Mearns Probus Club

Speaker at the latest Probus Meeting was club member and Past President Dr. Ian Williamson.

His talk dealt with the development of fighter aircraft during World War One.

He began by showing a model of the first power flight which he had constructed, an aircraft first flown about 111 years ago. As the air frames developed, using the materials available, engines were also changing from rotary to multi-cylinder, in U-formation or in-line.

An early example of powered flight was shown when a Norwegian flew an aeroplane from Cruden Bay to Stavanger in Norway, with no navigational aids or weather protection. Even Bill Cody – also known as Buffalo Bill – came to Britain with his circus and flew aeroplanes, offering one passenger at a time a short flight.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, ‘planes were rapidly constructed and modified to carry fixed guns.

Originally, pilots were carrying their own hand guns and rifles, to attempt to shoot enemy pilots from their aircraft. Mounting machine guns now meant another member had to be aboard, to aim and fire the gun, and this might be from either a standing or a seated position, either in front of – or behind - the pilot.

Also, a mechanism had to be introduced to prevent the guns firing and hitting the rotating propeller.

Ian progressed through the various aircraft which have appeared over the years, identifying where improvements had been made.

New engines, better materials for the mainframe and wings, better cockpit layouts and accommodation for a navigator or gunner were all as a result of experience gained. As well as fighter planes, aircraft to carry bombs were also developed, progressing from the Airships such as Zeppelin, where the bombs were literally thrown out of a suspended basket.

In conclusion, Ian listed the number of aircraft at the outbreak of war, and the total number built by various countries until 1918. The total number of planes lost were also shown, which of course, numbered many thousands. Malcolm McCoig gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the club members.