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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
Other German machines which are used in the military service are the Gotha and the Albatross. The former is a monoplane, and here again the influence of Etrich upon German aeroplane developments is strongly manifested, the shape of the bird's wing being retained. In the Gotha the truss which Etrich introduced is a prominent characteristic. The Albatross is a biplane, but this craft has proved to be somewhat slow and may be said to be confined to what might be described as the heavier aerial military duties, where great endurance and reliability are essential. As the war proceeds, doubtless Teuton ingenuity will be responsible for the appearance of new types, as well as certain modifications in the detail construction of the existing machines, but there is every indication that the broad lines of Etrich's conception will be retained in all monoplanes.
There is one point in which Germany has excelled. Wood is not employed in the construction of these heavier-than-air craft. Steel and the lighter tough alloys are exclusively used. In this way the minimum of weight consistent with the maximum of strength policy is carried out. Moreover the manufacture of component parts is facilitated and accelerated to a remarkable degree by the use of metal, while the tasks of fitting and repairing are notably expedited by the practice of standardisation. Germany is also manifesting commendable enterprise in the perfection of light powerful motors for these dynamic machines. The latest types of explosion-motors range from 100 to 150 horse-power; the advantages of these are obvious.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities the French possessed an enormous number and variety of aeroplanes and this aerial fleet had been brought to a high standard of organisation. The aerial fleet is sub-divided into squadrons called "escadrilles," each of which comprises six machines and pilots. These units are kept up to strength, wastage being made up from reserves, so as to maintain the requisite homogeneity.
But ere the war had been in progress many weeks an official order was issued forbidding the employment of the Bleriot, Deperdussin, Nieuport, and R.E.P. monoplanes. Those which received official approval included the Caudron, Henry, and Maurice Farman, Morane-Saulnier, and Voisin machines.
This drastic order came somewhat as a thunderbolt, and the reason for the decree has not been satisfactorily revealed. Suffice to say that in one stroke the efficiency and numerical strength of the French aerial navy were reduced very appreciably. For instance, it is stated that there were thirty escadrilles of Bleriot monoplanes together with pilots at the front, in addition to thirty mixed escadrilles of the other prohibited types with their fliers. Moreover a round 33 escadrilles of all the various types were in reserve. The effect of the military order was to reduce the effective strength by no fewer than 558 aeroplanes.
Seeing that the French aerial force was placed at a great disadvantage numerically by this action, there seems to be ample justification for the hostile criticism which the decree of prohibition aroused in certain circles, especially when it is remembered that there was not an equal number of the accepted machines available to take the place of those which had been ruled out of court. One effect of this decree was to throw some 400 expert aviators upon the waiting list for the simple reason that machines were unavailable. Some of the best aviation skill and knowledge which France possesses were affected by the order. It is stated that accomplished aviators, such as Vedrines, were unable to obtain machines.
It will be seen that the ultimate effect of the French military decree was to reduce the number of types to about four, each of which was allotted a specific duty. But whereas three different bi-planes are on the approved list there is only one monoplane-- the Morane-Saulaier. This machine, however, has a great turn of speed, and it is also able to climb at a very fast pace. In these respects it is superior to the crack craft of Germany, so that time after time the latter have refused battle in the skies, and have hurried back to their lines.
The Morane-Saulnier is the French mosquito craft of the air and like the insect, it is avowedly aggressive. In fact, its duties are confined to the work of chasing and bringing down the enemy, for which work its high manoeuvring capacity is excellently adapted. Its aggressive armament comprises a mitrailleuse. Unfortunately, however, the factory responsible for the production of this machine is at present handicapped by the limitations of its manufacturing plant, which when pushed to the utmost extent cannot turn out more than about ten machines per week. No doubt this deficiency will be remedied as the war proceeds by extension of the works or by allotting orders to other establishments, but at the time of the decree the manufacturing capacity was scarcely sufficient to make good the wastage, which was somewhat heavy.
As far as biplanes are concerned the Caudron is the fastest in flight and is likewise extremely quick in manoeuvring. It is a very small machine and is extremely light, but the fact that it can climb at the rate of over 330 feet per minute is a distinct advantage in its favour. It supplements the Morane-Saulnier monoplane in the specific duty of the latter, while it is also employed for discovering the enemy's artillery and communicating the range of the latter to the French and British artillery. In this latter work it has played a very prominent part and to it is due in no small measure that deadly accuracy of the artillery of the Allies which has now become so famous. This applies especially to those tactics, where the field artillery dashes up to a position, discharges a number of rounds in rapid succession, or indulges in rafale firing, and then limbering up, rushes away before the enemy can reply.
As is well known the Farman biplanes possess high endurance qualities. They can remain aloft for many hours at a stretch and are remarkably reliable. Owing to these qualities they are utilised for prolonged and searching reconnoitring duties such as strategical reconnaissances as distinct from the hurried and tactical reconnaissances carried out by fleeter machines. While they are not so speedy as the monoplanes of the German military establishment, endurance in this instance is preferable to pace. A thorough survey of the enemy's position over the whole of his military zone, which stretches back for a distance of 30 miles or so from the outer line of trenches, is of incalculable value to a commander who is contemplating any decisive movement or who is somewhat in doubt as to the precise character of his antagonist's tactics.
The French aerial fleet has been particularly active in its work of raiding hostile positions and submitting them to a fusillade of bombs from the clouds. The machine which is allotted this specific task is the Voisin biplane. This is due to the fact that this machine is able to carry a great weight. It was speedily discovered that in bomb-raids it is essential for an aeroplane to be able to carry a somewhat large supply of missiles, owing to the high percentage of misses which attends these operations. A raid by a machine capable of carrying only, say, half-a-dozen projectiles, is virtually a waste of fuel, and the endurance limitations of the fast machines reacts against their profitable use in this work. On the other hand, the fact that the Voisin machine is able to carry a large supply of bombs renders it an ideal craft for this purpose; hence the official decision to confine it to this work.
So far as the British efforts in aerial work are concerned there is no such display of rigid selection as characterises the practice of the French and German military authorities. Britain's position in the air has been extensively due to private enterprise, and this is still being encouraged. Moreover at the beginning of the war Britain was numerically far inferior both to her antagonist and to her ally. Consequently it was a wise move to encourage the private manufacture of machines which had already established their value. The consequence is that a variety of machines figure in the British aerial navy. Private initiative is excellently seconded by the Government manufacturing aeroplane factory, while the training of pilots is likewise being carried out upon a comprehensive scale. British manufacture may be divided into two broad classes--the production of aeroplanes and of waterplanes respectively. Although there is a diversity of types there is a conspicuous homogeneity for the most part, as was evidenced by the British raid carried out on February 11-12, when a fleet of 34 machines raided the various German military centres established along the coast of Flanders.
Considerable secrecy has been displayed by the British Government concerning the types of machines that are being utilised, although ample evidence exists from the producing activity of the various establishments that all available types which have demonstrated their reliability and efficiency are being turned to useful purpose. The Avro and Sopwith warplanes with their very high speeds have proved remarkably successful.
So far as manufacturing is concerned the Royal Aerial Factory may be said to constitute the back bone of the British aerial fleet. This factory fulfils various purposes. It is not only engaged in the manufacture of machines, and the development of aeroplanes for specific duties, but also carries out the inspection and testing of machines built by private firms. Every machine is submitted to an exacting test before it is passed into the service.
Three broad types of Government machines are manufactured at this establishment. There is that designed essentially for scouting operations, in which speed is the all-important factor and which is of the tractor type. Another is the "Reconnoitring" machine known officially as the "R.E." to-day, but formerly as the "B.E" (Bleriot-Experimental), a considerable number of which are in commission.
This machine is also of the tractor type, carrying a pilot and an observer, and has a maximum speed of 40-50 miles per hour. If required it can further be fitted with an automatic gun for defence and attack. The third craft is essentially a fighting machine. Owing to the introduction of the machine-gun which is fixed in the prow, with the marksman immediately behind it, the screw is placed at the rear. The pilot has his seat behind the gunner. The outstanding feature of these machines is the high factor of safety, which attribute has astonished some of the foremost aviation experts in the world.
Great Britain lagged behind her Continental rivals in the development of the Fourth Arm, especially in matters pertaining to motive power. For some time reliance was placed upon foreign light highspeed explosion motors, but private enterprise was encouraged, with the result that British Motors comparing favourably in every respect with the best productions upon the Continent are now available. Development is still proceeding, and there is every evidence that in the near future entire reliance will be placed upon the native motor.
Undoubtedly, as the war progresses, many valuable lessons will be learned which will exercise an important bearing upon the design and construction of warplanes. The ordeals to which the machines are submitted in military duties are far more severe than any imposed by the conditions of commerce. Accordingly there is every indication that the conflict upon the Continent will represent a distinctive epoch in aeroplane design and construction. Many problems still await solution, such as the capacity to hover over a position, and it is quite possible that these complex and baffling questions will be settled definitely as the result of operations in the field. The aeroplane has reached a certain stage of evolution: further progress is virtually impossible unless something revolutionary is revealed, perfected, and brought to the practical stage.