Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc N.124 'Americaine', Bar-le-Duc, France.
August 24th, 1916:
On August 16th, as we had been lounging around in deck-chairs in front of the Bessouneaux, a convoy of trucks pulled into Behonne aerodrome, forming a neat line in the centre of the grass. We watched with keen interest as from the cab of each truck came two horizon-blue figures, and from the lead vehicle appeared a man in a tired grey suit and thick-rimmed glasses. As our intrigue grew, we watched as several large crates were loaded down from the machines and onto the aerodrome. “New planes!” Rumsey ventured. “I hope they’re 11s,” Luf replied, and we all murmured in agreement. Our suspicions were confirmed as a large box was opened to reveal an upper wing, unpainted and shining in bright silver. McConnell passed out cigarettes as we enjoyed the display of the first machine appearing, piece by piece, and being assembled on the grass. As it stood before us and the crates were cleared away, I squinted my eyes in confusion. “That’s not an 11 or a 16!” I cried. “Sacre, you’re right!” came Luf’s voice, and we now excitedly rose to our feet and rushed over to inspect this new machine.
As we approached, we were intercepted by the man in the grey suit. He was a representative of the Nieuport form, and from him we learned that the new type had been christened the Nieuport 17. Admittedly, we were slightly dubious at the man’s claims that it was both as agile as the Nieuport 11 and as fast as the Nieuport 16 - that is, until, he asked who would be first to test the machine. We elected Luf for the job, and the machine was quickly fueled. Rumsey ran off to fetch Luf his combination suit, and McConnell and I quickly helped him into it. We practically dragged a mechanic over to swing the prop, and with one final dubious look Luf shot off into the air.
What followed next was a marvellous display of stunting from our friend. He started first in a climbing spiral, stalling at the top and winging over into a sharp nosedive, pulling up just above the treeline. He then climbed up around the Eastern side of the airfield and performed several loops. On his last, he hung upside-down before allowing his aircraft into an inverted spin. We all gasped as his aircraft fell down for a second or two, but we promptly watched the rudder flick to the side and the aircraft neatly turn out of the spin. Finally, Luf climbed into another stall, standing the Nieuport on its tail, before slipping to the side and, in one fluid sweep, coming in to land.
Immediately we rushed to his side. “Well? Well? What’s it like?” Prince asked, barely able to contain his excitement. A broad grin appeared under Luf’s flying goggles. “It’s as he says. She is magnificent”.
In total, 5 Nieuport 17s were delivered that day, and the mechanics quickly set about readying them for combat flying. Luf inherited the ‘test’ machine, naturally. The next day, 5 more machines arrived. The Nieuport representative handed a clipboard to Thenault. “That’s the last of them! If you just sign this to confirm delivery, I can be out of your way, Capitane”. Thenault blinked in surprise. “The last of them? There are only 10 machines! We have 12 pilots!”. Frowning, the Nieuport representative looked down at his clipboard. “This order only has 10 airframe numbers. But, not to worry. I guarantee you that we shall send your missing machines as soon as we are able”. Thenault let out a quiet “Hmm,” before signing the papers.
That night, Thenault declared that we would draw straws to see who would receive the last 5 machines. Paul Pavelka, a recent arrival, went first, and then one-by-one we drew. I felt my heart sink as I pulled out the shortest straw I had seen yet. By the end of it, Blanchon and I were the unlucky two. Hell with it. Stuck with that damned 16, still!.
On the morning of the 20th I had a very nasty shock. I was leading the patrol into Enemy lines, and we had seen hide nor hair of the Bosche since crossing over. Suddenly, my wingmen became very agitated, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. Suddenly, off my left wing, I realised there were two Aviatiks, flying practically in formation with us! Immediately I ordered the attack, and at once we curved into the side of the Aviatik formation. Johnson and I fired a simultaneous burst at the leading aircraft and it fell into a spin. We then busied ourselves with hunting the other down. Above our heads, two more Aviatiks dropped down from a cloud. It was a gift! As johnson and I stayed on our Bosche, the rest of the flight quickly snapped up the second unfortunate pair of Germans. It had been a fantastic start to the day! Four Bosches downed! Sadly, none of our victories could be confirmed, as they were scored far behind the German lines.
Four days later, on the 24th, we had a go-around with some Fokkers. In the scrap, Blanchon managed to send one down out of control. I watched as the Bosche spun all the way to the ground. "Wait until I have a Nieuport 17!" he cried out later that evening, "Then I shall be the next ace-of-aces!". I sighed, and clapped him on the shoulder. "I don't think we'll be getting our 17s anytime soon, Blanchon. Here's hoping, though".