Directing Big Gun Fire from Airplanes
��The man in the air, circling be- tween home battery and enemy target, gives the signals to fire
"T~\ fiGLAGE," or fire-control, is the r^ most difficult and the most dan- "■■ gerous work performed by the Fly- ing Corps at the front. The machines used are large and unwieldy, built to carry the weight of two men and all sorts of equip- ment. They are fairly fast, but their spread of wing is so large that it is almost impossible for them to make a turn quickly when attacked. They are armed with a machine gun, it is true, but they are always at a great disadvantage in the presence of an enemy fighting-machine which can out- maneuver them at every turn. In a very interesting little volume entitled "With the French Flying Corps" and published by Charles Scribner's Sons, the author, Carroll Dana Winslow says:
The first duty to which I was assigned was "reglage,',' and this, I found, involves many compli- cations. The chief source of trouble usually is the wireless apparatus, which has to be maintained in perfect working order. Before leaving the home field you usually circle over it, while your observer tests his sending apparatus. The receiving operator then answers by visual signals. Usually these are large white sheets laid on the ground in different formations, which' have a prearranged meaning. When the radio is found to be in perfect order you are off to the battery you have been ordered to co- operate with. By wireless your observer then reports to the battery commander, and receives his orders by means of the same visual signals. You then head in the direction indicated to you before leaving, and, hovering over the position to be bom- barded, the observer signals back "fire." The moment the shells have landed you turn quickly about and inform the artillery just how many metres their fire was long, short, or to the right or left. Your message is once more answered with the sheets. Again you fly back toward the enemy's position, circling in this way* backward and forward between the battery and the target until the reglage is com- pleted. Naturally every care must be taken not to disclose the position of your own guns to the enemy, or retaliation — "strafe," the English call it — follows. Sometimes it is the battery which interrupts the work with the signal, "Avion ennemi," when the fire instantly ceases until the German airplane has dis- appeared or been driven off.
With such occasional interruptions the work continues until the observer can send back the signal "fir© correct," which is generally answered by the "sheet signal"
���with the. information that the machine may return home. Until this dismissal occurs, however, the ground below wholly en- grosses the attention of the observer. The pilot is forced to keep a close watch for German fighting-machines so as not to be caught unawares by one of them. This is often a very trying task, as the models of some of the French and German airplanes are so very much alike that they cannot be distinguished until they are within range. The novelty of airplane fire-control is thus dwelt upon :
It is a curious fact that in the first months of the war many artillery officers refused to follow the directions of their aerial observers. A colonel of artillery who has been firing big guns all his life can- not be blamed for not thinking that a young observa- tion officer and a mere aviator know enough about the work of batteries to tell him where his shells are falling. Orders, consequently, had to be issued placing the artillery absolutely under the direction of the observers and calling upon the pilots to report any case where a battery refused to be guided by the signals it received. That put an end to the trouble.
The sensations of the pilot are then described :
At first I felt a strong aversion to flying over batteries in action. You are bound to get in close proximity to the trajectory of the shells, and the constant sensation and sound of the passing projec- tiles is none too pleasant. You get them both coming and going, and, no matter which you are trying to avoid, you are always taking a chance with the other. It is a question of choosing between the devil and the deep sea, with the devil constantly stepping into your path.
��The December issue of Popular Science Monthly will be on sale on all news-stands Saturday, November tenth (West of the Rocky Mountains, November twenty -fifth).