Open Cock­pit

Stephen is CEO of the Light Air­craft As­so­ci­a­tion, Vice-chair of the Gen­eral Avi­a­tion Aware­ness Coun­cil, flies a Piper Cub and spent seven years help­ing re­store the ‘Big­gles Bi­plane’ 1914 BE2C replica

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

And the first per­son to loop the loop was...?

While there may be more com­plex, more de­mand­ing ma­noeu­vres, the sim­ple loop re­mains for many peo­ple the de­fin­i­tive aer­o­batic fig­ure. But, can you imag­ine try­ing to ‘loop the loop’, in the un­der­pow­ered, frag­ile air­craft of more than a cen­tury ago?

His­tory records the first Bri­tish pi­lot to loop as Bernard C Hucks, the man who went on to in­vent the Hucks starter. He looped the loop at Buc in France on 15 Novem­ber 1913. The first man to loop in the skies above Bri­tain was Ge­orge Lee Tem­ple, at Hen­don on 24 Novem­ber the same year.

The for­mer Brook­lands mo­tor­cy­cle racer turned demon­stra­tion flyer had com­pleted his prepa­ra­tions for in­verted flight with strength­ened brac­ing wires and a stout rope, ty­ing him to the wick­er­work seat of his Blériot, but he didn’t suc­ceed at his first at­tempt. In fact, no one−least of all Tem­ple− re­ally knew what his ini­tial evo­lu­tions achieved, but it ap­par­ently cul­mi­nated in an in­verted spi­ral. He landed back at Hen­don to ask those on the ground just what his air­craft had just done!

The man most fêted for the first loop was French­man Adolph Pé­goud, who was recorded as com­plet­ing the ma­noeu­vre at Suresnes near Paris on 21 Septem­ber 1913. How­ever, it turns out, even he was beaten to it.

The man who beat Pé­goud to the feat was Rus­sian mil­i­tary pi­lot Py­otr Niko­layevich Nes­terov, who ac­tu­ally looped twelve days ear­lier at Syretzk Aero­drome near Kiev. How­ever in­stead of the plau­dits given to Pé­goud, his en­deav­our ini­tially landed him in jail.

Born in 1887, the son of a mil­i­tary acad­emy in­struc­tor, Nes­terov was a ca­reer Army of­fi­cer who also had a pas­sion for fly­ing. He first flew in 1909 with a bal­loon ob­ser­va­tion reg­i­ment, then in 1911 joined the Gatchina avi­a­tion school near St. Peters­burg. Af­ter qual­i­fy­ing as a mil­i­tary pi­lot he was posted to the Ukraine, where in May 1913 he be­came leader of an avi­a­tion de­tach­ment in Kiev.

Un­like the cau­tious ap­proach taken to fly­ing by many of his con­tem­po­raries, who even re­garded a banked turn as dan­ger­ous ‘stunt­ing’, Nes­terov en­cour­aged his pi­lots to push to the lim­its of their skills and their air­craft’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. He led by ex­am­ple; on 9 Septem­ber 1913, he climbed aboard a Nieu­port mono­plane to demon­strate to ob­servers that ac­cord­ing to his the­ory, an aero­plane could fly up­side down.

Af­ter climb­ing to a safe alti­tude, it­self a lengthy process, Nes­terov pushed the nose down and al­lowed the air­speed to build. One can only imag­ine the whis­tle of the wind in the ex­posed fly­ing wires as he pulled up, past the ver­ti­cal, over the top. At this point he stopped the en­gine to stop it over-speed­ing. He thus be­came the first pi­lot to fly what he called a “dead loop”.

Any cel­e­bra­tions though were short­lived, as he was charged with “risk­ing govern­ment prop­erty” and sen­tenced to ten days of close ar­rest. How­ever, when the pub­lic cel­e­bra­tion of Pé­goud’s sub­se­quent achieve­ment was seen, his su­pe­ri­ors changed their mind; the pun­ish­ment was an­nulled, he was pro­moted to staff cap­tain and even­tu­ally, awarded the first Rus­sian gold medal for air­man­ship.

Ne­strov con­tin­ued as a mil­i­tary pi­lot af­ter the out­break of the Great War and on 25 Au­gust 1914, was one of the first pi­lots to at­tempt to bring down an enemy air­craft: an Al­ba­tros B.II re­con­nais­sance bi­plane of the Aus­trian Im­pe­rial Air Arm. De­spite both air­craft be­ing un­armed, Nes­terov be­lieved that he could sur­vive af­ter de­lib­er­ately ram­ming the other air­craft. He was wrong. Both the crew of the Al­ba­tross and Nes­terov in his Mo­rane-saulnier mono­plane, fell to­gether.

Adolphe Pé­goud was ap­par­ently un­aware of Ne­strov’s feat, and had ar­rived at ‘loop­ing the loop’ in a very dif­fer­ent man­ner. He was a free­lance test pi­lot and us­ing a worn-out Blériot fly­ing school air­craft, jumped from it to test a para­chute in­vented by a Mon­sieur Bon­net.

Pe­goud ap­par­ently climbed to about 120 me­tres be­fore stand­ing up in the cock­pit and pulling the rip cord. He landed un­harmed in a tree and was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested to note that the un­manned aero­plane did not dive down and crash but, in­stead, tum­bled through the air in a se­ries of loops and turns be­fore crash land­ing with lit­tle dam­age.

This con­vinced Pé­goud that an air­craft could be flown aer­o­bat­i­cally and he con­vinced Louis Blériot to loan him an air­craft with which to try. Af­ter strength­en­ing its struc­ture, he made the first-ever in­verted flight on 1 Septem­ber 1913. Then on 21 Septem­ber, he flew his first loop, the ma­noeu­vre, un­like Nes­terov’s, be­ing lauded by the Parisian press.

The at­ten­dant pub­lic­ity led to his be­ing in­vited to demon­strate the ma­noeu­vre across Europe in­clud­ing iron­i­cally, in Moscow, in front of the Czar. Pé­goud’s dis­plays also es­tab­lished him as a lead­ing in­struc­tor for pi­lot train­ing across Europe. Among the fledg­ling pi­lots he trained were many mem­bers of the Im­pe­rial Ger­man Army.

At the start of World War I, Pé­goud joined the French army’s Ser­vice Aéro­nau­tique (pre­de­ces­sor to the in­de­pen­dent Ar­mée de l’air). Al­though the ac­co­lade wasn’t cre­ated at the time he is gen­er­ally thought to have be­come the first ‘ace’. In 1915 he was awarded the Croix de Guerre af­ter hav­ing ap­par­ently forced down ‘at least six’ enemy air­craft.

Pé­goud was just 26 years old when he him­self be­came a vic­tim of aerial com­bat. On 31 Au­gust 1915, he was shot down while at­tack­ing a Ger­man re­con­nais­sance air­craft. Un­be­known to him its pi­lot, Un­terof­fizier Wal­ter Kan­dul­ski, had been one of his pre-war stu­dents.

Steve Slater He was charged with ‘risk­ing govern­ment prop­erty’...

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