One Hundred Years Ago

One Hundred Years Ago

1917 - 1919

One Hundred years ago. At 7-25pm on the 8th September 1918 on the Great War Airfield at Scampton in Lincolnshire, an Officer Cadet throttled back the engine of Avro 504K number E3469 and signalled to the ground crew to pull the chocks clear. He adjusted the two levers controlling the fuel mixture to gain full power and took to the air. The flight lasted fifteen minutes reaching at height of 2000 feet. With perhaps a sigh of relief, he had accomplished his first solo flight. This Officer Cadet was my Father. He joined the Royal Flying Corps two days after his eighteenth birthday, on 15th November 1917 at the RFC Depot South Farnborough in Hampshire. The R.F.C. was part of the army at this time, so men would undergo basic training before doing specialised trade training. Many hotels and big house had been commandeered for the men in Hasting. This is where Frederick Nathaniel Martin No 110146 was attached to the No 2 Officer Cadet Wing at Carlisle Place in Hastings. Fred had completed nearly three years as a Motor Mechanic before his service which was an asset in understanding the aircraft engines. When this basic training was completed he was posted to No.6 School of Aeronautics at Bristol on the 23rd February 1918 for a month of lectures learning about aeroplanes, flight and their engines. It was then on to the Armament School at Uxbridge to learn how to fire the Lewis and Vickers guns in which Fred was certified as proficient. No longer were aircraft thought of as an observation tool that the army used, but a fighting machine capable of waging its own war. A Major in the RFC named Robert Smith-Barry who commanded a flight in France in 1916, was so shocked by the incompetence of the new pilots sent to the front, that he developed a new theory of flying instruction. Smith-Barry believed that the pupil should always be in control of the aircraft and the instructor only would use his controls to escape a too-dangerous moment or to conduct and demonstrate more complicated manoeuvres. This was to become known as the Gosport System and is most likely the method used to train Fred when he began flight training on the 1st June 1918 at Scampton in Lincolnshire. Forced Landings and Gliding were early lessons as the engines often cut out; the pilot would have to be able to glide until he got the engine started again or find a suitable landing area. As he progressed more complex manoeuvres were introduced, vertical banks and spirals sometimes climbing to 7000ft. These tactics would be needed by Fred when confronting enemy aircraft. (One such was the Immelmann turn named after Max Immelmann a German pilot ‘Ace’). I quote from the book about the Royal Flying Corps pilots ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ by Joshua Levine. “The pilot would dive past his target, before pulling out of the dive into a loop. At the top of the loop he would perform a half-roll which would leave him in an upright position, with enough height to mount another attack The instructors were officers who had seen service in the war. They may have had an injury or completed their allotted combat hours. Fred had two Canadian trainers, Lt James Vans MacDonald, whose father was of Scottish descent. Another was Lt David Luther Burgess who had joined the Army in Canada. He was seconded to the RFC and during July and August 1917, he was in action in France as an Observer and was awarded the Military Cross. Although most of the training was done in the aerodrome vicinity, reconnaissance flights did take place. The first was over the Humber. Others were flights to Brigg, Market Rasen, Waddington and Harlaxton. There were several tests that took place. The engine was not easy to control and the Avro 504k was capable of using several different engines and tests on running the 80hp and 110hp Le Rhone was noted. Instruction also took place in firing the gun, Fred used 100 rounds, and filming was another skill to learn that he practised. A height test to 7000ft and a cross country test and formation flying were also logged. Fred was entering his final phase of training to be a combat pilot. On the 11th November 1918 Fred was out training. At 08.10 he was accompanied by Lt Burgess doing a duel test in Avro 3462, later he went up on his own practising ‘dog fights’ In Europe, the Powers were gathering to sign the Armistice. He may have known of what was taking place and that it would have a bearing on his own situation. Although the next week was very busy which included a lot of stunt practice and a compass test via Kirton and Lindsey, thereafter training rapidly slowed up. Towards the end of January 1919 four more flight entries were made covering general flying. The last flight entry perhaps may have summed up his situation as his last take-off didn’t last very long, at 11.15 they were up for 5mins to a height 500ft; his remarks were ‘Engine Dud’. His very last entry in his log book was ‘Flying for Week Ending 11th Feb 1919 Nil.’ By the ti

Created by: Colin133273