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30 Dec 1915

10/01/2016

Since Christmas, Bunnie has had an eventful time.

Newly arrived pilots were generally given the Voisin III machines to fly first, as they were regarded as more or less indestructible, being made of fabric-covered steel tube. Being two-seaters, the new pilot could be accompanied by a more experienced observer who would be able to help with navigation, point out where the Archie was, and so on.

These are the actual Voisins Bunnie flew, stationed at Imbros.  You can see the radiators mounted on the cabane struts above the pilot. the gun was mounted on the nearside of the nacelle, though they seem to have been removed when not in flight.

These are the actual Voisins Bunnie flew, stationed at Imbros. You can see the radiators mounted on the cabane struts above the pilot. the gun was mounted on the nearside of the nacelle, though they seem to have been removed when not in flight.

It was a pusher two-seater, with an unusual water-cooled radial engine made by Salmsons at the back, the pilot sat just in front of the biplane wings, and the observer in the nacelle with a machine gun mounted on the port side. He could therefore fire ahead and to the left, and downwards, but not to the right or behind. He was able to stand up and move around in the nacelle in order to make observations and aim the gun, and had to trust the pilot not to make any sudden movements of the controls while doing so.

It had a four-wheel undercarriage, and Bunnie said that if you didn’t land it exactly correctly on all four wheels, it would set up a slow pitching motion as it bounced between front and back wheels, and there was nothing you could do to stop it except open the throttle and go around. According to him, the rocking actually continued some way into the air!

On 27 December, he went for a joy ride with Flt Sub Lt Harvey. Actually it was some dual instruction time for Bunnie to get used to the handling and performance and lasted for only ten minutes, after which he was left to have a go on his own. He said that his first landing was ‘…very bad as I did not pancake enough and I landed on the front wheels. Soon got used to machine in air.‘ He had two separate flights in 8501 and 8503 totally in an hour.

This completed his combat training, and the following morning he was sent off in 8502 with an observer called Sassoon for three and a quarter hours gunnery spotting for the 8th corps over Cape Helles on the southern tip of the peninsula. He achieved a lot of firsts on this flight. It was his longest flight so far, his highest (8,200ft), his first time under fire, and it was also the first time he’d ever taken a passenger. The flight was quite eventful – a plug broke soon after takeoff and they returned to get it fixed. He says ‘Archie did not trouble much. Sighted Hun and chased him a short way, but he was a long way off and far too fast.’

He had a day off – presumably due to the weather and today –  on 30th Dec – he took 8502 up again with Midshipman Burnaby, spotting for the guns of HMS Edgar. ‘On starting off, engine refused to pick up as had run her throttled down for a bit after testing her and top cyl had sooted. Archie very active and making good shooting at a point somewhere N.W. of Kythia between six and seven thousand. Otherwise not much trouble. Saw no Huns.‘ By Kythia he obviously meant Krythia, in the centre of the peninsula, and a village that had been much fought-over during the campaign the previous year.

After this, he had a break of four days, then he and Burnaby went up again in 8502. His log book records ‘Spotting for H.M.S.’s Theseus and Grafton. Observer Burnaby. Strong Northerly wind blowing, and banks of cloud 1500 to 6000. One or two very bad bumps in places, quite calm at 8000. Had to give up owing to clouds getting too bad to see target. Very badly blown about when near the ground so pancaked the last 10 ft down. Got caught in a gust which gave me a bit of leeway so landed rather heavily on the back wheel. Was going very slowly, so pulled up almost at once without using brakes. Not at all displeased with landing under the circumstances. Archie shot a fair amount at first but was always low. He gave up when the clouds got bad. No Huns about.

It’s clear he’s quickly becoming a competent and capable pilot who doesn’t panic when things don’t go according to plan.

It is worth noting how they carried out their observation for the guns. Radio communication was very primitive at this stage; unlike today the transmissions were over a very broad range of frequencies, so there was no possibility of more than one transmission at a time, and then only in the most basic Morse code. Before they took off, a map was given to the observer with a simple grid system marked on it, and they were expected to watch the fall of shot and report which grid square it fell in by means of a two-character code. the radio required an enormous trailing aerial which was wound out after takeoff. As a pilot, I would have been a bit nervous of it getting caught up in the propeller, but I don’t know how it was routed.

These spotting missions must have been pretty boring for both pilot and observer, and it’s small wonder that he reports on the state of the  anti-aircraft fire and the possibility of enemy aircraft rather than the results of the gunnery!

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3 Comments
  1. Love the photo!

  2. What does it means “I pancaked”?
    Sorry for the ignorant question.

  3. A pancake was where you slowed the aircraft down a little bit to much before touching down, so that it stalled and dropped the last few feet. With luck, the undercarriage took the strain, but a severe pancake would break the undercarriage and the aircraft ended up on its nose or on its back.

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