Bunnie moved to Dover on the 23rd. The RNAS airfield was at Guston Road, and there was an RFC airfield on the other side of the road.
and on 24 November he was back in the air again, where they had Avro 504Bs on the line. He managed a couple of short flight during the day in windy, cloudy conditions. He says that there were clouds at 1000ft but he went up to 3000ft. Did he climb through the clouds using his compass to keep him straight and level? If so, he was very lucky or very, very skilful. Accepted wisdom today is that if you lose sight of the horizon you will become disoriented within 15 seconds, so it’s more likely that he had a really nice day for the time of year and there were little puffy cumulus clouds with nice big gaps to fly through.
On his second flight he flared too early and landed with something of a bump.
I have been in touch with Xan Berasatui in France who has been building a 1/48th scale model of 1264 based on the information we’ve been able to supply. It’s now finished, and I can’t express how astonishingly perfect his model is, so I hope Xan won’t mind my copying the pictures from his forum because you simply have to see them.
The way in which he’s captured the translucency of the wings on a plastic model is pure artistry.
And here’s a part-completed uncovered fuselage
built from scratch as well. Words can’t express my admiration and gratitude.
Xan’s post on the modellers forum is here and you may wish to join the forum in order to add your own comments.
Thank you, Xan!
By now, Bunnie’s training at Chingford was coming to an end. The cross-country to Ruislip was his final qualification, and having had the day off yesterday he was free to try something different. He elected to have a go in the old Bleriot that was still in the hangar, although it was by now completely outdated.
This was the Bleriot XI – the same type in which Bleriot had famously crossed the Channel six years before on 25 July 1909, but modified as a tandem two-seater with a 70hp Gnome rotary engine. Bunnie had a couple of goes but the inlet valve stuck on each attempt, so that he only managed the shortest of straight hops. Although Bleriot had introduced the control system which rapidly became standard – control stick and rudder pedals – there were a number of features that would have been very different. Roll control was by wing warping which is generally very ineffective, and the lifting tail means that one should certainly never try stalling it, as it might well go into a tail slide. Neither of these things would have become apparent to Bunnie. But one feature would have been relevant to Bunnie. Because of their poor roll control, crosswind landings were very tricky, so the Bleriot came up with a cunning solution – the main undercarriage is castoring, so that it can travel sideways. And of course this means there’s no means of steering the Bleriot on the ground.
After this, Bunnie had a short ten-minute hop in the BE2c when he tried a couple of landings. the fast one was good and the slow one wasn’t. he’d learned his lesson!
Presumably the instructors were sufficiently impressed with his flying skills that he’d been asked to try a Bristol Scout for size. Bunnie was 6ft 3in tall and he found that he couldn’t get full and free movement of the rudder because his knees contacted the bottom of the instrument panel, and he’d reluctantly asked to be posted to a seaplane Wing.
But his request was ignored, and having finished his time at Chingford, he packed his bags and headed off to Dover to join no. 2 Wing.
17 November 1915.
Just one flight today, of 40 minutes’ duration in BE2c no. 1108, which seems to have been allocated to him for the last week.
But an interesting technical problem raised its head.
He writes in this logbook ‘Throttle adjusted to open wrong way, otherwise engine going strong. Landing better but not good enough yet. Was baulked by several machines when near the ground.’
What does this mean? Had the groundcrew dismantled the engine controls overnight and somehow assembled them the wrong way? If so, it seems odd that it was possible. Anyway, he seems to have managed okay.
18 November 1915.
Another afternoon flight of 45 minutes. ‘Misty, and clouds at 3000 ft so I kept below that height most of the time. Tried landing the machine rather faster than normal and made a much better landing.’ Been there, done that. that extra 5kt or so makes all the difference in allowing you to get the flare sorted out before the speed runs out. But we have to bear in mind that Bunnie had had so little dual instruction – about four hours in tractor machines, I think, though his logbook isn’t always clear which were dual and which solo – so learning this on his own indicates a fairy high degree of aptitude.
19 November 1915.
An exciting prospect – his first cross country. In the end, he had to deal with another first – an engine failure. He took off in the BE2c mid-afternoon, intending to fly to Ruislip, but the engine gave out before he had left the airfield. He says his landing was better, and I have found the same thing often, – that an emergency situation raises the adrenalin levels and one makes the sort of landing that you wish you could do under normal conditions!
Later in the afternoon he went up for another local flight – presumably having had the engine repaired – and tried some steeply banked turns. The BE2c is often belittled for being unmanoeuvrable, but Bunnie was clearly able to throw this one around to some extent, and Cecil Lewis was able to loop one, as he describes in Sagittarius Rising.
20 November 1915.
So today was his delayed attempt at his first cross country. If you aren’t a pilot, you won’t realise how very, very disorienting it is to try to navigate by air. The world looks completely different from above, and even flying over ground that you’ve known all your life, it’s all too easy to become completely lost. In today’s training environment, it would be normal to do one’s first cross-country flight with an instructor, and very possibly a few times, before being allowed to do it on one’s own.
But Bunnie was told to cross London from east to west, with no instructor, in all probability an unreliable compass, no radio, and no other form of navigation. So how did he get on?
He took off in BE2c no. 1107 at 1045, and here are his comments.
‘Clouds very low. Steered by compass over them and came down when I thought I was near Ruislip. Saw the reservoir, but failed to recognise it and got lost. Compass not acting very well so steered west by sun until I knew I was clear of London, then south till I saw the Thames. Followed the Thames east until I saw Hampton Court, then I layed off a new course on my map and got to Greenford which I recognised by a name printed large on a factory. Then I followed the railway to Northolt and hence found the aerodrome.’
This is what it looked like on the map.
That’s a pretty spectacular diversion, but he clearly showed a good deal of presence of mind to deal with the situation.
Of his return trip, he wrote rather more succinctly. ‘Flew low most of the time and kept landmarks Harrow, Hendon, etc. in sight.’ It took him only 35 minutes, having taken an hour and three quarters on the way out.
And once again, this rings so true today. Benn there, done that, Granddad!
Another two flights in the BE2c this morning, the first for an hour during which he got up to 6000ft, the second a 15 minute one to practice landings. Bunnie was unhappy with his landings – in fact the last two were ‘… the worst I have done in a BE.’
And since there are no exciting photographs of the day to add, I thought I’d show you Bunnie’s ‘Aviator’s Certificate, or brevet, issued by the Royal Aero Club on 13 October, after he’d successfully managed three landings with use of the engine.
I’ve included both sides of the envelope it came in; the front has his address, of course, but the reverse shows some slightly cryptic notes he wrote. The date (20 Oct) corresponds with a flight in the Avro 500, serial 939, and his notes on that flight are that there was a fair crosswind. Does this diagram indicate crosswind? I’m not sure.
Two one hour flights today, this time in the BE2c. E T Busk had re-used the original fuselage, but redesigned the flying surfaces to make it completely stable. Famously, of course, this was what made it such a sitting duck later on in the war, but in early 1914 no-one realised how the air war would develop.
On his second flight he got lost for 25 minutes in the mist until he managed to spot the reservoir. Interestingly, Chingford airfield is submerged under the reservoir today – presumably it must have been much smaller then.
I have to admit, with all the excitement in 2015, that I’ve omitted to keep an eye on what was happening 100 years ago.
So – with apologies, here’s a summary of Granddad’s flying log book so far.
15 Sep. First time in the air, with Flt Sub Lt. Fowler. It was too gusty for instruction, so Fowler took him for a 10 minute jolly round the airfield at Chingford in a Maurice Farman Longhorn.
21-24 Sep. Instruction with Fowler and F L Merriam in a Graham White Type XV, which was the mainstay of the primary training fleet at that time and was a slightly updated version of the Bristol Boxkite. All three flights took place between 0600 and 0800 and totalled 48 minutes.
25 Sep. With Merriam. First time he had complete control. It’s not clear whether this particular Farman had dual controls, but it’s likely that Merriam may have effectively been a passenger, only able to shout instructions. This after less than an hour’s instruction!
26-27 Sep. A couple of evening flights in the Graham White with Merriam totalling 14 minutes.
1 Oct. First solo. In the morning he had a quick hop in the front seat of the Graham White, and in the evening they let him try taxiing the Bristol Boxkite.
He had the weekend to think about it, and at teatime on Monday 3 Oct they let him do his first solo in the Boxkite – a machine he’d only ever taxied before, and with a total of 106 minutes in an aeroplane! These were straight hops, and after a couple in the Boxkite they let him try the Graham White as well. He found the Graham White much more responsive, and wasn’t impressed with his landing.
And what were we doing 100 years later? Air to Airs with Dodge at Shuttleworth, that’s what.
6 Oct. A busy day, with no less than five flights, a mixture of dual with Merriam and solo straight hops, followed by his first solo circuit – all in surprisingly windy conditions (around 15mph).
7 Oct. Busy again, with 6 flights, mostly dual, but his first solo in the Maurice Farman resulted in an engine failure at 1000ft, which he seems to have managed successfully.
11 Oct. After this, he was considered to be fit to do his test for his Royal Aero Club brevet, which consisted of a figure of eight, a vol plane (engine off glide) and a spot landing. Total time – less than seven and a half hours.
13 Oct. He completed his test in the morning. and on an afternoon flight noticed after takeoff that one of the rigging wires on the Graham White had parted, so came down at once!
15 Oct. Three flights, including a couple on the Maurice Farman Shorthorn. He says it was bumpy and uncomfortable, but whether this was due to the machine or the weather isn’t clear.
16 Oct. He flew the Henry Farman Type 15 for the first time.
17 Oct. He was introduced to the Avro 500 – his first tractor machine and tried taxiing it.
19 Oct. First straight hop in the Avro around midday. The wind was around 20mph – he says the air was gusty; I’m not surprised! He had another go in the evening when the wind had dropped, and said that two of his landings were ‘quite fair’.
20 Oct. A couple of flights, on the second of which he got up to 3200ft and did circuits in the Avro 502. He comments on the wheel warping control.
22 – 23 Oct. More time in the Avro 501. he’s staring to accumulate time more rapidly now with longer flights, and has reached the magnificent total of 12 hours 41 minutes by the end of this week.
27 Oct. In five flights, he added two more types to enter in his logbook. First the Curtiss JN3,
and then straight from that to the Avro 504B, his first time flying behind an 80hp engine.
After a couple of goes with an instructor, he was allowed off on his own, and he says it was ‘ …far the most pleasant flight I have had. I much prefer the rod control to the wheel control.’ In another first, he made his first landing without goggles. Well, the 504 has a diminutive windscreen, and it was flown solo from the back seat which is further away from the action than the Scout, but even so, rather him than me!
28-29 Oct. More time in the Avro 504B, and his longest flight to date – 55 minutes.
1-7 Nov. He was off sick.
8 Nov. Another 50 minute flight in a 504B.
10 Nov. And yet another type to master. This was a short hop with an instructor in a BE2A with a 60hp Renault engine.
14 Nov. And then yesterday he was put into yet another different type – the BE2C. Although it sounds similar to the BE2A, it was in fact a completely new aeroplane for him to master with the RAF1A engine, which was a development of the Renault.. The engine wasn’t delivering full power, but he still managed to get up to 5000ft in a 35 minute flight.
And at the end of this time he had amassed 19 hours, 14 minutes. When I think how careful we are of machines of this vintage, and how rarely we fly them, it seems remarkable to me how much time he managed to get in the air, despite the time of year.