Amazed by some of the hours the Morane boys have put in. Fantastic.
Fullofit - !!!!!! That's the most iconic aircraft on the front! For god's sake, take care of it!! Another scarily close call for Gaston, and another heart palpitation for myself.
Carrick - good job on busting that balloon! It takes a brave soul to face off against low flak and fly through a fireball...
Sgt. James B. Fullard Escadrille N31 Ochey Aerodrome, France
3 Victories (1 Claim Pending).
May 1st, 1916 (Part 1):
Yesterday, as de Villeneuve had commanded, I awoke early and had my breakfast in the mess. I was alone, save for the eccentric little chauffeur Pierre, who was waiting for me with newspaper in hand, smoking a pipe. He grinned as I walked in. “Là! Là! So, you wrecked your bus, eh? Not to worry. I have a friend at Lemmes who works on the planes. He’ll see to it that you get a fine replacement”. I smiled and nodded, but was a little too tired to reply. My dreams had been populated by rookie Fokkers and careless wingmen.
After we had our breakfast, I clambered into the passenger seat of Pierre’s fiat and we shot off down the country roads at a disturbing speed. The chauffeur made smalltalk with me as we took corners on two wheels and roared down straight roads. Outside, the landscape was a blur save for the faraway trees.
After a hair-raising two-hour drive, we pulled into the aerodrome at Lemmes. It was a large depot, with two separate rows of hangars - one housing Nieuports, Moranes and even two or three of the new English ‘Sopwiths’, and the other housing a gaggle of Caudrons, their towering shapes looking like great beasts resting in the shade. We were met by a slender Lieutenant who, after greeting us disinterestedly, led me to the hangars where the Nieuport Scouts were kept. A scruffy little mechanic with a thick black moustache was waiting for us there, to whom the Lieutenant barked “Dupont! This pilote needs a replacement Nieuport. See to it”. The mechanic nodded once and gestured me into the hangar with a stiff and badly-rehearsed formality. Once the Lieutenant had disappeared, the act was immediately dropped.
“So, you need a Nieuport. You’ve come to the right man! We have a few to choose from. What is it that you wanted? A 10, or an 11? There are a few Nieuport 16s here also. Man, they are fast! But the engine makes them nose-heavy. I saw you arrive with Pierre - you are a friend of his? We’ll have you in the best machine in this depot! Any friend of Pierre’s is a friend of mines”. He winked affably as we stepped into a hangar packed tightly with Nieuport machines. I looked hungrily at the N.16s - with a more powerful Le Rhone engine than the 'Bebe' - but I decided to stick with what I knew. “I’ll take a Nieuport 11” I said to Dupont, the mechanic. He broke into a grin. “A wise choice! The N.16 is faster, but the ’Bebe’ is still the greatest aeroplane ever built by France. Perfectly weighted and still plenty fast for the Bosches. Now, have a look at this one here” - he gestured to a Nieuport 11 that sat in the far corner of the hangar.
“This machine is the best we have, of any type. Not once have I seen her engine fail, and she sings in the air like no other. This, here, is a coucou you can trust. Even the gun is a keeper - on the range it shoots true and hardly jams. Monsieur, if you want a Nieuport 11, it must be this one. Take my word!”.
Admittedly, I saw no outward difference between the Nieuport in front of me and the other N.11s strewn around the hangar, but I had come to trust the judgement of French mechanics and agreed to take the machine back with me. Grinning, he called upon another mechanic to wheel the aircraft out and ready it for flight. As I climbed in, Pierre waved to me and clambered back into his Fiat. “Race you back!” he cried out of the open window, firing up the motor and roaring off onto the country roads once more. Dupont spun my prop, and stepped aside. “Bon Voyage!” he mouthed. I gave him a wave, and lifted off into the sky.
It took me an hour and a half to return to Ochey, and at one point I was sure I could see Pierre’s little Fiat darting along the roads as I flew. I quickly realised I had been right to trust Dupont’s judgement - my new machine felt light and responsive, and the engine never once missed a beat as we flew. I touched down at Ochey, and my ground crew appeared by my side. Thierry whistled approvingly, and grinned. “Now, that is a healthy sounding coucou!. I followed as they wheeled it into the hangar. “Thierry, do you think you could paint my ‘F’ on the side?” I asked him. To my absolute shock it was Souris, the quiet little rigger, who answered. It was the first time I had heard him talk since my arrival at the Escadrille. “Non,” he started, “I have something better suited for you”. I raised an eyebrow inquisitively and he responded with a nervous smile. “Just leave it to me, M’sieur”.
That evening, just as we were finishing our supper, Messier appeared to inform me that the C.O. had put me down for a solo patrol at first light, to test my new machine over the front. After he left, Ortoli nudged me in the ribs. “Just be careful, Fullard. Solo flights are dangerous business. If I were you, I wouldn’t stray too far into the mud”. I thanked him for the warning and turned in for the night.
The next day I found my Nieuport awaiting me on the field, and for the first time I saw Souris’ handiwork. Grinning from ear to ear, I clapped a hand on Thierry’s shoulder as he stood waiting to swing my prop. “Tell Souris it’s perfect!” I said, gesturing to the new embellishment. The mechanic smirked. “He’ll be glad to hear so. The poor young fool was up until just an hour ago working on it by lamplight”.
I climbed in, started my engine and waved the chocks away. As soon as Thierry was clear I gunned the throttle, and my new machine shot forwards like an arrow down the airfield before effortlessly curving upward into the sky. Briefly looking over my map, I decided to make my line patrol at Pont-à-Mousson. The sky was beautifully blue and calm, and I merrily cruised along, curving left and right, pitching up and curving out into shallow dives. My new machine responded easily and willingly to my commands.
As I approached the lines I straightened out and started making long, thorough sweeps of the sky ahead. I decided to take Ortoli’s advice, and stayed close to our own trench lines. I had twenty minutes of eventless flying, and was just beginning to think that I was the only one enjoying the flying weather when I saw a Fokker sailing along low, above his own front lines. Excitedly I turned to give chase, but quickly realised that dropping to near-ground level above the Bosche trenches was suicidal, and so I swung back to parallel him, watching his every movement intently. I was patient. After several minutes, the Bosche abruptly swung his nose to the South and started to drift across and into our lines. I tried to bite back my smile as I dropped my nose to follow.
As the Bosche turned to the East I dove down sharply, dropping under his tail to approach from below and behind. He flew on, unaware. I closed slowly, my heart racing. As I pulled up to get squarely behind him, I saw his helmeted head still pointed forwards. For a second, I recalled the helpless Fokker pilot that had been my 3rd victory, but I blinked the image away and carefully lined up my nose. Holding my breath, I pressed down on the trigger. Bullets slammed through the fuselage and wings of the Fokker, and I saw a flash of pink as his head spun around to look back at me. For a moment I saw his mouth agape in horrified shock underneath his flying goggles, and then he curved away to the side. Effortlessly I zoomed up, hanging in the air above him like an eagle before the attack. However, before I tilted my nose down for my second attack, I saw the Bosche’s propeller start to windmill, then slow to a stop. I flew above and behind him as he glided down, ground-looping once before coming to a halt.
I circled twice, watching with satisfaction as the Fokker pilot shakily climbed from his machine, patted himself down as if disbelieving that he hadn’t been struck by a bullet himself, and finally put his hand over his eyes to shade them from the sun as he watched me circle. I gave him a casual wave, twisted away, and headed for home. Smoke still rose from the downed Fokker, and as I looked back over my shoulder I saw the first licks of flame from under the cowling. Lucky so-and-so...if he was 500 meters higher he would have burned!
I landed back at Ochey and made my report. De Villeneuve smiled coyly as I handed it to him and he scanned over it. “So, the new machine’s a keeper, then?” I laughed, saluted, and headed to the mess for lunch.