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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

And the French call an avion de chasse


A few minutes later I was climbing sinuously into my seat in the front of the aeroplane while my pilot wormed his way into his seat a few feet behind me. A few seconds later the two great propellers (or rather tractors) began to flash around. With a snap and a roar the battle-plane started slowly forward, gained in speed till we were running along the big field like a racing automobile, then suddenly the people standing around dropped away from us as if on a gigantic express elevator leaving one standing on the upper floor of a skyscraper, and in a moment more the earth had become a strange and placid panorama with which we had no connection or concern.

On and up, on and up, we flew, headed straight as an arrow for the closest portion of the battle-front, ninety kilometres (about fifty-four miles) away.

As the vast crazy-quilt of numberless shades of green and brown rolled slowly below us I had time to pay more attention to my immediate surroundings. I sat in the front, or observer's seat, of a great new French biplane which the English call a battle-plane, and the French call an "avion de chasse," or "hunting aeroplane." They call their smaller single-motored machines their "avions de reglage," or "regulating aeroplanes." But these great biplanes they fondly call their hunting aeroplanes, for with them they hunt the Taubes and the aviatiks of the enemy, and they tell me that their enemy usually gives them a wide berth.

I found myself sitting in a little cockpit strapped to a comfortable seat. A few inches in front of my nose was the breach of a heavy machine-gun whose muzzle projected over the bow of the fuselage. At each side of my seat, under my elbows, were coiled long belts of cartridges for the machine-gun. In the floor of the little cockpit, right in front of my feet, was a little glass window through which I could watch the ground passing directly (though some thousand feet) underneath. Just behind this window, in the floor under my feet, was a little metal trap-door. By straddling my feet I could open this, for the purpose either of taking vertical photographs or of dropping bombs. Only the three long, shell-like bombs which generally hang in straps to the left of the observer had been removed, as had also the Winchester rifle which hangs to his right.

I could get an uninterrupted view of the scenery across a space of about four feet right ahead. Further to right and left the view flickered curiously through the lightning-swift twirling of the propeller-blades. "Don't stretch your head out in front to either side," had cautioned the aviation Captain before I left the earth, "or you would certainly get guillotined." I craned my neck gingerly round to look beyond me. In another little cockpit about four feet aft sat the pilot. I could see his face peering over the edge through a low windshield. Past his head on each side I got a view of the country we were leaving behind.

This happened to be a farewell glimpse of Paris. It stretched vaguely away, bathed in the late afternoon sun and yet shrouded in heavy haze and smoke, a sort of bird's-eye Whistler.

Now feeling the air becoming distinctly colder, I looked ahead again. For a time we had been flying at 1,000 metres. Now we gradually climbed to 2,000 metres. The outrunners of the clouds began to drift by in wisps of what seemed like mist. Below, the earth looked like the display of a carpet-merchant's dreams. Square carpets, oblong carpets, long strips of carpets, carpets of light green, of dark green, of every intermediate shade of green; carpets of fawn color and of brown, thin carpets and carpets of wonderfully thick pile, plain carpets and carpets with symmetrical designs in light brown dots (several thousand feet nearer those dots would have resolved themselves into homely haycocks).


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