The first pi­lots who did the loop-the-loop were vi­sion­ar­ies and per­haps a lit­tle crazy

In the an­nals of aer­o­batic his­tory, the first men to do the “loop the loop” de­serve recog­ni­tion for be­ing imag­i­na­tive enough to think that it could be done and the courage to do it, damn the con­se­quences.

Jetgala - - CONTENTS - All im­ages from author’s archives used with his per­mis­sion

It is per­haps the most recog­nis­able ma­noeu­vre in aer­o­batic flight: The air­craft dives to gain speed, then the nose rises – and keeps ris­ing – un­til the air­craft is poised in­verted – be­fore the air­craft dives back into level flight. But can you imag­ine be­ing the first-ever pi­lot to try to “loop the loop”, in the un­der­pow­ered and frag­ile air­craft of more than a cen­tury ago?

The man most feted for those early loop­ing ma­noeu­vres was the French­man Adolph Pé­goud, who was recorded as com­plet­ing the ma­noeu­vre in a suit­ably re­in­forced Ble­riot mono­plane on 21 Septem­ber 1913. Com­plet­ing his prepa­ra­tions for in­verted flight was a stout rope, ty­ing him to his wick­er­work seat.

How­ever, less well recorded in his­tory is the man who ac­tu­ally beat Pé­goud to the feat. Rus­sian mil­i­tary pi­lot Py­otr Niko­layevich Nes­terov had ac­tu­ally “looped the loop” 12 days ear­lier, at Syretzk Aero­drome near Kiev. How­ever in­stead of the fame at­tached to Pé­goud, his en­deav­our landed him in jail.

The Rus­sian dare­devil

Born in 1887, the son of a mil­i­tary academy in­struc­tor, Nes­terov was a ca­reer Army of­fi­cer who gained a pas­sion for fly­ing. His first ex­pe­ri­ences came in 1909 when he was posted to a bal­loon observation reg­i­ment as an ob­server, 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 clearly led by ex­am­ple; he was one of the first pi­lots to em­bark on night flights and on 9 Septem­ber 1913, he climbed aboard his Nieu­port IV 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 in the air­craft of the day, 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 the air­craft over-speed­ing and be­com­ing over-stressed in the fi­nal dive. He thus be­came the first pi­lot to fly what he called a “dead loop”.

On his re­turn to earth, how­ever, Ne­strov’s cel­e­bra­tions were short-lived. He was sum­mar­ily ar­rested and hauled be­fore his su­pe­ri­ors to be charged with “risk­ing gov­ern­ment prop­erty” and sen­tenced to 10 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 later awarded the first Rus­sian gold medal for air­man­ship.

Af­ter his feat, Ne­strov con­tin­ued as a mil­i­tary pi­lot and dur­ing the Great War, 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 ful­fil the feat by ram­ming the other air­craft in a strate­gic po­si­tion. In this he was only par­tially cor­rect. Both the crew of the Al­ba­tross and Nes­terov in his Mo­raneSaulnier mono­plane, fell to­gether.

The French ace

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 for Blériot and oth­ers, and us­ing a worn-out fly­ing school air­craft, jumped from it to test a para­chute in­vented by a Mon­sieur Bon­net.

Pé­goud took off and climbed to about 120 me­tres be­fore stand­ing up in the cock­pit and pulling the rip­cord. The para­chute snapped open, caught the air and yanked him out of the cock­pit. 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 ap­par­ently, lit­tle dam­age.

This con­vinced Pé­goud that an air­craft could be flown aer­o­bat­i­cally and he per­suaded Louis Blériot to loan him an air­craft with which to try. He un­der­took a se­ries of test flights ex­plor­ing the lim­its of his Blériot model XI mono­plane (the same type that Blériot him­self used to fly the English Chan­nel in 1909) and af­ter mod­i­fy­ing and strength­en­ing its struc­ture, made the first-ever in­verted flight on 1 Septem­ber 1913. Three weeks later, on 21 Septem­ber, he flew his first loop.

The at­ten­dant pub­lic­ity and fame led to his be­ing in­vited to demon­strate the ma­noeu­vre across Europe, in­clud­ing iron­i­cally in Moscow in front of the Rus­sian Tsar. Pé­goud’s dis­plays also had a com­mer­cial mo­tive, es­tab­lish­ing him­self as an in­struc­tor and Blériot air­craft 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 was im­me­di­ately ac­cepted as an observation pi­lot for the French Ar­mée d’Air. Although the ac­co­lade wasn’t cre­ated at the time he is gen­er­ally thought to have be­come the first “ace”, and in 1915 was awarded the Croix de Guerre, 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.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Adolph Pé­goud prep­ping for a flight.LEFT: An in­verted Tiger bi-plane in the midst of a loop

RIGHT: Aer­o­bat­ics pi­lot Neil Wil­liam in a ZlinABOVE: A bi­plane goes on a dive

Hon­our­ing one of the ear­li­est fly­ing aces

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