Not much exciting news to report - last night I went to the hangar and continued with the "little stuff". We rigged the airplane and there were a few wrapped and soldered wires we wanted to remake. You are only allowed three threads showing on a turnbuckle and a few were too close for my liking.
So, out came the wire wrapping jig.....
The shackle end was wrapped first, right at the cluster.
Then the lower end was measured, cut and wrapped.
We still have a few more wires to remake and the aileron wires need to be woven. I suspect this weekend will be productive. I had to work a lot this week and Brian took his kids hangliding in Chattanooga so things should return to normal in a few days.
Several weeks ago, professional aviation photographer John Slemp contacted me about photographing the Jenny for a future symposium of his work. He took a bunch of pictures and sat down with a microphone to ask me questions. I'm proud to report that you can see his work at the Tellus Museum in Cartersville, GA just north west of Atlanta.
Here is one of the Jenny photos.
There are audio stations where visitors can hear the story behind the pictures.
4778 Darlene Way
Tucker, Ga. 30084
(404) 245-2411 Cell
I hope to see the exhibit myself next week.
I'm also proud to report that Gene Rambo has completed and flown his Pietenpol. If you remember, Gene came to Atlanta and we used the Jenny louver jig to make his cowling. Sure looks good!
Lastly, historian Dave Trojan sent me this article. I hope you enjoy it.
Superstitions of fledgling flyers in 1918
JN-4 Jenny at
Payne Field Mississippi with a spare propeller (just in case?), USAF photo from
the collection of the author
A knight of the middle ages in shining armor, riding
over the brow of a distant hill and the American aviator, dashing into the
pale-pink radiance of a morning sunrise were both brothers under their skins.
Both braved unto death and both bowed down their heads to the unknown forces
that intervened in the affairs of their humanity.
Sky fighters of the Great War had many beliefs. It was
estimated that more than three-quarters of them carried some kind of lucky
token. Almost every famous pilot had a talisman to help keep trouble away. They
wouldn't think of taking off without them in the cockpit. Lucky tokens or
rituals were believed to aid the men in battle and to protect them from
invisible foes. Ivory elephants and other small trinkets were in great
favor. Prayer books and copies of
the bible became popular after reports that these religious works had
stopped machinegun bullets. The same virtue, however, was claimed for
packs of cards and cigarette cases. More romantic spirits took up something belonging
to a wife or sweetheart. A piece of intimate stocking or dress material
was carried as a fashionable lucky charm. Actually this custom was much
older than WWI, it was a relic of the days of old when knights wore a
token of their lady faire.
Pilot and plane
at Payne Field, USAF photo from the collection of the author
All WWI pilots were superstitious to some degree, they
might have said they were not, but they would not take any chances in their ritual
routines. Airmen looked upon certain objects and incidents as good or bad. Men
gave it many names; fate, luck, chance, fortune, and providence. Very often the
belief in a particular thing was purely a personal matter, peculiar to the
individual himself. A pilot who said he had never been frightened in an
airplane was lying. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Of all the liars in the world,
sometimes the worst are our own fears.”
Payne Field Instructor
pilots 1918, USAF photo from the collection of the author
When a cadet from a ground school first arrived at a
flying field, he was apt to smile tolerantly at the curious notions of the
veterans. A month later, his slightly arrogant attitude would be gone. The
intervention of luck into the life of the flyers was dramatically demonstrated to
them daily. While one student smashed his ship into a tangle of wire and
splinters and escaped without a scratch, another sustains what by all the rules
ought to be a mild mishap and through some trick of circumstance loses his
life. Such incidents made a profound impression on the airmen. One pilot
revealed that after completing his pilot training and having been exposed to
the bleak realities, he had been transformed into something strange by his
experiences. His mind was undoubtedly improved and he was
more certain of himself, but he was also less certain of many other
Payne Field 1918, USAF photo from the collection of the author
Cadet pilots were young, inexperienced, and very
superstitious. These essentially modern young men acquired some notions almost
mediaeval in their mysticism. Aviators at that time scaled the skies nearer to
the stars, further than men had ever climbed, but they had not solved the
mystery. They tried to solve the mystery by exhibiting beliefs in omens, jinxes
and in the virtue of talismans. The variety of them is curious in their scope. Their
superstitious beliefs were based on experiences from their lives or tales from
older and wiser pilots. They resorted to
little these superstitious tricks for propitiating fate. This peculiar attitude
of mind pervaded the flying corps during WWI.
Payne Field JN-4
prepares for take-off, USAF photo from the collection of the author
Tales were passed down to become folklore and legends
and have survived to this day. Most of these stories are from the pilot
training fields, but a few are from the front during 1918. In some cases, I was
able to trace its source to the training field and even the individual pilot
that it originated from. Some of you may have heard versions of them before,
but I attempted to locate the original stories from 1918. All these tales made
the rounds of the WWI training field hangers. Their piquancy was enhanced
because the men who related them with a smile were all slaves to the same
Faithful bit of metal
In spite of the general inclination of aviators to
avoid all contact with the touch of death, one aviator carried the
identification disc of a French soldier brought back from the battlefield by a
friend as a good luck charm. He was certain that this token would neutralize
any sinister influences during his flying.
He had some close calls, but never even damaged an airplane. He was
convinced that it was because he had never left the ground without the
comforting presence of this faithful bit of metal.
Lucky riding whips
There are several reports of pilots who carried horse
riding whips in their aircraft as good luck tokens. They had used the riding
whips during their time in the cavalry before they joined the Air Service. The
airmen wanted to stick with something they were familiar with and knew worked
to get them out of trouble. There is at
least one report of a pilot who was killed when he allegedly flew without his
lucky riding whip.
Lucky charm sweater
One flier arrived at Call Field Texas with a
disreputable s sweater, a souvenir of the grid iron. One breathless, sweltering
day he left it in the hangar. Later, he met with an ugly side slip and only
saved himself by a superhuman flash of dexterity and nerve. After that, he
declined to discard his precious sweater though the perspiration poured down
his cheeks in protesting. It was
suggested that a portion of the sweater might have the same effect. The flyer
pondered and decided not to try an abrupt change of policy and tempt fate. He unraveled
a wisp of wool each day. When it was time for him the ship overseas, he had
merely a wristlet of the old jersey left, but it was acting like a charm.
Expensive flying coat
At Call Field Texas, a flying coat formerly owned by
an instructor pilot who had a remarkable success in molding skillful airmen
sold for a princely sum when it was periodically put up for sale. Every wearer
had been fortunate for reasons which no one could explain, yet all understood
by intuition. It was also believed that
the protecting properties of the treasured coat would evaporate if it were
removed elsewhere. So it remained part of the flying equipment at the field and
was sold to the next class of fledging flyers. The bidding was always brisk
when the coat was again put up for sale.
The clothes of men who died in training accidents,
only too frequently at the flight schools, were never worn again. In one
example, a mother who lived in San Francisco had a son who swirled five
thousand feet to his death at a Texas field. In her possession were two costly
aviator's leather sky coats that she would have liked to see used by one of his
many flyer friends. However, without being informed of the feelings of her
son’s friends and using her woman's instinct, she did not offer the leather
coats to the other fliers. She somehow knew the flyers would never wear them.
Power of the garter
The most widely sought after lucky charm was a
girlfriend’s garter. According to popular legend, mystical powers
were attributed to garters removed from the leg of a virgin during the dark of
the moon. However, there was a catch, if the girl didn’t remain true, the
garter lost its protective powers and the pilot was in danger until he found a
more trustworthy female.
Dirty silk scarves
The dashing image of fighter pilots wearing long white
silk scarves had nothing to do with fashion. The scarf was the perfect
companion to use for wiping grease from his goggles and to keep his neck from
chafing against his collar as he constantly turned his head while watching for
the enemy. The scarf was also claimed to have other magical properties. Some
pilots said certain scarves were bullet proof.
Other pilots, never ever under any circumstances washed their scarves.
It was thought that if they did, the scarves would lose their magical protective
properties. They also thought they were supposed to look a bit grimy as a badge
A new solo flyer, Herbert F. Gates wrote in a letter
to his uncle about how superstitious the men were about flying while wearing
another flyer’s goggles. The new flyer went on to say that he refused to borrow
another man’s goggles after he had broken his. Rather than borrow a pair, the
flyer walked a number of miles to the nearest town and purchased a temporary
pair to use while his were repaired.
Empty bunk and chair
The bunk of a man who had been killed in a training
accident remained unoccupied. The fledgling fliers regarded the casualties as a
case of bad luck, and as one of them said: "We run a lot of risks, but we
do not want to extend our credit account with fate more than is
necessary." The sleeping places of the men who made the supreme sacrifice
for their country when training were left vacant as a mute testimony to the tragedy.
Pilots also avoided sitting on the same places where pilots had sat before they
The clichéd bad luck of the number thirteen might have
been thought beneath the attention of the cavalry of the clouds. However, many a
pilot declined to take a ship that bore this number or a combination that will
yield the fearful figure. They wouldn’t say why exactly, but generally admitted
that something emphatic and depressing happened to them once with a thirteen
mixed up with it. On the other hand, some of the most brilliant birdmen turned
out by the flying schools regarded “Lucky 13" in the light of a guardian
angel. One particular pilot made his initial flight on December 13 in a ship serial
numbered 4513. His first solo flight was taken January 13th in ship 1363. The
number of pilots in his graduating class was 13. He also began secondary
training on April 13. Different numbers were important to other pilots. There
was one noted pilot who insisted on having the number 7 on all his
gear, while another dreaded odd numbers and managed to have even
numbers on everything.
Baron Manfred von Richthofen was known to be
superstitious and have an aversion about the number 13. This may be due to the
fact that he had three crashes on the 13th of various months. He also insisted
on taking a tattered pair of old fur gloves with him as a talisman. The same gloves
were with him as he gained his first 10 victories.
Left foot forward
One flier, endangered by serious engine trouble,
remembered afterwards that he had mounted his training plane that morning on
the right side. Thence thereafter with flamboyant elaboration he always went
aboard planes on the left side, left foot foremost-in the most awkward way.
There are several other accounts of pilots who always thought it was necessary
to enter the aircraft from the left side.
Badges of art
The practice of painting personal designs on the
fuselages of a plane was another form of superstition. Much humor,
originality, and artistic talent were displayed in these unofficial
badges. Admittedly many of them were only expressions of the desire to
be individual, to have something that distinguished one machine from
another, but most airmen frankly admitted that they also regarded
such badges as lucky and they thought they brought them good fortune. One pilot
wrote his girlfriends initials on the sides of the seats on all the airplanes
he flew in to bring him luck.
Lt. Field E. Kindley of
the 148th Aero Squadron with mascot “Fokker” in cockpit of a Sopwith biplane,
USAF photo from author’s collection
superstition from olden times which flourished among the airmen was the
mascot. This superstition has been associated with armed forces for
centuries. The Roman legions carried live snakes upon poles, and at a
later period warriors' helmets and shields were decorated with animals or
mystic symbols. The squadron mascot was
part of the culture of military aviation. Dogs were the most popular, but other
animals like rabbits, foxes, lion cubs, and birds were also used. Their
assignment was to protect the flyers by acting as their good luck charm and so
much more. The highest calling for any
animal was for it to provide anchorage and embrace for those in peril in the
air. Many pilot photos show them relaxed, confident, and positive with a
four-legged friend by their sides. The squadron mascot provided a momentary
release from the stress and responsibilities of flying. Mascots also provided
solace and were nonjudgmental listeners to help alleviate the pilot’s fear and
loneliness. Dogs were the most well-liked mascots because they offered love and
affection for the flyers and they were always happy to see them after a flight.
member Edwin Parsons expressed the thoughts of many aviators when he wrote, “To
all those dumb friends of ours, I, for one, am deeply grateful. They deserved a
citation every bit as much as we humans, for they were our constant companions
and comforts in all the black hours and endured every hardship with us
cheerfully and uncomplainingly. Knowing that we loved and appreciated them, may
their souls rest peacefully in animal heaven.”
Don’t cross my path
Many pilots did not like any animals to cross in
front of their planes. They would go out of their way to taxi round and
take off in a different direction, even against a cross wind, a risky maneuver
at any time. Some pilots regarded it as a bad omen for any animal,
especially cats to cross their path before flying. Cats were frequent visitors
to the airfield hangars, but pilots were really afraid of black cats. One black
cat at an aerodrome became the subject of attempted assassination by
superstitious aviators. Dogs as mascots
were not popular on every aerodrome. It was not that fliers disliked them;
it was simply that most dogs had no respect for whirling propellers.
In a documented case, a student at a local women’s
college invited her fellow girlfriends to an afternoon social at her home in
Montpelier MS. While enjoying the afternoon social, a squadron of planes from
Payne Field overflew, spotted the girls, circled around and landed in her father’s
field. The pilots spent the afternoon with the “W” girls. As the sun began to
set, the girls escorted the pilots back to their planes for the return flight
to Payne Field. Unfortunately, tragedy struck upon takeoff. It seems the father’s
bull dog ran out into the field during takeoff and was decapitated by a
propeller blade. This event brought bad luck to both the pilots and the girls,
because the pilots never returned.
In another well documented case, "Crash,"
the dog mascot of No. 45 Squadron, RAF, had the distinction of being
the first dog in history to wreck an airplane in wartime. Early in
1918, he dragged a large bone onto the runway of the squadron's aerodrome
near Istranto (Italy) just as Capt. Norman MacMillan was taking off in a
Sopwith Camel. The propeller hit the bone and shattered, causing the plane
A pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille placed his fate in
the care of a stuffed black cat. The creature was tied to one of the
struts of his airplane whenever the pilot went on patrol. One day
the cat stopped or deflected a bullet that otherwise might have struck its
owner. The slipstream rapidly depleted the mascot’s stuffing, rendering it
limp and torn upon landing. With some quick needlework and replacement stuffing
the pilot had his mascot operational again.
Luck of the draw
Every squadron had a
charmed airplane that was considered lucky to fly. The odds were padded for any
pilot fortunate enough to fly it. On the other hand, they also had a bad luck
plane that was temperamental and thought to be jinxed. Pilots considered it as
the luck of the draw for which plane they were assigned.
The behavior of cigarette smoke was an
accepted omen in several squadron messes. If the smoke went straight
up, everything would be favorable in the next flight; if it wavered,
there was some doubt; if it drifted downward, it was a bad sign.
One pilot had superstitious feelings about matches and
he would leap out of his chair and across a room to blow out a match if someone
was trying to light a third cigarette on it. Three on a match was long regarded
as bad luck because it was believed that one of the three smokers would be
killed. It may be attributable to the fact that keeping a match lit that long
in the trenches gave snipers a fairly easy shot. What became habit on the front
could stay with someone for a long, long time.
Not to be spoken
A pilot was heard to say that he would never stay
in a burning plane. Shortly thereafter, his flying machine burst
into flames. With a parting salute, he climbed out of the cockpit and
jumped to his death. It was believed that it was his fate because he had spoken
of it earlier.
Object of his fears
Occasionally a flier would be seized with a fear for a
particular obstacle and perform phenomenal feats of aviation to avoid them. In
one case, a flier collided with a telephone pole nearing the end of his
training adventures. After that, he would avoid flying fields of the most
inviting spaciousness if they were fringed with this special peril. He would
rather risk his neck in a nose dive into a much smaller space, where an error
in inches meant death, rather than fly near the object of his fears.
No photos please
One superstition may have been the most popular and strongest
of them all. The notion that predicted doom for a pilot who allowed his
photograph to be taken in front of his plane before takeoff. However, they would allow photographs after they
had returned to record the flight. It seems that this superstition had
considerable weight because it happened to Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the
deadliest ace that air warfare had ever known. He was reported to have laughed
at this superstition. On 21st April 1918, he stopped to play with a puppy at
the door of a hangar, which housed his bright red Fokker Tri-plane, he also smiled
into the lens of a camera held by a visitor and had his picture taken. The day
before, he had shot down his 80th aircraft. However, this day was his last; he
was shot down and killed. His luck had run out.
Boasting tempted fate
Boasting was not only looked down upon by aviators as
bad form, but it was also considered to be tempting fate, and calculated to
call down retribution on the heads of even the innocent listeners. If a
youngster displayed a disposition to boast about his own flying, a voice, often
a chorus, warned: "The flag's out, old man, the flag's out," The
words derive a meaning from the custom of hoisting a flag of strident colors to
call back the cadets from their practice flying in the air.
One last ride
Pilots considered it unlucky to take a pleasure flight
after they had been posted to other duties. During 1918, especially after the
Armistice, so many men who went up for "one last ride" were
killed, that a strong prejudice against such flights became established
and persisted among the fliers. Even the phrase "one last ride"
was looked upon as unlucky.
Widespread though these superstitions were, it
would be a mistake to assume that all airmen believed in charms or omens.
Indeed, there are many pilots who hold that he lives longest who
leaves nothing to chance. But they would not laugh at the beliefs of
their mates. Some of them are also like the pilot who, when asked if
he carried anything for luck, replied, "No; I can't bring myself to do
it. I'm just superstitious of superstition."
As James Russell Lowell said “Fate loves the
moon seen over the right shoulder brings good luck and the moon seen over the
left shoulder, bad luck and if you see the moon square in the face you’ll have
a fall. These were popular superstitions during the Great War. Original drawing
by Reserve Military Aviator Dick
Calkins from Payne Field Zooms newspaper, 27 Nov 1918.