CHAPTER VII. AEROPLANES OF WAR
Owing to the fertility of inventors and the resultant multiplicity of designs it is impossible to describe every type of heavier-than-air machine which has been submitted to the exacting requirements of military duty. The variety is infinite and the salient fact has already been established that many of the models which have proved reliable and efficient under normal conditions are unsuited to military operations. The early days of the war enabled those of doubtful value to be eliminated, the result being that those machines which are now in use represent the survival of the fittest. Experience has furthermore emphasised the necessity of reducing the number of types to the absolute minimum. This weeding-out process is being continued and there is no doubt that by the time the war is concluded the number of approved types of aeroplanes of military value will have been reduced to a score or less. The inconveniences and disadvantages arising from the utilisation of a wide variety of different types are manifold, the greatest being the necessity of carrying a varied assortment of spare parts, and confusion in the repair and overhauling shops.
The methodical Teuton was the first to grasp the significance of these drawbacks; he has accordingly carried standardisation to a high degree of efficiency, as is shown in another chapter. At a later date France appreciated the wisdom of the German practice, and within a short time after the outbreak of hostilities promptly ruled out certain types of machines which were regarded as unsuitable. In this instance the process of elimination created considerable surprise, inasmuch as it involved an embargo on the use of certain machines, which under peace conditions had achieved an international reputation, and were held to represent the finest expression of aeronautical science in France as far as aeroplane developments are concerned.
Possibly the German machine which is most familiar, by name, to the general public is the Taube, or, as it is sometimes called, the Etrich monoplane, from the circumstance that it was evolved by the Austrian engineer Igo Etrich in collaboration with his colleague Wels. These two experimenters embarked on the study of dynamic flight contemporaneously with Maxim, Langley, Kress, and many other well-known pioneers, but it was not until 1908 that their first practical machine was completed. Its success was instantaneous, many notable flights being placed to its credit, while some idea of the perfection of its design may be gathered from the fact that the machine of to-day is substantially identical with that used seven years ago, the alterations which have been effected meanwhile being merely modifications in minor details.
The design of this machine follows very closely the lines of a bird in flight - hence its colloquial description, "Taube," or "dove." Indeed the analogy to the bird is so close that the ribs of the frame resemble the feathers of a bird. The supporting plane is shaped in the manner of a bird's distended wing, and is tipped up at the rear ends to ensure stability. The tail also resembles that of a bird very closely.
This aeroplane, especially the latest type, is very speedy, and it has proved extremely reliable. It is very sharp in turning and extremely sensitive to its rudder, which renders it a first-class craft for reconnoitring duty. The latest machines are fitted with motors developing from 120 to 150 horse-power.
The "Taube" commanded attention in Germany for the reason that it indicated the first departure from the adherence to the French designs which up to that time had been followed somewhat slavishly, owing to the absence of native initiative.
The individuality of character revealed in the "Taube" appealed to the German instinct, with the result that the machine achieved a greater reputation than might have been the case had it been pitted against other types of essentially Teutonic origin. The Taube was subsequently tested both in France and Great Britain, but failed to raise an equal degree of enthusiasm, owing to the manifestation of certain defects which marred its utility. This practical experience tended to prove that the Taube, like the Zeppelin, possessed a local reputation somewhat of the paper type. The Germans, however, were by no means disappointed by such adverse criticism, but promptly set to work to eliminate defects with a view to securing an all-round improvement.
The most successful of these endeavours is represented in the Taube-Rumpler aeroplane, which may be described as an improved edition of Etrich's original idea. As a matter of fact the modifications were of so slight, though important, a character that many machines generically described as Taubes are in reality Rumplers, but the difference is beyond detection by the ordinary and unpractised observer.
In the Rumpler machine the wings, like those of the Taube, assume broadly the form and shape of those of the pigeon or dove in flight. The early Rumpler machines suffered from sluggish control, but in the later types this defect has been overcome. In the early models the wings were flexible, but in the present craft they are rigid, although fitted with tips or ailerons. The supporting truss beneath the wings, which was such an outstanding feature of its prototype, has been dispensed with, the usual I-beam longitudinals being used in its stead. The latest machines fitted with 100-120 horse-power Mercedes motors have a fine turn of speed, possess an enhanced ascensional effort, and are far simpler to control