over November's fatigue.
Pigeons destroyed a Camel and 2 Longhorns after mid-air strikes.
COST OF ACCIDENTS
Accidents during the last three months of 1917 cost 317 pounds, 10 shillings sixpence, money down the drain and sufficient to buy new gaiters and spurs for each and every pilot observer in the Service.
No. 1 Brief No. 912 Squadron, 3 December 1917 Aircraft type B.E.2C, No. KY678, Total Solo - - 4.20 Pilot Lt. J. Smyth-Worthington, Solo in type - - 1.10
The pilot of this flying machine attempted to maintain his altitude in a turn at 2,500 feet This resulted in the airplane entering an unprecedented maneuver, entailing a considerable loss of height. Even with full power applied and the control column fully back, the pilot was unable to regain control. However, upon climbing from the cockpit onto the lower mainplane, the pilot managed to correct the machines altitude, and by skillful manipulation of the flying wires successfully side-slipped into a nearby meadow.
Remarks: Although, through inexperience, this pilot allowed his airplane to enter an unusual attitude, his resourcefulness in eventually landing without damage has earned him a unit citation.
R.F.C. Lundsford-Magnus is investigating the strange behaviour of this aircraft.
No. 2 Brief No. 847 Squadron 19 December 1917 Aircraft Type Spotter Balloon J17983, total solo 107.00 Pilot Capt. ***, Solo in type 32.10
Capt * * * of the Hussars, a balloon observer, unfortunately allowed the spike of his full-dress helmet to impinge against the envelope of his balloon. There was a violent explosion and the balloon carried out a series of fantastic and uncontrollable maneuvers, while rapidly emptying itself of gas. The pilot was thrown clear and escaped injury as he was lucky enough to land on his head.
Remarks This pilot was flying in full-dress uniform because he was the Officer of the Day In consequence it has been recommended that pilots will not fly during periods of duty as Officer of the Day.
Captain* * * has requested an exchange posting to the Patroville Alps, a well known mule unit of the Basques
No. 3 Brief Summary of No. 3 Brief dated October 1917 Major W. de Kitkag-Watney's Neuport Scout was extensively damaged when it failed to become airborne.
The original court of Inquiry found that the primary cause of the accident was carelessness and poor airmanship on the part of a very experienced pilot.
The Commandant General, however, not being wholly convinced that Major de Kitkag-Watney could be guilty of so culpable a mistake ordered that the court should be re-convened.
After extensive inquiries and lengthy discussions with the Meteorological Officer and Astronomer Royal, the Court came to the conclusion that the pilot unfortunately was authorized to fly his aircraft on a day when there was absolutely no lift in the air and could not be held responsible for the accident.
The Court wishes to take this opportunity to extend congratulations to Major de Kitkag-Watney on his reprieve and also on his engagement to the Commandant Gereral's daughter, which was announced shortly before the accident.
FLYING SAFETY TIPS
Horizontal Turns To take a turn the pilot should always remember to sit upright, otherwise he will increase the banking of the aeroplane. He should never lean over.
Crash Precautions Every pilot should understand the serious consequences of trying to turn with the engine off. It is much safer to crash into a house when going forward than to sideslip or stall a machine with engine trouble. Passengers should always use safety belts, as the pilot may start stunting without warning. Never release the belt while in the air, or when nosed down to land.
Engine Noises Upon the detection of a knock, grind, rattle or squeak, the engine should be at once stopped. Knocking or grinding accompanied by a squeak indicates binding and a lack of lubricant.
WATCH THAT FIRST STEP
The First Marine Air Wing had this write up in their safety publication, Wing Tips of an AAR board's comments some 40 years ago:
It was conceded by all that the pilot had accomplished a brilliant piece of work in landing his disabled machine without damage under the circumstances. It is not with intent to reflect less credit upon his airmanship, but it must be noted that he is a well experienced aviator with over 40 total hours in the air, embracing a wide variety of machines, and this was his seventh forced landing due to complete failure of the engine.
It was doubly unfortunate that upon alighting from his machine he missed the catwalk on the lower airfoil and plunged both legs through the fabric, straddling a rib, from which he received a grievous personal injury.
Some thought should be devoted to a means of identifying wing-traversing catwalks to assist aviators in disembarking from their various machines