Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Plucky Little Belgium (3) Early Fighters, some more dangerous than others..................

Belgian Fighters

First up one of the prettiest and fondly remembered fighters of WW1, the Nieuport 11 "Bebe". This was a plane loved by its pilots and respected by the enemy. The Bebe is as close to strapping an engine and wings on a pilot as you are likely to get. It was tiny, and light as a feather, and had a single fixed forward firing Lewis machine gun firing over the propeller from the top wing. It was one of the Entente types that ended the "Fokker Scourge" and won back air superiority for the Entente. It also had a profound effect on aircraft design. In Germany, the novel sesquiplane layout, where the bottom wing was thinner and staggered back to improve pilot view was copied by Albatros for their DIII design, which went on to devastate the Entente in Bloody April 1917. The Albatros also inherited the N11s fragile lower wing, which was not such a problem on the lightweight Bebe but was a critical weakness on the Albatros which was prone to wing failures at high speeds.  The Bebe also influenced the Entente designers who saw the success the lightweight N11 was having, and drew the wrong conclusion that nimble rotary engined lightweight fighters were the way forward. Belgium managed to get hold of some N11s as the design was starting to be replaced in French and British units.

 The model is another Shapeways 3d print, and it is a lovely little model full of character just like the original.

Next up is one of the most dangerous fighters to see service in WW1 - The Ponnier M1.

The Ponnier had been rejected by the French Airforce because it was too dangerous to fly. French Ace Charles Nungesser, a man who by any standards had ice water in his veins, crashed one in testing, was seriously injured and refused to get in one again - this is a man who flew under bridges for fun and had coffins and skulls painted on the side of his planes! The problems were mainly lateral stability - the M1 had short stubby wings which made rolling rather easy, but the tiny one piece rudder meant it was far too easy to lose control, and an engine that tended to overheat thanks to a miss shaped nose cone that restricted airflow over the cylinders. The French then offered them to the Russians, who with foresight declined. Belgium was desperate for fighters and sent some officials to France to buy SPADs. The French were very apologetic but had none spare, but would our allies and fraternal cousins like some of these Ponniers we have available? Belgium ordered 30. Belgian Ace Willi Coppens found out about the deal and went ballistic. He was a friend of Nungesser and lead a concerted campaign to get the Ponnier grounded. Ten were delivered and after some heavy modification which may have sorted out most of the problems a few saw operational service for a couple of months until replacements could be found. Most Ponniers however had their wings removed and were used as training aircraft to teach pilots how to taxi.

I love my Ponnier. The model is another 3d print from Shapeways. In Wings of War \ Glory the M1 performs well enough - quite fast and not too bad in the turn, and all the more fun to see the look on your opponents face when he tries to work out just what he is facing.

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