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
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’...