Flight Sub-Lieutenant Alton Learner, on a reconnaissance mission flying from St-Pol-sur-Mer to the Front in the area of Loos, was killed while trying to make a dead-stick landing at Le Gorgue airfield.

While flying around 6500 feet above the lines near Neuve-Chapelle, his BE2c sustained a "system failure". Turning back from the front and trying for the nearest airfield while the engine gradually lost RPMs, he descended as quickly as seemed possible. Finally the engine stopped and Learner turned off the ignition, hoping to prevent a fire.

On the approach to Le Gorgue airfield, he had lost too much altitude and struck the trees just to the SW of the airfield which proved fatal both to him and his observer.

This was my first pilot loss. As I started this pilot, my first, as a "learning" experience in the RNAS in March of 1915, it is quite historical that a problem with his aircraft led to his demise. He flew a lot of QC missions in various aircraft to practice take-offs, landings and to learn the area around St-Pol-sur-Mer. Just after the Pfalz EIII was added to WOFF he actually had an encounter with one which his observer/gunner fired on. The EA was seen diving towards the ground smoking. It is somewhat ironical that the claim for this, my only EA encounter, was rejected as part of the process of closing out Learner's career in WOFF.

I suppose the lesson learned here is that I should have tried for safe looking field, pasture or road while I could rather than trying for that airfield. I only saw the red warning of the system failure under the TAC [I had the flight instructor turned on] out of the corner of my eye. I doubted what I had seen and continued for a few moments until I saw the RPMs dropping. I descended rather precipitously [perhaps too much so] trying to get down to a low altitude for landing at the airfield. Maybe I should have held onto as much altitude as possible until I was over the airfield and then spiraled down to a landing on the airfield or a nearby field.

C'est la guerre

Last edited by BKCason; 07/19/15 09:51 PM. Reason: corrections to spelling and missing words

Ben Cason
"I shall endeavor to persevere" - Chief Dan George in "Outlaw Josey Wales"