Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Race Begins in Earnest

Sunday May 18 1919

Headlines:- NC-4 Reaches Horta Azors Safely NC-1 Crew Safe NC-3 Missing:- Spooked by the Nancy's success, Hawker Gets Away:-  Raymor expected to Follow, hoping to make up the time
"READ ALL ABOUT IT!" - Read The EBook

Ike had passed by the field in Pleasant ville where the Martinside crew were setting up and readying their craft for their big flight;.on the long walk home, after the C-5 blew away, just a few days earlier. He had wanted to stop and check for progress then, but he was just too tired, and also he knew that his misses and Ed Voisey were worried about him, because he had been away far too long as it was.

Today was different; it was Sunday the boy's regular day off work, and he could spend the whole day at Pleasantville watching his favorites preparing their aircraft for flight. He and bobby had been up half the night, listening to the radio transmissions. The airwaves were abuzz, with transmissions from the Navy at Trepassey tracking their NC's expedition, which had gotten airborne yesterday with 3 aircraft. including the Lame Duck NC-4, which had finally overcome it's mechanical problems.

The Hawker team had been eagerly monitoring the Navy's progress, they were transmitting messages to their backers in England, signifying their intentions to commit tomorrow, it at all possible, and try upstaging the Navy's head start advantage. Similarly the boy's favorite team had informed their backers, in Brooklands; indicating that they didn't want to be found asleep at the starting gate, and that they would also be right on hawker's heels, should he decide to go.

As they cycled down King's Bridge road, two abreast; weaving their way through the throngs of pedestrians, all heading down to Pleasantville. Ike turned to Bobby saying. "This is going to be interesting, with Hawker already in the air, and we already know that, his chances of making it across safely have got to be slim at best.~~ We know that they still hadn't completely licked the overheating problem ~~ remember the last time I saw them doing their testing, and I can't help thinking about, what the Yanks were saying in that news conference ~~ about overheating being the big threat to engine reliability."
"Ya I remember it well" said Bobby. Slowing his bicycle and giving a blast of his air horn; to warn a group of teenagers to clear a path for the bicycles to pass through, one behind the other. Resuming speed again, Bobby shouted over his shoulder.. " I also remember that you and Neugent busted old man Kerr's rads."
"We did not!" replied Ike, from behind, and adding as he drew abreast once again. "It was those raggedy-arse longshoremen who busted em ~~ me and Dick are getting em fixed ~~ they'll be good as new. ~~ In fact; better than new, with larger tubes .~~ Kevin says that the little tubes they had would clog in no time"
"No need to get defensive, wit me.~~ Ike."
 "Changing the subject." Said Ike, as they rounded the corner at the foot of Kennas Hill, and headed down towards Pleasantville. "Looks good for Charlie and Fred, don't you think?" 
"Ya, as long as they stay away from that lower field and use the upper one, they have a good chance of getting airborne." said Bobby thoughtfully. "But, you know Ike, I have a bad feeling about them setting out today ~~ they don't have the wind for a clean  getaway ~~ it's coming from the wrong direction."

Preparations were well underway when the boys arrived at Pleasant Ville.. They resisted the temptation to join the crowd of curious spectators who were pressing closely around the ground crew, who were feverishly readying the big biplane for flight. The crowd was obviously hampering the operations and the crew were starting to show their frustration by physically pushing back the worst offenders.
"Half the town must be here to watch this spectacle; I bet Hawker and Grieve didn't have anything like this size of a crowd to contend with this morning, when they were gassing up the Sopwith."  
" Let's go over by that tree and just observe the going's on from there, Ike! good thing you thought of bringing Ed Voises field glasses wit ya; we can get a close up when we want to." 

Sitting under the only tree around the area, the two boys entered into a discussion about the developments in the race that had transpired over the last few days. The Americans were in the air, the Sopwith Atlantic with Hawker and Grieve had been spooked into a premature move by the Navy's NC's departure. Last night had been an exciting night for the boys; they had spent hours, listening to the radio transmissions on their crystal radio set. The transmissions were mainly from the Navy's 20 odd destroyers which were strung across the Atlantic and spaced a approximately 50 mile intervals, to monitor the progress of the NC's and to mount a Search and Rescue operation, if the need should arrive. They had heard the numerous attempts to get a confirmation transmission from NC-3. The attempts had gone on continually through the night without any success. No word was received from the lead craft that was carrying the mission commander John Towers.

"Do you think they are all right?" Ike asked, referring to the fate of NC-3 and her crew. 
" No! I think they are done for. I am thinking they were forced down into the sea, sometime during the night. Can you imagine trying to set one of those flimsy box kites down into 12 foot swells in the dark? said Bobby. using his hands to simulate a landing, as he had learned from watching the pilots.  " She would be smashed to smithereens by the first wave she struck.."
"Don't  you wish you were there yesterday when they were making their take-off run across the bay?" Asked Ike with a wishful tone in his voice. 
"your dam right I do! ~~ I can just close my eyes and picture to scene ~~ we could have been in buddies boat getting a close up view as they thundered across the water one after the other ~~ with a fine spray coming off the step and transitioning into a cloud of mist engulfing those three red white and blue colored tail fins.~~ Leaving the water one at a time, climbing and slowly disappearing into the dark eastern horizon ~~. What a sight it must have been."
"Gees Bobby!  You got some imagination ~~if I didn't know any better, I'd  swear you were there" said Ike, rather sarcastically, adding." we didn't go, all we heard about the start, was the message of farewell from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. who ever that is."

"Fred and Charlie look pretty ridiculous in those leopard skin suits commented Ike in a disapproving tone to his voice.
"Know something interesting Ike? dos suits have electric wires for keeping them warm while they are up in the air. they are plugged into batteries"
"Das interesting ~~ Bobby! ~~: changing the subject again ~~ how the hell did Charlie and Fred pick this place for a starting point? ~~ taking off from dis place, is like trying to pull yourself out of a hole. All around this place is nothing but rising hills, especially going west .~~ Taking off to the east is out of the question cause when the wind blows from there it's never fit to fly ~~ Easterly wind around here means fog cascading over the hills, and bad weather all around. No body in his right mind would fly wit an East wind." Ranted Bobby.

"Where is the best starting place around." "The best place, I would say is somewhere up n the highroad; one of them fields off Le Marchant road." "Ya your right! it would be a snap to take-off up there. Ya almost takes off yourself up there when the wind is blowing and there she is almost always blowing  gale." "All they would have to do is point her down the hill and let her roll over the edge; ya'd be flying before you knew it, me thinks."

The conversation switched to the Sopwith team of Hawker and Grieves. Ike had made friends with some of the with a couple of the mechanics when he was delivering telegraph messages, which he had done on several occasions. They had even gone for a swimming session at the Twin Falls" swimming hole, which was not far from where they had set up operations at their  Mt. Pearl flying field. The friendship had grown to the point where they would confide in him enough to make candid comments concerning the state of the development their technical preparations for the  crossing attempt. The last time that Ike was at the Mt. Pearl field, one of the mechanics commented that he was concerned about the big flight because he was still struggling to find the solution to a persistent engine overheating problem. Ike had asked at that time if the engine in the Sopwith was anything like the engines in Kerr's Handley Page..Bob had told Ike that all the aircraft engaged in the bid for the Atlantic were using basically the same engine; even the Americans, the Liberty engines in the NC's was a V12 water cooled engine very similar to the Rolls Rice 12 cylinders that powered the Marinsyde and Sopwith airplanes. Ike had been amazed by this piece of information, because these aircraft were so radically different, except for the Sopwith and the Martinsyde of course, which bore many similarities to one another. Ike started to put it all together. The problem that Hawker was having with that radiator, Ike surmised that the problem rad must be the one that was not damaged in the mishap at the dock. he recalled what he had heard at the news conference at Trepassey and the words of the radiator man at Kevin's shop at the dockyards. and now he was suddenly concerned for the safety of the crew of the Atlantic, Hawker and Grieves.

" D'ya 
think they will make it." uttered Ike.
"Hawker and Grieves of course.~~ What do you think their chances are of making it across knowing what we do about the overheating problem?"
"I think they are going into the drink that's what I think.~~ hand me those glasses; I think that they are about to fire up the Martnsyde they are moving back the crowd from around the airplane." 

The aircrew were seated in their cockpits and the ground crew were lifting the tail from the makeshift saw horse type support upon which it had been supported.Taking turns the boys followed the progress through their pair of field glasses. There were four men handling the tail and one positioned on each of the lower wings. 
"They are swinging her around to go downwind to the end of the field." Said Bobby in an excited voice. 
"I don't hear the engine."
"They haven't started it yet. They have to push her back to the far end of the field so they will have the longest ground run. They don't want to needlessly waste precious fuel taxing around on the ground. They may just need that fuel at the other end of their journey."
"Hand me those glasses ~~ Does it look like they will be using the roadway for the take-off, or the lower strip by the water?"
I can't tell yet ~~ they are using the roadway for the push-back.".
"What's happening!"
"Hold on a minute.~~ I think they are starting to turn her around. There are still dozens of kids and others milling around and getting into the way"
"My turn!~~hand me those glasses; I'll tell you what's going on."
"Those ground crew guys must be awful strong; two of em just picked up the tail and swung her around into the wind, with Fred and Charlie sitting in the cockpit."
"Don't be silly you don't have to be strong to do that. Most of the weight is up front; balanced just aft of the main wheels; less than 5 percent is carried by the tail skid.~~ any way, she only weighs about 3000 pounds and 5 percent is 150 pounds at the tail. I could lift that much myself." 
"Your full of it Johnson! Where did you learn all that?"
"Charlie told me." replied Bobby, indignantly . " and I think, he should know. ~~ he told me all about their Martinsyde;.how she's a one off, built especially for this mission. Do you want to know what else he told me?" 
" yes! ~~  Go ahead; I know your just dying to tell me."
"Well! ~~ for your information.~~ she's an enlarged version of the two-seat two-bay wings version of the F.4 Buzzard..The  Buzzard has a span of 41 ft and a length of 26 ft  and is fitted with a 285 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon twelve-cylinder, water-cooled V-engine. Fuel tanks have a total capacity of 370 gal giving it a range of 2,500 miles at an average speed of 100 mph with an all-up weight was 3,250 lb."
"Very impressive Bobby! Now tell me how long will it take them to get across to Ireland?" 
"That's easy, if every goes according to plan, they will be in Ireland 19 hours after they take-off.from here." 
"That means if they get away by four, they will be there at 11:00 tomorrow morning. They are getting ready to start the engine."
" I can see them priming the cylinders by turning that big wooden propeller slowly, one blade at a time." 

As the boys watched Fred raised his left hand as a signal to the ground crew that he was turning the ignition switched and on hearing the word contact from the pilot the two man prop crew with a left hand holding a blade of the huge wooden propeller and the right holding his partners left; they combined their effort to pull the smartly engine through a partial revolution. The Rolls Falcon responded with a roar and bellowing clouds of black smoke issuing from the exhaust stacks on both sides of the engine cowling.

Within a few seconds the roar and smoke transitioned into a even throb and the black smoke disappeared and was replaced by a thin wisp of grey exhaust.Fred eased the throttle open as the ground crew restrained the Raymor from inching forward to slowly warm up the Falcon to it's normal running temperature. This seemed to go on for an eternity to the boys eagerly watching through the lone pair of field glasses. Then finally after a couple of short bursts of throttle; with one almighty roar the craft started it's takeoff ground roll across the bumpy terrain agonizingly slow at first the craft began to look a trifle light on her wheels as she approached flying speed.

"I don't like the look of this." Uttered Bobby who was now in possession of the glasses. "They are running out of runway. They are heading for the creek." 
"You don't need those glasses now. They still have a way to go before they reach the creek. Those glasses are giving you a distorted view."
"It's gonna be touch and go though; she is still accelerating and she is not ready to rise. Just look at her bouncing over that rough ground.

Come on Fred, yank her off, make her fly."  Then suddenly, without warning the undercarriage collapsed after striking a small ridge just as it looked like she was finally ready to take to the air. The force on the collapsing gear pitched the ship downward and she plummeted into the creek bank nose first. 
"Holy Moses! Lets  get over there." Cried the two boys in unison as they grabbed their bikes and cycled quickly towards the crumpled hulk which rested partly hidden from their view barely three hundred feet away. They were at the crash in a flash, dismounting and dropping their bikes as they skidded to a halt.
"My god! I think they are alive but I don't like the look at that nasty gash on Charlie's forehead." 

The two aviators sat motionless for a few moments in a daze then slowly began to climb down from their seats in the twisted wreckage as the first rescuers arrived at the site with a car to drive the two shaken airmen to hospital. 
"I feel sick for them; after all that effort, it's all over for them. They didn't even get off the ground." Stated Ike in a disheartened  voice. "
"I know! and just look at those raggedy arse kids making off with the wreckage.
There will be nothing to rebuild if we don't stop them." 
 "Beat it kids! Get out of here! Leave it alone! We're taking over this crash scene until the crew chief gets here to secure the site. The first one who lays a hand on this aircraft will get  busted arse from one of us."

The boys were able to hold the kids at bay until the ground crew with the aid of a couple of local constabulary were in position. 
" Bobby! I want a souvenir of the Raymor"
"Pick up a piece of that smashed propeller; no one is ever going to put that back together again."

Initial newspaper reports said that Morgan's injuries were not serious but, later reports confirm that he had lost his left eye and his sight in the right eye was threatened. Before leaving Newfoundland Morgan wrote a touching farewell to the friends he had made during his 4 month stay. He thanked the people of Newfoundland, for their support and encouragement. He also made an apology to the spectators; for what he referred to as hisl curt comments and unfriendly gestures he had made at the flying site. Sighting the stress of not knowing their fate and not being in control of their destiny during those frantic days leading up to their attempted departure. He also referred to what he thought at the time, was the death of his comrades Hawker and Grieves; seeing that they had been missing for four full days without any reports of their fate.

The Martinsyde was rebuilt, given a new name (Chimera), and fitted with a new engine to replace the one damaged in the crash. Raynham found a replacement navigator for the injured Morgan. After a long search, Lieutenant Conrad Biddlecombe accepted the challenge ,and on July 17,  a second take-off attempt was made; only to end as did the unlucky first.
To read all the chapters of The Great Airplane Race of 1919 now

No comments:

Post a Comment