Triplane Builder

Articles by Triplane Builder - William (Bill) Woodall

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One Day-Short Story

The night is about over, I'm still awake. Someone from the 'lower deck' will be rousing us soon. I sure won't need that. We have an early morning job coming. I wish I could have slept. .
It's fall now, and there's a bit of a chill in the air.
Here I am in France, it's 1917. Sometimes I wonder what I am doing here? If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get to go home-one day.
Flying must be taking a toll-- thinking to myself like this-I hope that I don't talk in my sleep like others do-- yelling, and re-living missions.
At least it's possible to sleep here-glad I stayed out of the 'poor bloody infantry'---.
This squadron must be looked on a bit differently by the Staff.
All other scout squadrons in the R.N.A.S. have moved on to Camels.
Here we are, still flying triplanes.
Well, as long as the ground staff can keep them fit though-- that's all right with me.
Sure, most of 'em have only one gun to two on the 'Camel-but we can run our Clerget's on gravity, or pressure. They have to go with pressure.
Rotaries are tricky enough without making them that sensitive.
Our 'kites' are pretty shopworn, but the old 'tripehound can still out-climb anything that "Jerry" has put up so far. We even have one that Collishaw used to fly.
My eyes burn like coals, I'll pay for not sleeping before this day is over.
Oh, well-I hear noises in the next hut, I might as well hit the deck and get dressed.
I can probably grab a biscuit and some tea, and still have time to get back here without wearing my Sidcot through breakfast.
The others are quiet, this morning. Too much drink the night before, I suppose. Everyone is just sipping, munching and staring .I think that we will be picking up a flight of R.N.A.S. bombers, and flying high cover for them.
They'll be DH-4's, I suppose.
I wonder what the old 1-1/2 Strutters are doing now? Other things, I guess.
It's funny, when you think of it, the 1-1/2 Strutter is about the only Sopwith, not to pick up an animal nick-name. Well, I suppose that "1-1/2 Strutter" wasn't exactly what the Admiralty planned to call it, when it first came out either.
I am glad the mess hall is so near to my hut. The walk back is just about right to aid digestion.
With my Sidcot on, I can head for the flight line.
The rest are heading there too.
Let's hear what the flight leader has to say-well, not too much to remember--- take off as close together as we can--- form up over the airfield at about a thousand feet-- follow a north east heading to 12,000 feet and look for the bombers-then on to Zeebrugge-- again-
The worst part of a "tripehound" trip is the climb into the cockpit. I'm glad we have this stool-it's a long step without it.--- Duck one set of anti-drags--- step over another-- plant my foot on the plate on the spar of the low wing-- grab the cockpit coaming-get my right foot on the seat-now the other-- grasp the gun braces and slide down--- don't burst through the floor boards!
Ah, I have made it again. I am really swallowed by this aeroplane.
They're still "doping"the engine, so let's belt myself in. The airscrew needs a few more backward turns, as they squirt petrol past all the exhaust valves.
Return the watch to the case on the dash---if I ever lose that, I'm in trouble.
There-they are ready now.
-open the fuel valve and let him know--, set the manette, and the air valve. (I hope that petrol starts dripping from the carburettor, so I don't have to pump up pressure)
Good--- they signal that it's streaming.
Now, partially close up and get the left hand near the magneto switches. They're waiting
For my "Contact" -snap the switches on, (make sure the mitten's not touching the coupe' button)---right- "Contact!"
That air mechanic on the airscrew is really rocking the whole machine with his spin--
There's the first'crack' ,and now another, and another, must have burnt the prime--- the engine is running! Sniff that castor oil smoke in the cockpit!.--- Try to smooth the running by getting the mixture ripe for this morning's humidity..
Ah, there it is.--- Keep those numbers in mind.
Crew's holding me back, so let's go for a wide-open check.
Let's see if she rocks over on one wheel from the torque of the rotary-Aha!, She does!
This is a good engine.
I am getting 1200 RPM--- and it's smooth. All right, back on the levers--, and peek to see how the others are doing. It looks like we are ready to go.
The leader is waving away his chocks---get rid of mine too.
Here I go! Just starting to roll, --keep "blatting" 'til you reach the downwind. The steerable tailskid is a blessing--- don't usually need wing walkers-unless there's a lot of wind
Leader has opened up-Now-my turn. Stick ahead! -- Make sure the nose isn't swinging to port! A couple of skips and the tyres should stop bumping-- the triplane's climb is fantastic! Swivel your head-the other three are climbing as well.
Like he said, we'll be climbing to about a thousand feet.
The leader is now level, so-- slip in on his left, and watch the rest close it up. The air is pretty smooth this early, we're not riding up and down very much.
OK, he's tapped his head so we'll start our climb for our rendezvous. We're well behind the lines, so he probably won't have us do "ess' turns---yet.
Not too many ticks on the watch now, and we're approaching ten thousand feet.
The North Sea is off to port--- the scars of war sure stand out the other way.
The air is much colder.
Still like the view from this aeroplane! Mid-wings stretch right at eye level-upper-wing-ahead -- can see straight up-lower's set so's undercarriage is in view
Always struck with the way these machines seem almost alive. It's as if the control cables are telegraph wires.
Leader swiveling his head-right-- we are at 12,000. He must be looking for the bombers.
Now he's banking to starboard-follow---add bit of power---keep your place--
I can see the DH-4's-they're below and maintaining a tight formation.
They're skirting the coast a bit. That should lessen the "Archie" a little.
Now, he's turned us to port and given the signal to test our guns.
Transfer of hands---pull the cocking lever---press the trip--the Vickers fired a few rounds. No jams-at least not yet.
All right, now's the time to be really alert!--- I hope that I don't get the "wind up". I musn't let the others down.-Keep your mind on the mission!
If we have "visitors" they will be from the East, and the morning sun favors that.
Really rotate the neck. Keep the eyes moving!
Look all of the way back at the tail bracing-again and again!
We must have a tailwind. The ground is moving right along-even from this height.
Well, they have spotted the bombers. 'Archie' has opened up. The black puffs are searching for height, and the DH-4's have begun to jink.
They probably haven't noticed our triplanes yet.
I can see a town coming up in the East. It must be Zeebrugge-I can see the ship canal leading south to Bruges.
The DH's have broken away in a diving turn out to sea.
They must be after shipping in the harbor
Haven't seen any German scouts yet.
I can see some bombs bursting-but from this height, I can't judge about hits.
Wonder how many runs they'll make?---
I can see the DH's climbing back-looks like they are all there.
We're still making this lazy turn to starboard.
I thought that I saw a flash of something off to the southeast--
I wonder if anyone else saw anything?
'Archie has stopped and that is not a good sign. I bet that Jerry has something coming to greet us.
There! Something flashed in the sun again!
The leader hasn't given any sign, so I'm going to!
There, my rocking has their attention. Now point where you thought you saw something!
Ten eyeballs are better than two!
I just hope that, whoever they are, they haven't seen us, and will be going after the DH's down there. We can really give them a surprise from this extra height.
All right! I have a group of what looks like V Strutters in view, and they look to be going after the DH's.
Leader is watching too. I'd best make sure this is the only welcoming committee were facing.-Could anyone else be this high, or higher?-Damn! That sun is tough to see past-even with a mitten up, it is brutal.-Well I didn't see anything-hope there was nothing to see.
The DH's have seen Jerry, and are really closing up tight.
Leader has signaled to dive-stay with him!-pull back on the power-lets keep the wings where they are-150 knots makes a tripehound really scream.--- Check the cocking lever-
I don't think we have been spotted yet, and Jerry has started his attack.
I can see the rear-seat gunlayers spraying tracer around.
One DH has been hit- steam from his nose.
O.K. we're almost in range. There's an Albatros starting his pass. He'll never know what hit him-- if my gun doesn't jam-wait-wait-get really close-he's beginning to fill the windscreen-OK--- hit the trip.---tracers finding the fuselage-I have to pull up!!---too much speed--just missed colliding!
Bank left and let the Clerget help gain height---look over your tail-kick rudder-left-right---no one on me yet-battle is moving west-how many aeroplanes-do I see?-pretty confused lot right now-several individual "waltzes"-can I help anyone-or is there a Jerry in trouble?-There's that lagging DH, and he's got the attention of an Albatros!
Haul around and dive on him-he's a colourful one-I hope the gunlayer sees me coming and I don't get in his line of fire---there a short burst-and now I'm being hit-holes in the middle wing---bank left-bank left-there he goes-he was right behind me-I could get killed this way-keep looking behind!-It looks like there aren't as many Albatros as there were-lets see---the bombers have mostly kept their formation-damn it!-keep looking at your tail!-where are the triplanes?-Jerry seems to be packing it in-but it could be a ruse---no, 'Archie is firing again so they are leaving. I guess we had the numbers today.
Except for the DH's, the sky is empty.
Climb a bit and keep them company til we hit the lines.
I wonder how long the "steamer" can go til his engine seizes. I hope he can make it to our side.
I hope nothing vital was hit on my bus-some of those holes are close to the spar.
Do I smell fumes?
That blasted west wind sure adds time to the trip
Gosh!. That "archie burst was aimed at me! Made me bounce pretty good!
All right, I should have been jinking!.
I see some triplanes They are away to the West! I hope that everyone is still around. No, all that I see are two.
There goes the engine on the DH! The airscrew has stopped, and he's in a glide.
At least it's not totally vertical-he'll have a shot at a forced landing---wonder how far West he can get?
My petrol gauge seems to have sunk more than I would have thought. I wonder if my tank was hit?
I can't see far enough to either side to be sure that there aren't some holes in the side shields.
I should make to it Bailleul all right, if there is no more action, but I'd best set a course for there now, just in case.
That DH is sure going down in a hurry.
I can watch for a bit and try to establish where he finishes up, and let his unit know.
Oh-good! There's a flight of Camels that's popped up. They look to be covering him.
Now I can just try to get me home.
I do have a petrol leak of some kind.
I'd best make sure that the Rotherham's not giving me any air pressure-don't want to speed up the leak.
There, the bloody valve is on vent.
I'll try leaning out a trifle more--- that might help too.
I'm going down lower to see if the wind is a little less strong.
The other triplanes couldn't have seen me back here-the sun and all.
I'll turn off the petrol, and let the Clerget windmill. Oil shouldn't foul the plugs since they'll keep firing.
I know that this works, but it is eerie to have the noise stop, and only hear the wires sing.,
Well, I've "jinked" and glided away some 5000 feet, let's see what we have here.
Back on with the petrol-ah-the engine is starting to catch-there she goes-just as before.
I am indicating 85 knots, and my ground speed seems a little better than I was doing up higher.
Wish that I didn't need to worry about Archie, but there is bound to be some here and in front of me as well-so I must keep "jinking".
I hope that the reason they are not firing is not because there have scouts about.
Keeping a look-out!-haven't seen anything but the Camels, and they descended with the DH.
Damn! There's a pair of V Strutters that are heading my way from the West!.
OK, lets see if I've enough fuel to try this. I am going to head right at them and climb!
Back on the spade grip, and advance the power---good old triplane.-Get the best rate of climb--
They've started up also, but if I've figured this right, I'll be able to pass over them.
I'm getting about a thousand feet per minute, and I know they can't match that.
There they are-hanging on their props, and if they don't watch it they'll stall.
This isn't helping my petrol supply---but it looks like they are giving up.
I hope that all of that smoke on the ground is from the lines.
Maybe I can make it yet.
My engine is starting to miss, and I can't see much petrol in the sight gauge.
Get the nose down!-a little!
Those were really some backfires!--and now the bloody thing has quit!.
Don't panic!--Set up for your best glide angle and hope that no body notices you!
This is the worst! Sitting here and seeing just how slow the smoke is moving in my direction.
Archie has started up again. I just hope that his aim is bad-I can't do much.
What's this?-The engine is beginning to fire once in a while. Maybe I have a little more petrol than I thought!
The fuel pressure must be too low to depend on.
I wish I knew where the bloody leak is.
Lets switch the Rotherham back on and see if it would help.
Gauge is showing no pressure, but the firing is a little more often.
What fuel there is must be below the hole.
I can smell petrol fumes-I am lucky not to have been a flamer!
All I can do is maintain the shallowest glide, and let the engine do its bit.
Lord! My progress is slow!
Details on the ground are beginning to show more.
Another close Archie burst!-I could hear shrapnel hitting the old bus.
Let's trim the tailplane for hands-off, and maybe I could un-do my Sutton a bit, and feel for holes in the tank-at least-- in the rear.
Don't bump the stick!---Ok, I can just reach the tank past the dash board---is that a dent?
Take off your mitten, and feel with your hand---there it is-it's a hole!-I wonder if there are more?---What can I stuff in it?-How about the edge of my scarf?---unwind it and twist it some-If I could just cut down on the escaping air-I might get my engine back-I'll try using my pen to force a wad of it through the hole.
I wish I could see what I am doing---well, at least it's staying there----the engine is picking up a little.---will it last?
I am down to four thousand, and I can see the front. If a Jerry doesn't spot me-I just might make it-I'm getting about 700 RPM from the Clerget-- amidst the backfiring.
This seems to be taking forever-I thought that time stopped during a scrap-it's almost going backward now!
The Archie bursts sure show where I am-if anybody is looking!
I'm a lot lower--- and they're really potting at me with small arms now.
I wonder if the hand pump would help-let's try-it's not easy.
---but the engine is running faster-I hope the scarf doesn't blow out of the hole.
I've reached no-man's-land!
Will there be any clear ground up ahead?-this can't go on much longer.
At least-- no one is shooting at me--
I'd best reset the straps-this landing may be rough.
I must keep on pumping-I need those extra RPM's-
The surface is sure torn up around here---try to keep going-
There-near that limbless forest-I hope it's as level as it looks-
Here goes-I'm a bit high---start slipping in the turn-OK-wings level-blip switch mashed-hold her off –hold her off-tailskid has hit-now the tyres---keep her straight-I'm stopped!---switch off-lets get out of here!
Straps undone-boots in the seat-grab the gun brace-duck-fall back-
Right! , I'm on the ground-now get away from the bus-it might catch fire, and Jerry may start shelling.
There's some infantry heading this way-I have to let my flight commander know-maybe they can salvage the aeroplane.
Damn! I didn't think to remove the bloody watch! Maybe I can go back for i--
Too many more days like THIS day, and maybe I WON'T be going home-one day.

Glossary of Terms used:
R.N.A.S. Royal Naval Air Service-(merged into the Royal Air Force. in 1918).
Sopwith:- English aircraft company-designed many allied airplanes during WW1
Tripehound-nick name for Sopwith triplane
1-1/2 Strutter early fighter/ bomber (distinctive "W" cabane strut layout)
Clerget-French designed rotary engine used in several WW1 airplane designs
"rotary engine"-radial engine that spun with the propeller-(crank is stationary)
Camel-first 2 gun British "Scout"-guns faired under a "hump" = Sopwith-Camel
Scout-what is now called "fighter" (sometimes called "pursuits")
Lower deck-enlisted men
Sidcot-flying suit-(developed by a man named Sidney Cotton)
Collishaw-top scoring pilot in the R.N.A.S..
D.H.-4-2 seat fighter/bomber-used a water-cooled 250 HP Rolls/Royce engine
Designed by the DeHavilland Co.
Archie-pilots nick-name for anti-aircraft fire (also called flack)-(black smoke from German-white from Allied-could signal enemy presence to airplanes)
"pressure"-refers to fact that most WW1 airplanes used air pressure to force fuel From tank to the carburetor.
Rotherham: manufacturer of wind driven air compressor for fuel pressure
Hand Pump: bicycle tire-like pump mounted within cockpit for pilot use
Vickers---machine gun manufacturer-in the triplane, fired by a handle called a "trip"
V Strutter-nickname for a German Albatros biplane-characterized by "V" struts
"gunlayer" Naval terminology for the rear seat machine gunner
"doping" slang for priming a rotary engine with gasoline
manette--- fine control of fuel, using a needle valve
coupe' button, also "blip switch"-magneto "kill" switch-stops firing of engine
"spade grip"-distinctive triangular casting at top of control column-housed
coupe button
Anti-drag---wing bracing at the rear of wings.
Tyre-British for tire
Watch---a pocket watch that was issued to the pilot-fitted into a case on dashboard-- used as an aerial time piece
Sutton Harness-a system of 2 belts, with hooks and eyes that formed a safety harness

Bill Woodall

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