Friday, October 4, 2013

The Friday Flyby - 04 October

French Blériot XI
In the early days of World War I, the aircraft flown by every nation were fragile things. Made of wood, canvas and wire, with small engines. Remember, the war started in August of 1914, the Wright brothers made their first flight scarcely 11 years before that, in December of 1903. And if you look closely at that aircraft above, you can see she owes much to her ancestor, the Wright Flyer.

However, the men who flew these aircraft into combat were brave beyond belief. Going aloft in such a frail craft, then fighting with other aircraft, thousands of feet above the ground. Now admittedly, in the early days you had to be extremely unlucky to get hit, let alone shot down, by another aviator potting at you with a rifle or pistol. But it did happen.

If your aircraft began to burn, you had three choices: 1) pray that the fire would go out (which could happen, but rarely did), 2) you could stay with your bird and risk burning to death before being able to set your flaming machine down somewhere or 3) jump. Did I mention that these men flew without parachutes?

As promised last week, today we look at some of the French aces of the Great War. Ever wonder where the term "ace" (as applied to fighter pilots) came from? Read about 2nd Lieutenant Pégoud.

2Lt Adolphe Célestin Pégoud
Le Roi du Ciel
(The King of the Sky)

Six Aerial Victories
1889 - 1915
Killed in Action at 26 Years Old

From Wikipedia:
Adolphe Célestin Pégoud (13 June 1889 - 31 August 1915) was a French aviator and flight instructor, who became the first fighter ace of World War I.
Pégoud served in the French Army from 1907 to 1913. Immediately thereafter he began flying, earned his pilot's certificate, and in a few months, on 21 September 1913, as a test pilot for Louis Blériot, in a Blériot model XI monoplane and in a series of test flights exploring the limits of airplane maneuvers, he flew a loop, believing it to be the world's first. Pégoud's feat was consequently widely publicized and believed by many to be the first loop, although Pyotr Nesterov, a Russian army pilot, had flown the first one on 9 September 1913, just 12 days earlier, in a Nieuport IV monoplane at an army airfield near Kiev. Pégoud also was the first pilot to make a parachute jump from an airplane. He also became a popular instructor of French and other European fledgling pilots.
At the start of World War I, Pégoud volunteered for flying duty and was immediately accepted as an observation pilot. On 5 February 1915, he and his gunner were credited with shooting down two German aircraft and forcing another to land. Soon he was flying single-seat aircraft and in April claimed two further victories. His sixth success came in July.
It is not known how many of Pégoud's victories involved destruction of enemy aircraft, as early air combat was rare enough to warrant credit for a forced landing. However, it is certain that Pégoud, rather than Roland Garros (three documented victories), was the first pilot to achieve ace status of any sort.
On 31 August 1915, Pégoud was shot down by one of his prewar German students, Unteroffizier Kandulski, while intercepting a German reconnaissance aircraft. He was 26 years old. The same German crew later dropped a funeral wreath above the French lines.
Pégoud's Loop
As 2Lt Pégoud was the first ace of World War One, he is, by extension, the first ace of all time. (Note that the term "ace" was first used by French newspapers, describing Adolphe Pégoud as l'as (the ace), after he had shot down five German aircraft.)

Colonel René Fonck
75 Aerial Victories
1894 - 1953
From Wikipedia:
René Paul Fonck was a French aviator who ended the First World War as the top Allied fighter ace, and when all succeeding aerial conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries are also considered, Fonck still holds the title of "all-time Allied Ace of Aces". He received confirmation for 75 victories (72 solo and three shared) out of 142 claims. Taking into account his probable claims, Fonck's final tally could conceivably be nearer 100 or above. He was made an Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1918 and later a Commander of the Legion of Honor after the war.
Colonel Fonck and His Spad XIII
Captain Georges Guynemer
53 Aerial Victories
1894 - 1917
Killed in Action at 22 Years Old
From Wikipedia:
Guynemer failed to return from a combat mission on 11 September 1917. The previous week had been one of mechanical ills, in both his assigned aircraft and the ones he borrowed. At 08:30, with rookie pilot Jean Bozon-Verduraz, Guynemer took off in his Spad XIII S.504 n°2. His mission was to patrol the Langemark area. At 09:25, near Poelkapelle, Guynemer sighted a lone Rumpler, a German observation plane, and dove toward it. Bozon-Verduraz saw several Fokkers above him, and by the time he had shaken them off, his leader was nowhere in sight, so he returned alone. Guynemer never came back.
Neither the wreckage of his airplane, his body, nor his personal effects were ever found, but the Germans announced that he had been shot down by Lt. Kurt Wissemann of Jasta 3, who in turn was killed in action 17 days later. French schoolchildren of the time were taught that Guynemer had flown so high, he couldn't come back down again. At the time of his death, he had tallied 53 victories. In all, he survived being shot down seven times, despite not having a parachute. It is not clear if he was killed in the crash of his plane or if he survived, only to be shot on the ground in no-man's land. Some speculate that his aircraft may have been blown apart by artillery shells.

Guynemer's Spad VII preserved at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace
Lieutenant Charles Nungesser
43 Aerial Victories
1892 - 1927
We've met Lieutenant Nungesser before, here.

From Wikipedia:
Despite being a decorated pilot, Nungesser was placed under house arrest on more than one occasion for flying without permission. He disliked strict military discipline and went to Paris to enjoy its many pleasures (such as alcohol and women) as often as possible. He was a leading fighter pilot, whose combat exploits against the Germans were widely publicized in France. Nungesser's rugged good looks, flamboyant personality, and appetite for danger, beautiful women, wine and fast cars made him the embodiment of the stereotypical flying ace. He would sometimes arrive for morning patrol still dressed in the tuxedo he'd worn the night before and even occasionally with a female companion. In contrast to the unsociable but nonetheless top French ace René Fonck, Nungesser was well liked by his comrades. Yet Nungesser suffered a very bad crash on 6 February 1916 that broke both his legs, and he would be injured again many times. He was often so hobbled by wounds and injuries that he had to be helped into his cockpit.
Lt. Nungesser was a fighter pilot who would fit right into any squadron of fighter pilots, anywhere, at any time in history. The kind of guy you want to follow. The kind of guy who in peacetime, is anathema to the brass. But who in wartime, is the guy the brass can't wait to have their pictures taken with.

As you can see, Hollywood did not exaggerate by much these early hunters in the sky.

Nungesser and His Nieuport 17
Nieuport 17
So those four men are amongst my pantheon of heroes. Don't let anyone, ever, tell you that Frenchmen don't know how to fight. Tell it to Pégoud, Fonck, Guynemer and Nungesser. Those lads were fighters!

Faites attention! Les Boches!
Morane-Saulnier Bullet
(One of my favorite models as a kid!)
Au Revoir!
Next time, the pilots of Britain and the Commonwealth.


  1. I can't help but imagine those guys and their contemporaries would be stunned by the speeds, and distances, at which aerial combat takes place today.
    I'd like to be a fly on the wall listening to their conversations.

    1. That would be interesting. Interesting indeed.

  2. He disliked strict military discipline and went to Paris to enjoy its many pleasures (such as alcohol and women) as often as possible.

    Finally, an Ossifer and a Gentleman with whom I have sumthin' in common. (Well, that's not ENTIRELY true, coz there's VX.)

    1. Jeepers! I can just picture you, VX and Nungesser tearing up some bistro in Paris.

      What a sight that would be!

  3. Great post! Unfortunately we have our own Franco-American heroes from that period that have been shoved down the memory-hole. I'm thinking in particular of one fellow Prairie Stater of French-Canadian extraction named John Moisant (1868-1910) who was an aviator, (first to carry passengers across the English channel, won numerous air races--look him up on Wiki--his sister was the second woman in US to get a pilots license) aeronautical engineer (built the first all-metal airplane) flight instructor businessman (sugar-cane plantations in El Salvador--where he made his money and led two failed revolutions and coup attempts against President Figueroa in 1807& 1908--a real character.) He was killed when his plane crashed at stockyards in Kenner, louisiana (where the airport now is. The airport was for years named Moisant Field in his honor and, although re-named Armstrong International still carries its original identifier "MSY" for Moisant Stock-Yards.

    And while I am disappointed in the renaming of the field, I understand why it was done in 2001 by a black city Administration who wanted to honor old Louie who, truth be told, had been treated badly by his old birthplace during his lifetime, so it was a way to make amends as well as bring greater name recognition to New Orleans because unfortunately NO ONE outside of a few knew who Moisant was.

    The place where Moisant is buried is interesting also. He is buried in Los Angeles in at Valhalla Memorial Cemetery , later moved to a different section of it called Portal of Folded Wings Shrine To Aviation Google both names as the shrine pictured is VERY impressive but you'll see how the aesthetics were ruined by the addition of one of the Space Shuttles at the entrance. One has the pic before and the other the same pic after, so you'll see what I mean. Even worse, they had to cut down scores of beautiful trees lining residential neighborhood streets to move the damn shuttle thru the city from the airport to the shrine.

    1. Excellent information VX. I did Google, Mr Moisant, a very impressive aviator! (A fellow cat lover!)

      I see what you mean about that shrine, the space shuttle doesn't fit.

      Perhaps one of these days I need to do a non-military Friday Flyby. I could feature Mr Moisant and his sister. Not to mention, the Wright brothers, Amelia Earhart and other civilian aviation pioneers. After all, their efforts did much to advance military aviation.

      We military-types sometimes forget the civvies. To our loss at times!

  4. Great stuff, Sarge. Beautiufl pics and wonderful airplanes. And I'd never heard of these French guys before. Your point about the French and fighting is well taken. BTW The first model airplane I built was a solid wood, DC3. The second was a piece kit of a fat little F4F Wildcat. I really had fun with that one; it's still one of my favorite warplanes of all time..

    1. Thanks Dan!

      Can't go wrong with either the DC3 or the Wildcat. Both great birds.


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