TRAINING AN AIRPLANE PILOT
Any ordinary, active man can fly.
That is to say, any man with nerve enough to take
a cold bath or drive an automobile down Fifth Avenue
can maintain himself in the air with an airplane, and
turn into a good pilot with practice. In other
words, the regular man who rides in the Subway, who
puts on a straw hat on May 15th or 20th, as the case
may be, has not only the right to be in the air, but
owes it to himself to learn to fly.
Any one with a reasonable amount of
intelligence can be made a good pilot. He need
not hold a college degree, or even a high-school diploma,
tucked away in some forgotten place. If he has
the sense of touch of the normal man, the sense of
balance of a normal man, can skate, or ride a bicycle,
he should be in the air, flying. There is a difference
between the war or army pilot and the peace-time flier
yet to be developed.
War flying calls for highly trained
men, a man who has proved himself fit for combat under
all conditions, a man who can shoot straight, think
quickly, and turn immediately. He must possess
a little more than the average nerve, perhaps, or
he must be trained to the point where shooting and
maneuvering are the natural reactions to certain circumstances.
He must be able to stand altitudes of 20,000 feet;
he must be quick with his machine-gun, have a knowledge
of artillery, and know, in fact, a little about everything
on the front he is trying to cover. This requires
training and aptitude.
The day is coming for the man who
wants to make a short pleasure flight, or go from
town to town, touring by air. He need know nothing
of machine-guns or warfare. He may never want
to do anything more hazardous in the way of maneuver
than a gentle turn. His maximum altitude would
be perhaps 8,000 feet. He would in all probability
be flying a machine whose “ceiling” was
10,000 feet, and he might never care to tour at a
height higher than 2,000 feet. There is no reason
why he should go high. One can have all the thrills
in the world at 2,000 feet, follow the ground more
easily, without wasting time or gasolene in attempts
to fly high enough so that the earth looks like another
Let us illustrate a bit from the Royal
Air Force of Canada, which is as good as any other
example. The experience of the flying service
of one country has been essentially that of another
country, and we Americans may yet learn of the air
from the English. In England the air is just
another medium of travel, as much a medium as the ground
and water but that is, of course, another
In 1917 the Royal Flying Corps, later
incorporated into the Royal Air Force, came to Canada
to take up the instruction of Canadian boys for flying
in France. Americans enlisted with the pick of
the Canadian youth, and droves were sent overseas.
Very soon the cream had been skimmed off and there
came a time when material was scarce. Meanwhile
the war raged, and there was no option but to take
drafted men from all sections, Montreal in particular.
Many could not speak intelligible English, and few
had enjoyed any educational advantages. The men
who came as cadets to be trained as pilots in 1918
graded much lower in personal and physical qualifications
than the type of the previous year. And yet these
same drafted men, who had withstood for three and
a half years the call of their country, had more control
over their machines at the end of their course than
the men of the year before.
At the end of four, five, or six hours’
solo these men could do all the high maneuvers, commonly
thought dangerous, such as the barrel roll, the loop,
the stall turn, the Immelmann turn. An astounding
showing compared to the boys of 1917, who were forbidden
to stunt and who rarely disobeyed the orders.
In our American service we had specially selected
men. They were college men, tested, qualified,
and picked. But our men and it’s
no reflection on them seldom did their
higher maneuvers with less than fifty hours of solo
There is just one answer it
is a matter entirely of training.
It might be said that the Canadian
casualties on the Texas flying-fields near Fort Worth
during the winter of 1917-18, when the Royal Air Force
occupied two airdromes, were the cause of comment all
over the country. There were fifty fatalities
in twenty weeks of flying, and machine after machine
came down in a fatal spinning-nose dive, or tail spin,
as the Americans speak of the spin.
Shortly after the Royal Air Force
returned to its airdromes in Canada in the middle
of April the Gosport system of flying training, which
had been used successfully in England, was begun on
the Curtiss J.B-type training-plane. The
result was an immediate and material decrease in fatal
accidents. In July, 1918, there was one fatality
for every 1,760 hours of flying, and by October fatalities
had been reduced to one in every 5,300 hours of flying.
That is a remarkable achievement, as official data
from other centers of training show one death in a
flying accident for every 1,170 hours.
Briefly, the Gosport system is a graduated
method of flying instruction. The cadet is led
by easy steps through the earlier part of the training,
and only after he has passed aerial tests in the simpler
methods of control is he allowed to continue with the
rest of his course and “go solo.”
The scheme provides that before he goes solo he must
have spun, and shown that he can take his instructor
out of a spin. Only then is he considered fit
to go on his own.
“Dangerous” and “Safe”
as terms to describe flying technique gave way to
wrong and right. There was built up under sound
instruction one of the best schools of flying in North
America, the School of Special Flying, at Armour Heights,
Ontario. There is no reason why there should
not be established in this country a number of such
schools, under men who have had army experience, to
train great numbers of civilian fliers within the
next few years. There is going to be a strong
demand for the best flying instruction that can be
given. It should be noted that only the most
perfect system of flying instruction should be used,
for the best is safest, and the safest, no matter
how expensive, is comparatively cheap.
There is no reason why there should
be an extended period of ground instruction for the
non-military pilot of the future. He should be
taught the elementary principles of the theory of flight,
should know something about the engine with which
he is going to fly, and understand some things about
the rigging of his airplane. The details could
come to him in constant association with the airplane
before, during, and after each flight. No time
need be spent on such subjects as artillery observation,
machine-gunnery, wireless, bombing, photography, patrol
work, and other subjects of a purely military nature,
on which so much stress has been laid in training army
“What is an airplane?”
Before going ahead with the method of Gosport instruction
every pupil is given a lecture on the ground in which
he is asked that question. One definition which
was passed out to us in Canada was, “An airplane
is a machine....” At this point the flight
sergeant in charge of rigging would look dreamily into
the distance. “An airplane is a machine....”
he would begin again with an air of utter despondency.
That was certainly no news to cadets. They had
an idea that it might be a machine, and wanted to
know more about it.
“An airplane is a machine with
lift-generating surfaces attached to a frame which
carries an engine, fuel, aviator, and devices by which
he steers, balances, and controls his craft,”
the mournful flight sergeant was finally able to convince
Lift-generating surfaces these
are the bases of all flying. Every one knows,
for instance, that a paper dart, instead of falling
directly to the floor, sails in a gliding angle for
some distance before crashing. Lift is generated
under those plane surfaces moving through the air and
the lift keeps that paper dart gliding. Little
eddies of air are compressed under its tiny wings.
Imagine an engine in the dart, propelling it at some
speed. Instead of having to nose down to get
enough speed to generate lift under its wings, the
dart would be able to fly on the level, or even climb
Just so with an airplane. A gliding
airplane about to land with power shut off is that
paper dart on a large scale. The airplane flying
is the dart with power. To make the airplane
safe to fly, to give control to the pilot so that
he may steer it where he wants to, there is a rudder,
moved by a rudder-bar under the foot of the pilot.
It is impossible to turn a swiftly moving airplane
in the air by the rudder alone. It must be banked
to prevent skidding, even as a race-track is banked
high on the turns. On its side an airplane will
cushion its own bank of proper degree by the use of
ailerons. These ailerons are sections of the
wing-tips which may be moved either up or down.
They are counterbalanced so that movement of the left
down gives you the right aileron up. With left
aileron down, the lift of the left wing is increased,
and it tips up; at the same time the lift of the right
wing is decreased, and it sags down. In that
way the airplane is tipped up for a bank. These
ailerons, wing sections, really, are controlled by
a device known as the joy-stick in the cockpit.
We have seen how an airplane is made
to tip and turn. Before a machine is under control
we must be able to climb, or come down to the ground
for a landing. Vertical control of an airplane
is attained by the use of elevators, flaps on the
tail plane acting as horizontal rudders. A pull-back
on the joy-stick lifts the flaps, raises the nose of
the machine, and causes it to gain height. Push
the joy-stick forward, the elevators are turned down,
and the machine goes into a dive for the ground.
In making many maneuvers all three controls, rudder,
ailerons, and elevators, are used at once and the
pilot feels his way with the machine, guiding it with
the stick and the rudder-bar.
After the explanation of the use of
these controls, and their demonstration on the machine
as it awaits its turn in the air, the pupil is taken
up for his first ride strictly a joy ride,
and not always joyous for those who take every chance
to be seasick. After he has a glimpse of what
the ground looks like from the air, and has recovered
from his first breathless sweep off the ground, the
pupil is given a lesson in the demonstration of controls.
The instructor explains through a speaking-tube attached
to his helmet the very simple principles. Forward
with the stick to nose down, back to lift it up, left
stick tilts the machine over on its left wing, and
right stick banks it to the right. Right stick
and right rudder, in proper proportions, turn the
machine to the right, left stick and left rudder to
take the machine out of the turn and fly it straight
Then the wonderful moment when the
instructor calls through the tube, “All right,
now you take the stick.” You clutch it as
though it were the one straw in a great ocean.
“Not so hard,” comes the voice. “Now
put your feet gently on the rudder-bar. Not so
rough; easier, man, easier on that stick!” For
a glorious moment she is yours, you hold her nose
up, and you are flying an airplane tearing over the
checkerboard country far below.
Then, like the voice of doom:
“Now, do a gentle turn to the left. Don’t
forget to give her rudder and stick at the same time.
That’s right. Begin the motion with your
feet and hands at the same time.” The world
swings furiously, and down below that left wing-tip
a little farm sways gently.
“Now you are in a gentle turn feel
that breeze on your cheek? We are side-slipping;
give her a touch more of left rudder. Not so much.
Now your nose is dropping; pull back on the stick.
Back! Not forward! Back! Now your
nose is too high; take us out, and don’t
forget that opposite stick and rudder.
“Now fly straight for a few
minutes. Your right wing is low bring
it up. Your nose is too high. Now it is
too low. Keep it so that the radiator cap is
above the horizon. That’s right.”
So goes the business of instruction
through the lessons on straight flying, gentle turns,
misuse of controls, side-slipping, and approach, take-off,
and landing. The trips should average thirty-five
or forty minutes, long enough to teach the lesson,
but not long enough to weary the pupil. Here
at take-off and landing the pupil finds himself up
against the most difficult part of his training.
He has the problem of stopping a large machine weighing
a ton or more, traveling at a landing speed of forty
to fifty miles an hour, with the center of gravity
just balanced over the under-carriage. An error
in judgment will pile the machine up on its nose with
a crashed propeller, and perhaps two broken wings
and damaged under-carriage. Not a dangerous accident
for the pilot, but very humiliating.
Army practice has shown that a pupil
should have about sixty practice landings dual, that
is to say, coached and helped by his instructor.
By this time he has a total flying time of six to twelve
hours. At this point, before he goes solo, the
Gosport system provides that he shall be taken to
a reasonably safe height for the practice of high
maneuvers. At a height of say two thousand five
hundred feet the instructor shows him how a stalled
machine falls into a spin. The question of teaching
higher maneuvers to civilian pilots is open to argument.
As soon as the instructor shuts off
the engine the machine rapidly loses flying speed.
It reaches a point where there is not enough air passing
over the wing surfaces to support the plane in the
air. Her nose begins to drop, and he pulls the
stick back. The stick is full back, she stalls,
topples over on her side, and plunges nose first.
The instructor kicks on full rudder, and the world
whirls below like a top, and the air whistles, swish,
swish, swish, in the wires at every turn. Stick
forward, opposite rudder, and she comes out so fast
that your head swims. That is the spin.
“Now you try it,” says
the instructor. For there is nothing to a spin
unless a machine does not come out of it a
rare thing if the plane is properly handled.
The pupil is now ready to go solo, and for the first
couple of hours’ solo flying he does nothing
but make circuits around the field, landing and taking
off. Then his instructor takes him dual for forced-landing
practice, business of getting down into a field within
gliding range by gliding turns. Then the pupil
tries it solo, throttling down for the practice, a
most valuable experience which increases the confidence
of the pilot. He learns to use his own judgment
and to gauge height and ground distance as it appears
from the air.
After three or four hours of solo
time the pupil is scheduled for another demonstration
of higher maneuvers, spinning and the stall turn.
For the stall turn the pilot noses the machine down
to get an air speed of seventy-five miles an hour.
A little bank, stick back, she rears into the air
with her nose to the sky and propeller roaring.
Full rudder and throttle off. In silence she drops
over on her side into the empty air; blue sky and
green fields flash by in a whirl. She hangs on
her back while the passengers strain against the safety
belts, and then her nose plunges. The air shrieks
in the wires as the ground comes up at terrific speed.
It is time for the pupil to go up
for his solo spin under the plan adopted for army
purposes. Up, up, up the pupil flies, three thousand
feet, and the ground below looks soft and green.
Would it be soft to hit in a spin from that height?
It would not. Have people ever spun that far?
he wonders. They have. Have machines ever
failed to come out of a spin and killed the pilot?
The answer is too obvious. With faith in nothing
in particular, and with his mind made up that one can
die but once in a spin, he stalls and spins her and
comes out. He is so surprised and exhilarated
that he tries it again before he loses his nerve.
Yet again. The pupil is a pilot, the air has no
terrors, and he has learned the oldest truth of flying,
that there is nothing to a spin unless you don’t
The natural result of training a pupil
along those lines is that he graduates rapidly into
a good stunting pilot. He realizes that he cannot
tempt the devil at three hundred feet and hope to live,
but he takes a good altitude, throws his machine upside
down, and knows that, given enough air, he must come
out. He does come out unless he loses complete
control of his mind and body. With fifteen hours
of solo flying the pupil has really become a pilot.
He is beginning to show that he can control his machine.
From then on it is a question of the polishing of
the nice points, making his forced landings perfect,
not side-slipping a foot on his vertical banks, and
coming out of spin so that he always faces the airdrome all
of which distinguish the good pilot from the poor