My morning's work consisted of an uneventful mission to drop bombs on German trenches near Lens. Quite a long way to go and pretty sure we damaged nothing but mud.
Back at Abeele with lunch squared away I went off excitedly in search of Mr. Davis, knocking tepidly on the large sliding wooden door of Hanger 1. He seemed to have anticipated my arrival as the door immediately slid noisily open a few feet and he beckoned me inside. Both of the squadrons Bristol Scouts sat inside Buckminster's aircraft had been up this morning protecting our bombing mission and the motor was still making ticks and pings as it cooled in the near freezing temperatures. The machine normally flown by Captain Davis (no relation to Mr. Davis) was nosed into the rear of the hanger with the glow of electric lights around it's port-front side, casting a stark winged silhouette out into the hanger. "Come and see what we have been working on"; Davis motioned for me to follow him around the wing and into the lighted area.
I knew right away what I was looking at ... it was impossible to miss the new contraption mounted to the port side of the aircraft, ahead of the cockpit. A long rod was the most prominent feature, obviously connecting the engine to a very menacing looking Vickers machine gun above. A Vickers gun! And pointed straight ahead through the propeller! No more cock-eyed Vickers. "It's a gun synchronizer" I said, probably sounding a bit dumbfounded. Warren answered "Yes, it has been in the works for some time now. Designed by one of our top engineers, George Challenger. It is run off the oil pump; I am sure you see how it works?" I did ... quite obvious really. "This is one of the first production versions" he stated. "Production?" "Yes, this unit went into production in December but unfortunately a shortage of guns has delayed us in getting this to frontline units. I am here to test it under field conditions and try to head off any problems. The whole thing has been rather rushed; this business of Fokkers shooting down our aircraft has created a bit of a crisis in the parliament and the war office.
I asked if they had put the thing to use yet ... had they been sneaking this into the air without anyone noticing? "Not yet, but soon I hope. We need to test it in action but test firings on the range we have set up behind the hanger have been unimpressive. The temperature swings seem to cause havoc with the push rod, lengthening it and shortening it enough to throw off the operation. I need a sounding board to work out the problem, and you're the only person here with any engineering knowledge. I don't expect you to help me fix the problem, just listen and ask some questions ... might punt my brain out of this hole if you will."
I couldn't say yes fast enough and we proceeded to spend the next two hours going over the whole contraption, him explaining every little detail and me mostly saying 'I see", or "very clever" as I really had little to contribute. He obviously knew the thing inside and out. Surprisingly, as the conversation went along it became obvious that he already knew what the problem was too; the pushrod was just too long and awkwardly angled to work well. But how to fix it? "The motor is 'here' and the gun is 'there' so nothing can be changed." he lamented.
And in a weird flash, I had an idea. "What if the gun wasn't 'there' but you moved it closer to the engine ... mount the gun over on the side of the cowl in front of the lower wing?" He shook his head and seemed perturbed. "That might solve the reliability problem but as a pilot I would expect you, of all people, to realize that the gun has to be aimed, and it's already hard to cock you head over behind the gun where it is now. What use is a weapon that you can't aim?"
"But Warren" I blurted out. "You are missing the entire point! The pilot doesn't have to aim the gun, he just has to aim the aircraft." Davis' face took on a very confused look for just a few seconds and then his eyes widened and he put his hands either side of his head. "Bloody Hell! Of course, how could that not have occurred to me. I am thinking like a bloody infantryman. Aim the gun ... oh how stupid. I wonder if Challenger has thought of this? He must have. Or maybe not. I must telegraph him immediately ... or will I look a complete fool ... or perhaps brilliant. Oh my, oh my." He thanked me profusely for my assistance and rushed away to the Officers Mess in a state of apparent turmoil.
I just looked at the contraption and the Bristol with envy. No matter how much help I had been to Mr, Davis, a lowly 2nd-Lieutenant wasn't going to get his hands on a weapon like this any time soon.