HERE at Avord there are about seventy-five Americans of every imaginable sort — sailors, prize-fighters, men of the Foreign Legion, and a good scattering of University men. As good a fellow as any is H—, formerly a chauffeur in San Francisco. He is pleasant, jolly, and hard-working, with an absurdly amiable weakness for ‘crapshooting,’ in which he indulges at all times, seconded by an American darky who is a pilot here — and a good one.
I can hear them as I write, snapping their fingers as the dice roll: ‘ Come on leben — little seben, be good to me! Fifty days—little Phoebe—fever in the South! Read ’em and weep! Ten francs — let ’er ride. I’ll fade you !' The crap-shooting circle is always either stuffed with banknotes or reduced to a few sous — which latter predicament is a bit serious here, where we have to pay eight to ten francs a day to get sufficient nourishing food.
We sleep in barracks, about twenty to the room, on cots with straw mattresses. All days are pretty much alike. At three A.M. a funny little Annamite Chinaman, with betel-blackened teeth, comes softly in and shakes you by the shoulder in an absurdly deprecating way. You reach for your tin cup, and he pours out a quarter-litre of fearful but hot liquid, somewhat resembling coffee. Then a cigarette in bed, amid drowsy yawns and curses; a pulling on of breeches, golf-stockings, and leather coats; a picking up of helmets, and a sleepy march to the bureau, under the wind-gauges, barometers, and the great red balls that show the passing side (right or left) for the day.
‘ Rassemblement! Formez-vous par quatre! ’ barks the adjutant, and off we go to the field. There till nine, or till the wind becomes too strong — each man taking his sortie of ten minutes as his name is called. Back about ten; then a lecture till eleven, a discussion after that, and the first meal of the day. Sleep afterwards till three or threethirty; then a bath, a shave, brush teeth, and clean up in general. At five, assembly again, the same march, the same lessons till nine; then a meal, a smoke, and to bed at eleven.
It has been a bit strenuous this past month, getting accustomed to this life, which is easy, but absurdly irregular. Up at three-thirty A.M., and never to bed before eleven P.M. Meals snatched wherever and whenever possible. Some sleep by day is indispensable, but difficult in a barrack-room with twenty other men, not all of whom are sleepy, This, together with fleas and even more unwelcome little nocturnal visitors, has made me rather irregular in my habits, but now I have got into a sort of régime — four and a half hours of sleep at night, some sleep every afternoon, and decent meals. Also I have discovered a sort of chrysanthemum powder, which, with one of the ‘anti’ lotions, fairly ruins my small attackers. Baths, thank Heaven! I can get every day — with a sponge and soap. There is no real hardship about this life — it is simply a matter of readjusting one’s self to new conditions and learning where and what to eat, how to sleep, how to get laundry done, and so forth.
This school is superb. I shall have the honor of being one of the last men in the world trained on the famous Bleriot monoplane — obsolete as a military plane, but the best of all for training, because the most difficult. In spite of the fact that from the beginning to the end one is alone, it is said to be the safest of all training, because you practically learn to fly in the ‘Penguins ’ before leaving the ground; and also because you can fall incredible distances without getting a bruise.
In practically all of the French planes the system of control is the same. You sit on cushions in a comfortable little chair — well strapped in, clothed in leathers and helmet. At your left hand are two little levers, one the mixture, the other the throttle. Your right controls the manche-à-balai, or cloche — a push forward causes the machine to point downward (pique) and a pull back makes it rise. Moving it sideways controls the ailerons, or warps the wings — if you tip left, you move the cloche right. Your feet rest on a pivoted bar which controls the rudder.
To rise, you head into the wind, open the throttle (steering with great care, as a little carelessness here may mean a wrecked wing or a turn over), and press forward the cloche: you roll easily off; next moment, as the machine gathers speed, the tail rises, and you pull back the stick into the position of ligne de vol. Faster and faster you buzz along, — thirty, thirty-five, forty miles an hour, — until you have flying speed. Then a slight backward pull on the cloche, and you are in the air.
I made my first flight in a small twoplace machine of the fighting type — a Nieuport. It is a new sensation, — one which only a handful of Americans have experienced, — to take the air at seventy-five or eighty miles an hour, in one of these little hornets. The handling of them is incredibly delicate, all the movements of the stick could be covered by a three-inch circle. A special training is required to pilot them, but once the knack is acquired they are superb, except for the necessity of landing at eighty or ninety miles an hour. In the air you can do anything with them — they will come out of any known evolution or position.
Lately I have been making short low flights in a Blériot, and enjoying it keenly. All I know (a mere beginning)
I have learned entirely alone, and the first time I left the ground, I left it alone. They simply put you in the successive types of machines, with a brief word of instruction, and tell you to fly — if you have n’t the instinct, you are soon put out of the school. After your month of preparation in ‘Penguins’ and ‘grass-cutters,’ the first short flight is a great experience.
My name was at the end of the list, so for two hours of increasing tension I watched my mates make their debuts. We were about a dozen, and there were some bad ‘crashes’ before my turn came. At last the monitor called me and I was strapped in behind the whirling stick. The monitor waved his arm, the men holding the tail jumped away, and I opened the throttle wide, with the manche-à-balai pushed all the way forward. Up came the tail; I eased back the control bit by bit, until I had her in ligne de vol, tearing down the field at top speed. Now came the big moment, mentally rehearsed a hundred times. With a final gulp I gingerly pulled back the control, half an inch, an inch, an inch and a half. From a buoyant bounding rush the machine seemed to steady to a glide, swaying ever so little from side to side. A second later, the rushing green of grass seemed to cease, and I was horrified to find myself looking down at the landscape from a vast height whence one could see distant fields and hangars as if on a map. A gentle push forward on the manche brought her to ligne de vol again; a little forward, a reduction of gas, a pull back at the last moment, and I had made my first landing — a beauty, without a bounce. To-night I may crash, but I have always the memory of my beginner’s luck — landing faultlessly from fully twelve feet!
Lack of sleep is our main foe — a hard one to combat, as all sorts of other things develop as its followers; one has simply to learn to sleep in any odd moments of the day or night.
I may still ‘fall down’ and be ‘radiated ’ to an observation or bombing plane (which is of course no disgrace); but on the whole I have good hopes of making a fighting pilot. Flying (on a Bleriot monoplane) is by no means as easy as I had supposed. It took us four weeks to learn to run one at full speed, in a straight line, on the ground. The steering and handling of the elevators (which regulate height of tail) are extremely tricky, and many men are thrown out or sent to other schools (Caudron, Farman, or Voisin) for inaptitude or ‘crashes’ at this stage.
Then comes the stage of low straightaway flights, when you leave the ground fast and in correct line of flight, and have to land smoothly. Make no mistake — landing any kind of an aeroplane is hard, and to land the fast fighting machines is a very great art, which forty per cent of picked young men never accquire. They are so heavy for their supporting area, that the moment they slow down below seventyfive or one hundred miles an hour they simply fall off on a wing (or ‘ pancake ’). Even a Blériot requires a good eye and a steady delicate touch and judgment to land in decent style. You are flying, say, three hundred feet up, and wish to land. Forward goes your stick, the machine noses down as you cut the motor. The ground comes rushing up at you until the moment comes when you think you should ‘redress’ — precisely as a plunging duck levels before settling among the decoys. If you have gauged it to a nicety, you skim over the ground a few yards up, gradually losing speed, and settling at last without a jar or break in the forward motion. If you redress too late, you turn over (capoter), or else bounce and fall off on a wing. (I have seen men bounce fifty feet!) If you redress too high, you lose speed too far above the ground, and either pique into the ground and turn over, fall flat, or crash on one wing.
The secret of the whole game of learning to fly is, I believe, never to get excited. I have seen beginner after beginner smash when he was first sent up to fly. They run along the ground, pull back the stick, as told, and a moment later are so astounded to find themselves twenty or thirty feet off the ground that they can think of nothing but shutting off the throttle. Many crash down tail first, with controls in climbing position to the last. If they would simply think, —
‘Ha, old boy, you’re in the air at last — some thrill, but the main thing now is to stay here a bit and then ease down without a crash. Ease the stick forward — now we have stopped climbing. Feel that puff—she’s tipping, but a little stick or rudder will stop that. Now pique her down, and reduce the gas a notch or two. Here comes the ground — straighten her out; too much, she’s climbing again; there, cut the gas — a little more — there—not a bad landing for the first try.’
Really there is no system in the world like learning alone, but it costs the government, I am told, from thirty to forty thousand dollars to turn out a fighting pilot. Three, six, ten machines — beautiful, costly, delicate things — are smashed daily in the school. Never a word is said, until a man smashes one too many, when he is quietly sent to the easier double-command school of bombardment or observation flying.
Some of the fellows are in bad shape nervously. Any night in our barracks you can see a man, sound asleep, sitting up in bed with hands on a set of imaginary controls, warding off puffs, doing spirals, landings, and the like. It is odd that it should take such a hold on their mental lives.
I enjoy hugely flying the old monoplane, especially when I fly home and nose her down almost straight for a gorgeous rush at the ground. As you straighten out, a few yards up, lightly as a seagull, and settle on the grass, it is a real thrill.
I have purchased, for twenty-five francs, a beautiful soft Russia-leather head-and-shoulder gear, lined with splendid silky fur. It covers everything but one’s eyes, — leaving a crack to breathe through, — and is wonderfully warm and comfortable.
I have finally finished the Monoplane School, which is the end of preliminary training. There remain spirals, etc., an altitude, and a few hundred miles of cross-country flying, before I can obtain my brevet militaire and have the glory of a pair of small gold wings, one on each side of my collar. After that I shall have seven days’ leave (if I am lucky), followed by two or three weeks perfectionnement on the type of machine I shall fly at the front. If I smash nothing from now on, I shall have practically my choice of ‘zincs’ — a monoplane de chasse, or anything in the bombing or observation lines. If I break once, I lose my chasse machine, and so on, down to the most prosaic type of heavy bomber. Only one compensation in this very wise but severe system — the worse the pilot, the safer the machine he finally flies.
In spite of all my hopes, I had the inevitable crash — and in the very last class of the school. Landing our Blériots is a rather delicate matter (especially to a beginner), and last, week I had the relapse in landings which so few beginners escape, with the result that I crashed on my last flight of the morning. I felt pretty low about it, of course, but on the whole I was not sorry for the experience, which blew up a lot of false confidence and substituted there for a new respect for my job and a renewed keenness to succeed. After that I did better than ever before, and made a more consistent type of landing.
Guynemer, the great French ‘Ace,’has disappeared, and from accounts of the fight one fears that he is dead. What a loss to France and to the Allies! the end of a career of unparalleled romantic brilliancy. I shall never forget one evening in Paris last spring.
I was sitting in the Cafe de la Paix, under the long awning that fronts the Boulevard des Capucines. All Paris was buzzing with Guynemer’s mighty exploit of the day before — four German planes in one fight, two of them sent hurtling down in flames within sixty seconds. It took one back to the old days, and one foresaw that Guynemer would take his place with the legendary heroes of France, with Roland and Oliver, Archbishop Turpin, Saint Louis, and Charles Martel.
Presently I looked up. A man was standing in the aisle before me — a slender youth, rather, dressed in the black and silver uniform of a captain in the French Aviation. Delicately built, of middle height, with dark tired eyes set in a pale face, he had the look of a haggard boy who had crowded the experience of a lifetime into a score of years. The mouth was remarkable in so young a man — mobile and thinlipped, expressing dauntless resolution. On his breast the particolored ribbons of his decorations formed three lines: Croix de Guerre, Médaille Militaire, Officer of the Legion of Honor, Cross of St. George, English Military Cross, and others too rare for recognition.
All about me there arose a murmur of excited interest; chairs were pushed back and tables moved as the crowd rose to its feet. Cynical Swiss waiters, with armloads of pink and green drinks, halted agape. A whisper, collective and distinct, passed along the terrace: ‘It is Guynemer!’
The day before, over the fiery lines, he had done battle for his life; and this evening, in the gay security of Paris, he received the homage of the people who adored him.
He had been looking for a table, but when it became no longer possible to ignore the stir, he raised his right hand in embarrassed salute and walked quickly into the café.
I spent my ten days’ leave in a trip to Nice, and used up about half of it in getting there.
The trip south was a martyrdom — a long stifling ride to Paris, three days’ wait there for a reserved place to Marseilles, a day and a night standing up in a corridor from Paris to Marseilles (had to give up my seat to an unfortunate woman with two youngsters), and twenty-three hours more in a corridor to get to Cannes. On the whole, the worst journey I recollect. No stops for meals, so we all nearly starved, till I finally obtained an armful of bottled beer and some sandwiches.
I sat down on a trunk in the corridor and nodded off to sleep, only to be awakened half an hour later by H— F— (S—’s cousin), who stole up with a gesture for silence, and pointed at me with a shake of his head and a broad grin. It must have been rather a rakish tableau. On the floor to my left were half a dozen empty bottles; on one end of the trunk I sat, heavy-eyed and half awake, and beside me, sound asleep, with her head on my shoulder, was a respectable, very attractive, and utterly unknown young woman! C’est la guerre! I motioned H— away and promptly went to sleep again.
In Marseilles I had time for the Corniche, to see Monte Cristo’s castle, and eat a bouillabaise, which I cannot recommend without reserve. With an enormous floating population of sailors, shipping booming, and streets ablaze at night, Marseilles seems far away from the war, after the hushed gloom of nocturnal Paris.
The trials for my military brevet were by far the most interesting thing I have done in aviation. On finishing the 60 h.p. Blériot class, I was told that I would have to do my brevet work on a small Caudron biplane, as there were no Bleriots available. A few short flights in the Caudron gave me confidence that I could handle it; so one rather cloudy morning the officer told me to make my official altitude — which is merely one hour’s stay at heights of over seven thousand feet. I pulled on my great fur combination and fur-lined boots, adjusted mittens, helmet, and goggles, and stepped into my machine, number 2887, which the mechanic had been tuning up. ‘Coupe, plein gaz,’ he shouted, above the roar of a score of motors, and gave the stick half a dozen turns. Then, ‘ Contact reduit’; and as I yelled back, ‘Contact reduit,’ after the old starting formula, he gave a quick half turn to the blades. Off she went with a roar, all ten cylinders hitting perfectly, so I motioned him to pull out the blocks from before the wheels. A quick rush and a turn headed me into the wind, and the next moment the starter’s arm shot forward.
Old 2887 is a bully ’bus. I was off the ground and heading up in forty yards. It was rather an occasion for a beginner who had never before flown over 2500 feet. The little Caudrons, of course, are not high-powered, but she climbed splendidly. In ten minutes I was circling over the camp at 3800 feet, and in twenty, I had reached 6000, just under the roof of the clouds. There was only one blue hole through, so up this funnel I climbed in decreasing circles, till I finally burst out into the gorgeous upper sunlight. At 8000 feet I began to float about in a world of utter celestial loneliness—dazzlingly pure sun, air like the water of a coral atoll, and beneath me a billowy sea of clouds, stretching away to infinity. Here and there, from the cloudy prairies, great fantastic mountain ranges reared themselves; foothills and long divides, vast snowy peaks, impalpable sisters of Orizaba or Chimborazo, and deep gorges, ever narrowing, widening, or deepening, across whose shadowy depths drove ribbons of thin gray mist.
Once, as I was sailing over a broad canon, I saw, far off in the south, a dark moving dot, and knew with a sudden thrill that another man like myself, astride his gaunt buzzing bird, was exploring and marveling at this upper dream-world.
At last the hour was up. I shut off the motor and drove downward in a series of long easy glides. Going through the clouds, one loses all sense of balance and direction. It is bizarre and sometimes dangerous. You plunge out into the old gray world beneath, to find yourself in a nose-dive, or off on a wing, or upside down — it is all the same in a cloud.
The balance of the military trials consists in spirals, and so forth, and a lot of cross-country flying by map and compass. First you make two round trips to a place fifty miles away, and then two triangular trips of about one hundred and fifty miles each. It is very easy, if you keep your wits about you and have no hard luck. Roads, railroads, rivers, woods, and canals are the principal guides to follow; towns and cities you can only recognize by having counted their predecessors, unless there is some very prominent building, cathedral, or factory. A road, from 3000 feet, shows as a very straight white line, occasionally making angular turns. A railroad is a dark gray line, always curving gently when it turns. Canals are ribbons of water, very straight, between twin lines of trees. And so on. You watch your compass, to check up the tend of roads and railroads, watch your altimeter and tachometer (which tells the speed of your engine), and above all watch always ahead for suitable landing fields, in case of motor trouble. The wind also must be borne in mind; its direction can be told from smoke. I was lucky and had no trouble at all.
At Nice I ran into many Americans, and there were a good many Britishers about, recovering from the recent severe fighting around Passchendaele. They are a quiet and agreeable lot— very interesting when they talk about their work, which is seldom.
One captain had si rolled into some heavy fighting with no weapon but a heavy cane, and with this, walking astride of a deep narrow enemy trench, he had killed eight Germans! An Australian captain, with the rare ribbon of the V.C. on his breast, had gone into a crowded German dugout with one companion, who was wounded at the first exchange of bombs. Single-handed, he had bombed out the Boches, taken forty prisoners back single-handed, and returned to bring out his wounded brother officer. An epic feat!
Soon after my stay at Nice I went for a month to the Combat and Acrobatic School of Pau, which completes the most dangerous of all the flying training. A wonderful experience — somersaults, barrel-turns, corkscrew dives, every conceivable aerial caper, and long flights daily: skimming the highest peaks of the Pyrenees at three hundred feet above the snow — trips to Biarritz and along the coast, flying ten feet above the waves, etc.
It is hard to say enough in praise of the school at Pau — the hundreds of splendid machines, the perfect discipline and efficiency, the food, the barracks, the courteous treatment of pilots by officers and instructors. We were twenty Americans, in a clean airy barrack, with an Annamite to make the beds and sweep up. The school covers an enormous area in the valley of the Gave, just under the Pyrenees, and is ideal for an aviation centre so far as weather conditions go, its one drawback being that motor-trouble, out of range of the aerodromes, means almost inevitably a smash. All along the Gave they have the smallest fields and the highest hedges I ever saw. The climate is superb — like the foothill climate of California: cool nights, delicious days, wonderful dawns and sunsets.
They started us on the eighteenmetre machine, doing vertical spirals, which are quite a thrill at first. You go to a height of about 3000 feet, shut off the motor, tilt the machine till the wings are absolutely vertical, and pull the stick all the way back. When an aeroplane inclines laterally to over 45 degrees, the controls become reversed — the rudder is then the elevator, and the elevator the rudder, so that, in a vertical spiral, the farther back you pull the stick, the tighter the spiral becomes. You are at the same time dropping and whirling in short circles. I once did five turns in losing a thousand feet of altitude—an unusual number, the monitor told me with satisfaction. Usually, one loses about 300 feet to each turn, but on my first attempt, I lost 2100 feet in three fourths of a turn, because I did not pull back enough on the stick.
After the eighteen-metre spirals we were given a few rides on the fifteenmetre machine — very small, fast and powerful, but a delicious thing to handle in the air; and after left and right vertical spirals on this type, we went to the class of formation-flying, where one is supposed to learn flying in squadron formation, like wild geese. This is extremely valuable, but most men take this chance for joy-riding, as they have petrol for three hours, and are responsible to no one.
On my first day in this class I found no one at the rendezvous, so I rose to about 4000 feet, and headed at a hundred miles an hour for the coast. In thirty-five minutes I was over Biarritz, where my eyes fairly feasted on the salt water, sparkling blue, and foam-crested. I do not see how men can live long away from the sea and the mountains. My motor was running like a clock and as I was beginning to have perfect confidence in its performance, I came down in a long coast to the ground, and went rushing across country toward the mountains, skimming a yard up, across pastures, leaping vertically over high hedges of poplar trees, booming down the main streets of villages, and behaving like an idiot generally, from sheer intoxication of limitless speed and power.
In a few moments I was at the entrance of one of the huge gorges that pierce the Pyrenees — the sort of place up which the hosts of Charlemagne were guided by the White Stag: deep and black and winding, with an icy stream rushing down its depths. Why not? I gave her full gas and whizzed up between black walls of rock that magnified enormously the motor’s snarl, up and up until there was snow beneath me and ahead I could see the sun gleaming on the gorgeous ragged peaks. Up and up, nine, ten, eleven thousand feet, and I was skimming the highest ridges that separate France and Spain. Imagine rising from a field in Los Angeles, and twenty-five minutes later flying over the two-mile-high ridges of Baldy and Sheep Mountain, swooping down to graze the snow, or bounding into the air with more speed and ease than any bird.
At last, as my time was nearly up, I headed back for Pau. A few minutes later, just as I sighted the pygmy groups of hangars, my motor gave forth a loud bang and a sheet of flame, and several chunks of metal tore whizzing through the aluminum hood. Automatically, I pulled at the lever which closes the gasoline flow and tilted the machine forward to keep my speed. Another bang, accompanied by black smoke. ‘Holy mackerel!’ I thought; ’this is the end of me! Let’s see—in case of fire, shut off petrol, open throttle, and leave the spark on. Then go into a nose-dive.’
Somehow you can’t seem to get very excited at such moments, — everything seems inevitable, — good or bad luck. I nose-dived, came out at 5000 feet, killed my propeller, and was gratified to see, on looking behind, that there was no more smoke. Starting the motor was of course out of the question, as it would have promptly taken fire; so I shut off throttle and spark, struck an easy glide, and began an anxious search for a field. Most of them were no larger than postage-stamps, and I knew they were hedged by the beastly poplars, but at last I spotted a long one, in the direction of the wind, though not long enough to afford more than a bare chance of avoiding a crash. It was the only hope, at any rate; so down I coasted in glides and serpentines, jockeying to lose height just over the trees. As luck would have it, I was a few feet low and had to chance jumping the trees with none too much speed. The splendid stability of the Nieuport saved me from a wing-slip, and a moment later I landed with a bang in a ditch, breaking one wheel and stopping within ten yards of a formidable line of willows.
I crawled out of my seat and lay down in the long grass to rest, as my head ached villainously from the too rapid descent. Somehow I dozed off and was awakened by the friendly tongue of a huge Basque shepherd dog. His mistress, a pretty Spanish-speaking peasant girl, appeared a minute later, and her family were very decent to me. After some hot coffee with brandy, and a piece of goat cheese, I attended to the formalities and went back to camp.
After formation-flying we went to the acrobatic class or ‘Haute École du Ciel,’ where you are taught to put a machine through the wildest kinds of manoeuvres. This is the most dangerous class in any aviation training in France — many excellent pilots, whose nerves or stomachs would not stand the acrobatics, rest in the little cemetery at Pau. Wonderful sport, though, if nature intended one for that sort of thing! The most dreaded thing one does is the spinning nose-dive, or vrille (gimlet), which formerly was thought invariably fatal. They have now discovered that the small, very strong machines will come out of it safely, if the rudder is put exactly in the middle and the stick pushed forward.
The instructor in this class was a very dandified lieutenant, in a Bond Street uniform, and wearing a monocle, who lay in a steamer-chair all day, gazing up into the sky at the antics of his pupils. Around him stood assistants with field-glasses, who watched the heavens anxiously, and would suddenly bark out, ‘Regardez, mon lieutenant — l’Américain Nordhoff en vrille.’ The lieutenant would then languidly look up at the machine pointed out (they are distinguished by broad stripes, or checker-boards, or colors), and, if the ‘type’ up above had done well, would remark, ‘Pas mal, celuilà.’ If some unfortunate plunged into the ground and killed himself, the officer would rise gracefully from his chair, flick the dust from his sleeve, and call for the ‘Black Cat,’ his special ‘taxi.’ Jumping in with remarkable speed, he rose in a series of the most breakneck evolutions, and flew to the scene of the accident. In reality, his pose is the best in the world, as it keeps the pilots gonflés, that is, courageous and confident, as opposed to dégonflés, or scared and nervous.
I was watching all this from the ground, when a monitor unexpectedly called out, ‘Nordhoff, Nordhoff!’
‘Present!’ I yelled, as I ran toward him.
‘You will take the checker-board,’ he ordered, ‘rise to twelve hundred metres, and do one vrille and two upsidedown turns.’
I admit that I had a slight sinking spell as I walked to the machine, a little thirteen-metre beauty. (Think of it, only thirteen square yards of supporting surface!) It was all right as soon as I was strapped in and had the motor going. Up we went, the ‘Bébé’ climbing like a cat, at incredible speed, while I anxiously repeated, again and again, the instructions. Two turns of the field gave me my 3600 feet. This was no time to hesitate, so, as I reached the required spot, away from the sun, I shut off the motor, took a long breath, and pulled back a bit on the stick. Slower and slower she went, until I felt the rather sickening swaying that comes with a dangerous loss of speed. The moment had come. Gritting my teeth, I gave her all the left rudder and left stick, at the same moment pulling the stick all the way back. For an instant she seemed to hang motionless — then with unbelievable swiftness plunged whirling downwards. ‘Remember, keep your eyes inside — don’t look out, whatever happens,’ I thought, while a great wind tore at my clothing and whistled through the wires. In a wink of time I had dropped 600 feet: so I carefully put the rudder in the exact centre, centred the stick, and pushed it gently forward. At once the motion grew steadier, the wind seemed to abate, and the next moment I dared to look out. It was over — I was in a steep glide, right side up, safe and sound. I had done a vrille and come out of it! A gorgeous sensation! I loved it, and queerly enough my first bewildered thought was, ‘ M—would adore that!’
Just to show the lieutenant that I was having a good time, I buzzed up again and did two more vrilles, looking out the whole time at the panorama of Pyrenees, villages, and river, whirling around with the most amazing rapidity. Not a thing for bilious or easily dizzy people though, as it means horses at the walk if you fail to do the right thing at exactly the right moment.
After the acrobatics, we went to classes in machine-gun shooting and combat-flying — very interesting and practical, but not to be talked about.
After Pau, I had forty-eight hours’ leave in Paris, bought a few things I needed for the front, and was then sent to a place it is forbidden to mention, expecting soon to get to flying over the lines.