CHAPTER XLIV. The First Englishman to Fly Upside Down
After M. Pegoud's exhibition of upside-down flying in this country it was only to be expected that British aviators would emulate his daring feat. Indeed, on the same day that the little Frenchman was turning somersaults in the air at Brooklands Mr. Hamel was asking M. Bleriot for a machine similar to that used by Pegoud, so that he might demonstrate to airmen the stability of the aeroplane in almost all conceivable positions.
However, it was not the daring and skilful Hamel who had the honour of first following in Pegoud's footsteps, but another celebrated pilot, Mr. Hucks.
Mr. Hucks was an interested spectator at Brooklands when Pegoud flew there in September, and he felt that, given similar conditions, there was no reason why he should not repeat Pegoud's performance. He therefore talked the matter over with M. Bleriot, and began practising for his great ordeal.
His first feat was to hang upside-down in a chair supported by a beam in one of the sheds, so that he would gradually become accustomed to the novel position. For a time this was not at all easy. Have you ever tried to stand on your hands with your feet upwards for any length of time? To realize the difficulty of being head downwards, just do this, and get someone to hold your legs. The blood will, of course, "rush to the head", as we say, and the congestion of the blood-vessels in this part of the body will make you feel extremely dizzy. Such an occurrence would be fatal in an aeroplane nearly a mile high in the air at a time when one requires an especially clear brain to manipulate the various controls.
But, strange to say, the airman gradually became used to the "heels-over-head" position, and, feeling sure of himself, he determined to start on his perilous undertaking. No one with the exception of M. Bleriot and the mechanics were present at the Buc aerodrome, near Versailles, when Mr. Hucks had his monoplane brought out with the intention of looping the loop.
He quickly rose to a height of 1500 feet, and then, slowly dipping the nose of his machine, turned right over. For fully half a minute he flew underneath the monoplane, and then gradually brought it round to the normal position.
In the afternoon he continued his experiments, but this time at a height of nearly 3000 feet. At this altitude he was flying quite steadily, when suddenly he assumed a perpendicular position, and made a dive of about 600 feet. The horrified spectators thought that the gallant aviator had lost control of his machine and was dashing straight to Earth, but quickly he changed his direction and slowly planed upwards. Then almost as suddenly he turned a complete somersault. Righting the aeroplane, he rose in a succession of spiral flights to a height of between 3000 and 3500 feet, and then looped the loop twice in quick succession.
On coming to earth M. Bleriot heartily congratulated the brave Englishman. Mr. Hucks admitted a little nervousness before looping the loop; but, as he remarked: "Once I started to go round my nervousness vanished, and then I knew I was coming out on top. It is all a question of keeping control of your nerves, and Pegoud deserved all the credit, for he was the first to risk his life in flying head downwards."
Mr. Hucks intended to be the first Englishman to fly upside down in England, but he was forestalled by one of our youngest airmen, Mr. George Lee Temple. On account of his youth - Mr. Temple was only twenty-one at the time when he first flew upside-down - he was known as the "baby airman", but there was probably no more plucky airman in the world.
There were special difficulties which Mr. Temple had to overcome that did not exist in the experiments of M. Pegoud or Mr. Hucks. To start with, his machine - a 50-horse-power Bleriot monoplane - was said by the makers to be unsuitable for the performance. Then he could get no assistance from the big aeroplane firms, who sought to dissuade him from his hazardous undertaking. Experienced aviators wisely shook their heads and told the "baby airman" that he should have more practice before he took such a risk.
But notwithstanding this lack of encouragement he practised hard for a few days by hanging in an inverted position. Meanwhile his mechanics were working night and day in strengthening the wings of the monoplane, and fitting it with a slightly larger elevator.
On 24th November, 1913, he decided to "try his luck" at the London aerodrome. He was harnessed into his seat, and, bidding his friends farewell, with the words "wish me luck", he went aloft. For nearly half an hour he climbed upward, and swooped over the aerodrome in wide circles, while his friends far below were watching every action of his machine.
Suddenly an alarming incident occurred. When about a mile high in the air the machine tipped downwards and rushed towards Earth at terrific speed. Then the tail of the machine came up, and the "baby airman" was hanging head downwards.
But at this point the group of airmen standing in the aerodrome were filled with alarm, for it was quite evident to their experienced eyes that the monoplane was not under proper control. Indeed, it was actually side-slipping, and a terrible disaster appeared imminent. For hundreds of feet the young pilot, still hanging head downwards, was crashing to Earth, but when down to about 1200 feet from the ground the machine gradually came round, and Mr. Temple descended safely to Earth.
The airman afterwards told his friends that for several seconds he could not get the machine to answer the controls, and for a time he was falling at a speed of 100 miles an hour. In ordinary circumstances he thought that a dive of 500 feet after the upside-down stretch should get him the right way up, but it really took him nearly 1500 feet. Fortunately, however, he commenced the dive at a great altitude, and so the distance side-slipped did not much matter.