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17 – 20 Nov 1915. Chingford


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.

Chingford to Ruislip

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!

  1. Think you’ll find that Sagittarius Rising was Cecil Lewis ( C A Lewis) . C S Lewis was the English professor and popular theologian, and his WW1 service was strictly on the ground.

  2. True, oh King. I’ll fix it!

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