Fallen Planes are Studied by Aviation Students in France

Westbrook Pegler

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/December 16, 1917

A whole fleet of airplanes splintered by falling, and sprayed with bullet holes from machine gun fire, is kept in the back yard of one of our big aviation schools. They are veteran machines They’ve been through the mill up at the front. Some have brought their pilots down to death. The pilots of others have stepped out of the wreckage unwounded.

When a machine takes a knockout blow from the old Boche the French send it to our school, where American future air mechanics use them for experiments. They take them down and assemble them again. Flying experts tear the old joints apart and lay the pieces in a jumble on the ground, whereupon young American airplane builders get busy and solve the puzzle of the tangled pieces.

Going through this school, Sammy sees every model of flying craft the allies are using, learns to recognize each type on sight and to put it together so that every wire and bolt is tightened to just the proper tension. He gets that sense of adjustment which tells him whether the machine is “right” for flying.

There are monoplanes, biplanes and triplanes; scouts and raiders, the latter of huge wing spread with plenty of room in the cockpit and sometimes mounting a light cannon.

The engines are dismounted from the machines and set up on low scaffolds in the schoolroom–scaffolds approximately showing how the engine is set in the plane. Sammy learns through lectures and study just what makes the V-shaped engine a better one for the big, awkward-looking raider than the whirling rotary engine with its cylinders standing out from the core like a bunch of steel pineapples.

On the other hand he soon savvies that the swift scouting plane, with its small wing spread and tiny cockpit never would operate with the other motor.

While he is attending a lecture someone steals into the engine room with a wrench and a screwdriver and monkeys with the machinery. The man with the wrench may take an insignificant-looking belt off an engine or loosen an important gas jet somewhere down in the vitals of the temperamental steel motor.

Every day, after finishing his study, Sammy goes to the motors assigned to him for that day and hunts for trouble. There’ll be something wrong with it all right, because the trouble-maker has been there, tampering with the works. Sammy repairs the damage even if he has to take the whole works apart.

That is the way our mechanics are learning the airplane—from the inside out and upside down an airplane motor and the plane itself will have no mysteries for them when the course is finished.

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