Sunday, 8 December 2013

What is wrong with those callous dolts?

I'm terribly depressed this evening. Ferrie has been killed. He led his patrol out this afternoon, had a scrap, came back leading the others, then as they were flying along quite normally in formation, his right wing suddenly folded back, then the other, and the wreck plunged vertically down. A bullet must have gone through a main spar during the fight.

The other[s] went after him and steered close to him in vertical dives. They could see him, struggling to get clear of his harness, then half standing up. They said it was terrible to watch him trying to decide wether to jump. He didn't, and the machine and he were smashed to nothingness.

I can't believe it. Little Ferrie, with his cheerful grin, one of the finest chaps in the Squadron. God, imagine his last moments, seeing the ground rushing up at him, knowing he was a dead man, unable to move, unable to do anything but wait for it. A parachute could have saved him, there's no doubt about that. What is wrong with those callous dolts at home that they won't give them to us?
Passage from Arthur Gould Lee's book No Parachute quoted on The Aerodrome forum.
It is a fact that during the First World War no British RFC, RAF or RNAS pilot was allowed to use a parachute. Observers in battlefront balloons had them as it was very common for aircraft to attack them, but their parachutes were on a fixed line that opened them up as they jumped...

... German flyers were allowed parachutes during the war and one saved Hermann Goering. The British hierarchy took the view that if pilots were given the means of escape, they would not be as aggressive and would be tempted to leave the machine when it still might be saved.

There was some truth in the statement that available parachutes were too bulky and heavy, and likely to catch on the plane, but it is difficult not to agree that the British approach was uncaring, unfair and unreasonable.
The Morpeth Herald, reporting on a talk by historian Alan Fendley.

By today's standards it's hard to disagree with the 'uncaring, unfair and unreasonable' verdict. But the style of reasoning behind the "no parachutes" rule lives on. After all, the reasoning isn't that different from that informing the ongoing 'welfare reform' project - take away the welfare parachute and people will be incentivised not to crash. A tougher attitude to excuses such as 'my wing fell off' or 'I've been shot down' is bound to encourage people to just try harder to stay airbourne.

Image provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive.