Camel Pilot Supreme, Captain D V Armstrong DFC

The story of the Camel pilot and his aerobatic skills. The fragile early aircraft were not ideal aerobatic aircraft but developing combat tactics required a pilot to master his aircraft – Highly Recommended.

NAME: Camel Pilot Supreme, Captain D V Armstrong DFC
FILE: R3012
AUTHOR: Annette Carson
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword, Air World
BINDING: hard back
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Sopwith, Sopwith Camel, RFC, RNAS, WWI, World War I, World War 1, 
First world War, World War One, The Great War, 1914-1918, aircraft, tactics, flying 
skills, stability, rotary engine, rigging, acrobatics

ISBN: 1-52675-267-0

IMAGE: B3012.jpg
DESCRIPTION: The story of the Camel pilot and his aerobatic skills. The fragile 
early aircraft were not ideal aerobatic aircraft but developing combat tactics 
required a pilot to master his aircraft –  Highly Recommended.

This book follows the pilot as he mastered his aircraft and became a supreme 
example of the aerobatic flyer. Today, it is difficult to imagine the pioneering 
challenges facing all pilots as they went to war a meer decade after the first tentative 
controlled flight by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. The author has captured this 
pioneering era during the first aerial war in history.

Today, an aircraft can be designed and flown on a computer before the first metal is 
cut. Even when the first prototypes have flown and production begun, engineering 
computers 'fly' the design in simulated hours to calculate the number of hours that 
may be safely flown before servicing or replacement of components. Each new 
modification can be 'flown' before it is constructed and fitted and its impact on the 
weight, performance and fuel economy can be very accurately estimated. As this 
work is progressing, the pilots can 'fly' the aircraft on a detailed simulator where an 
error, or a need to change flight procedures, can be identified without killing the air 
crew. In 1914-1918, none of that was available. Often there were no manuals 
available, these would be written by the survivors, but there were some important 
differences between the British pilots of the Navy and the Army.

The Army started WWI thinking of the aircraft as a more versatile observation 
balloon that could conduct reconnaissance over and behind the enemy lines. They 
were required to purchase aircraft from the Government Aircraft Factory that had 
followed on from the Army Balloon establishment at Farnborough. Pilots were not 
encouraged to experiment with their very frail machines, although the more 
pugnacious carried hunting rifles, pistols and bags of Mills bombs aloft to take aim at 
enemy aircraft and ground troops. Success with this primitive armament was not great 
and generally frowned on by Army commanders.

In contrast, the Royal Navy followed its experiments with man-carrying kites from 
1903 to 1908, with the inclusion of funds to build its first airship and, in 1911, to open 
the first military flying training school with the help of the Royal Aeronautical 
Society. It called for volunteers from the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. The first 
batch of volunteers to learn to fly were then told to start work on developing tactics 
and functionality requirements so that aircraft could help the Fleet meet its war 
objectives of blockade, Fleet engagements, convoy escort, strategic warfare, anti-
submarine warfare and communications. These officers compiled an impressive list 
of ways that aircraft could benefit the Fleet and of the weapons needed to fulfil these 
duties, including guns, bombs, depth bombs and torpedoes. They also identified the 
aiming and release mechanisms necessary to deliver bombs and torpedoes accurately.

The Admiralty decided to ignore the Government Aircraft Factory and rely on proven 
naval contractors, such as Vickers and Beardmores and new developers such as 
Sopwith. They were rewarded with advanced and reliable designs that were also 
integrated weapons systems, flown by older officers than was common in the Army, 
these being Lieutenant and above who had already qualified in watch keeping and 
gunnery. The politicians interrupted the plans by putting all military aircraft under the 
War Office, but the Admiralty continued to purchase aircraft and train pilots, 
eventually winning back control of naval aviation a month before the outbreak of 
WWI. During those four weeks they successfully dropped the first torpedo to be 
launched from a plane in flight. In the opening months of war an RNAS pilot 
destroyed the first German Zeppelin by bombing it in flight and RNAS aircraft 
bombed German naval installations and carried messages to ships at sea, patrolled to 
spot German submarines and surface warships, while sending squadrons to France to 
strengthen the RFC aircraft at the Front.

The RNAS became a a regular customer for Sopwith-designed aircraft, frequently 
giving RNAS pilots a technical edge over German aircraft. Sopwith basically 
developed by evolution. Their first aircraft were advanced and reliable, so it made 
sense to develop these designs into new designs,creating the Sopwith Pup single seat 
fighter from the two seat One and a Half Strutter, developing the Pup into the Sopwith 
Triplane, The Tripe, and then developing on into the superlative Sopwith Camel. The 
RNAS successes inevitably broke the GAF monopoly on supply to the Army RFC 
and their pilots were able to enjoy a significant upgrading of their equipment. The 
well-engineered Camel provided the opportunity to compete on at least equal terms 
with the best German machines, having lively performance and two rifle calibre 
medium machine guns in the 'hump', synchronized to fire through the propeller arc.

Most Sopwith designs were equipped with the French Le Rhone rotary engine or 
British built versions. This meant that the aircraft had in effect a large flywheel at the 
front providing at full power considerable turning force like a gyroscope. The flying
controls were light but very effective and the wire rigging allowed a pilot to have his 
machine optimized to suit his flying style. The result was an aircraft that today might 
be described as dynamically unstable in parts of its performance envelop as is 
common for modern fast jet combat aircraft. Today, a computer interprets the pilots 
wishes to control the aircraft on the edge of its aerodynamic capabilities. During the 
Great War, there were no electronic computers to assist the pilot and a number were 
lost because they never developed the skills to control the Camel.

Armstrong was one of those who mastered his mount and fully exploited all of its 
capabilities. This made him one of the first great aerobatic pilots, able to make his 
aircraft perform daring and impossible manoeuvrers. The author has presented this 
story well, supporting the written text with many images through the body of the 
book, and included an impressive full colour photo-plate section.