Sgt. Graham A. Campbell. Hounslow Heath Aerodrome December 11th, 1915.
I did not fly my hour-long circuit yesterday.
The weather had picked up slightly, and the winds were blowing at a higher speed than most felt comfortable taking off in. However, I was up to the challenge, and was ready at 0700, complete in full flying gear, to go up. As I waited for the mechanics to give my machine its final checks and wheel it out, I was kept entertained by watching a pilot of No. 24, practising spinning down in a D.H.2 as their C.O. had demonstrated. Buzzing with excitement, I watched as the pilot would spin down about 200 feet, recover, pull out in a swooping arc just over the tops of the hangars, and lazily climb back up again.
The nose of my B.E. begun to creep out from the hangars, as the No. 24 pilot straightened out at 1200 feet, flicked the rudder while lifting the nose, and promptly fell into another spin. I watched eagerly - for his past two spins I had been especially interested in attempting to see the control surfaces being manipulated in the air to fight the spin. However, something seemed wrong...the D.H.2 had just turned its seventh revolution in the spin...the pilot had consistently pulled out after six before. My excitement turned to concern, and then to horror as the pusher aeroplane spun all the way down, before crashing heavily just behind our hangar. Within seconds, pilots, mechanics, medics, were all running towards the crash, myself included. When I rounded the corner of the hangar, I was met with a grim sight. The D.H.2 had been converted into a crumpled mess of splintered wood, with no discernible shape left to it, save for the one upturned Starboard wing, which had remained somewhat intact. Several men rushed forwards, lifting the limp, bloody pilot out of the wreck and laying him down on the ground. His body looked twisted in a terrible, unnatural way, and he was clearly dead. Feeling faint, I staggered back, before turning away from the gruesome sight and lighting a cigarette with shaky hands. Almost instantly, the cigarette was snatched from my mouth and stubbed out. "Are you mad, man?!" an unfamiliar voice cried. "There's petrol everywhere, you fool!".
Sleep did not come easy that night - my mind presented me with rapidly-flowing images of the crash, then the body of the airman. Teddie and Albie Chapman had seen the smash as well, and were in a similar funk.
However, our training can't be halted on account of one death, and as the Hellhound has pointed out, we will be exposed to a lot more death in France. So, this morning I stood in the same spot, as the B.E.2 was wheeled out. Although this time there were no stunting D.H.2s over the hangars, I still stared at the skies.
When my B.E. was ready, I lethargically clambered into the cockpit, and started up the engine with one of the mechanics. As per usual before every training flight, Andrews appeared alongside my cockpit. "One hour in the air at 3,000 feet. Stay within eyeshot of the Heath". I nodded, pulling my goggles down, and pushed the throttle forwards. The machine obediently took me into the air, and I climbed out Westwards. Nervously, I checked my dashboard. To my dismay, the needle of the airspeed indicator was swinging wildly between 50 and 55 knots - the instrument was malfunctioning! This did nothing for my courage as I let out a shaky breath and gently rolled the machine North, heading again towards London.
Gradually, the memory of the fallen D.H.2 left me, and I relaxed into enjoying the sensation of flight. It was shockingly cold in the chill December air as I reached 2,000 feet, and I resorted to periodically holding the flight stick with my knees and rubbing my legs in a vain attempt to warm myself up. I continued up to 3,000 feet, and only another thousand feet above me hung great white clouds, lazily creeping inland. Fascinated, I looked up at the strange beasts, feeling as though I could reach up and scoop a section of cloud out with my hands. Feeling the familiar thrill of flying, I flew over the top of the Capital, weaving in an S-shape as I looked down at the specks of the people below. Four yellow-white balloons hung silently over Fulham in a small cluster, and I flew over the top of them, grinning as I did so. The cold still cut through me, but I was enjoying myself far too much to take any real notice.
Suddenly remembering that I was supposed to stay within eyeshot of the heath, I reluctantly turned around and headed back to Hounslow - but not before I took the opportunity, being out of the scrutiny of Andrews, to attempt an aileron roll! Tugging on my shoulder-straps beforehand, to make sure I was securely fastened, I yanked the stick to the right, and the B.E dropped its wing, rolled completely on to its side, and begun to turn over upside-down! Just as it did, the image of the dead aviator suddenly flashed into my mind, and for a second I panicked. The B.E. got stuck on its back, and begun slowly diving. Feeling sick with fear, I desperately pulled the stick right again and, to my joy, the B.E. half-rolled back onto its belly and levelled out. I had lost 600 feet in the manoeuvre.
Shaken, but now swelling with pride, I begun to climb back up. I had pulled off my first stunt! Although, I knew that it would be a while before I would have the pluck to try another. For the rest of my hour-long circuit I treated the B.E. very gently - my way of thanking it for not killing me in the aileron roll. Eventually, I checked the clock and saw that it was time to head back.
Andrews was furious on the runway. "Where the bloody hell did you go, Campbell? You were supposed to stay in sight of the aerodrome! What if you'd gotten lost, or crashed, idiot?".
"Sorry, sir" I mumbled, as I could see Freddy and Jacky-Boy over the Captain's shoulder, making faces and laughing at me from a distance.
Jacky-Boy was next to do his hour-long solo, and left around 2 PM. He, too, disappeared from sight. I wonder what kind of stunts he's off doing.