National Geographic : 1918 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE would carry me beyond the limits of my space. Evidently it is the observer who must have charge of the mission of recon naissance, of photography, of artillery adjustment, or of infantry communica tions; but he is greatly assisted by the pilot, whose skill and decision contribute in no small measure to the successful ac complishment of the aerial task. This, then, is a brief sketch of the im mense task of the scout aviators. You can understand why both France and Germany first organized this class, so in dispensable for conducting land opera tions, offensive as well as defensive. Do not think that the task of the second kind of aviation, that of combat, is any less important or any easier. I said that the aviation of combat was the younger sister of reconnaissance aviation and her faithful ally. This is true, for she was born after the latter had attained consid erable importance, and grew up at her side, her principal mission being the pro tection of her elder sister from. the at tacks of the enemy. THE TACTICS OF FIGHTING PLANES I will explain in a few words the meth ods of the pursuit or fighting planes and the special duties which the aviators of the pursuit squadrons have to perform. To understand the tactics of our ma chines you must be acquainted with the methods of the enemy-that is, with the formation adopted by the Germans for the execution of their work. In normal times the German planes are disposed in three stories, the most elevated being also the farthest from the front. I. The spotting and infantry planes, at a height of about 3,500 feet and at least half a mile from the front. These are protected by: 2. A defense (barrage) of two-seaters, at a height of about 9,000 feet and from two to three miles within their lines. 3. Lastly by the "Aces," who, utilizing the best single-seat and a few two-seat planes, hold themselves at a height of about 12,000 feet, between three and four miles back of their lines. In periods of crisis, when an attack is believed imminent, or when photographs are to be taken within our lines, the Ger mans launch large groups of machines over the affected points. In particular, reconnaissance missions are executed at heights of 13,500 to 15,500 feet. To this rigid and defensive arrange ment we oppose a war of movement by the employment of offensive cruisers,ter raced like the enemy's machines, which it is their duty to attack. Our fighting machines are at present swift single-seaters, flying from 125 to 140 miles per hour, each armed with one or two machine-guns, rigidly fastened to the airplane and capable of shooting only in the direction of the axis of the ma chine, not pivoted like the guns on war vessels. The pilot must therefore fly straight at the enemy in order to be able to fire at him. He must be skillful in aiming and steering at the same time, so that at the moment for firing the hostile plane will be in the sighting line of his machine gun. I leave you to imagine the skill required to attain this result, when one attacks an enemy flying at an average velocity of 125 miles per hour, with his own machine going at an equal or greater speed. THE VARIOUS MODES OF ATTACK The following are the principal cases of attack for fighting planes: I. The attack by an isolated single seater on a single-seater, likewise iso lated.-This is the easiest case. Above all, the effect of surprise is sought, either by taking advantage of fog, or by getting between the sun and the adversary, or getting vertically over him, where he can not see you. Having made a successful approach, you must get into a good firing position-a short distance below and be hind your adversary, while avoiding the wind from his propeller. To accomplish this, each pilot uses his individual methods, which vary in each particular case. One of the common ma neuvers consists in diving from a suffi cient distance to about 300 feet behind the adversary, dropping about 60 feet lower and coming into position for firing by an upward dash. If the enemy has suspected nothing, it is "assassination."