HC Deb 04 July 1916 vol 83 cc1368-70
59. Mr. GWYNNE

asked the hon. Member for Rugby, as representing the Air Department, whether a flying machine of the latest type was recently sent from Farnborough to France in charge of a pilot -who had never been abroad before; whether the officer informed the authorities beforehand that he did not know his way; whether he lost his way and eventually landed by mistake in the German lines; and, if so, what steps, if any, have been taken to avoid our newest machines being handed over to the Germans within a few hours of completion?

Major BAIRD (representing the Air Board)

The facts are as stated, except that from the inquiry held it does not appear that any protest was made by the officer in question. The circumstances under which the incident occurred are as follows:—A batch of machines of a well-known type had been fitted with a new type of engine. These machines were urgently required at the Front, and a number of officers were detailed to take them over to France. Some of these officers had done the journey before, others had not: all were qualified cross-country pilots trained to fly the type of machine in question. The particular officer referred to graduated as a pilot for this type of machine after thirty-two hours' flying, which is considered an ample amount. His report showed him as efficient and a good cross-country flier. The need for machines in France is so great that it is impossible to keep them back until officers are available to fly them over who have previously done the journey, which, moreover, is not considered a difficult one for a trained cross-country pilot. To take a machine across is an ordinary incident in a pilot's duties, and as many as twenty-four machines have gone over in one day lately. Such regrettable incidents have occurred to the Germans also, who recently presented us with a brand new Fokker. There is no means of avoiding them altogether in war times, but every care has been taken and will continue to be taken to reduce the risk of their occurrence to a minimum. The pilot in this case evidently lost his way, and it appears from a letter received by his parents from him that his machine was hit and rendered unmanageable by fire from the ground as he was descending. Otherwise, on discovering his mistake, he might have got away.


Was the pilot supplied with the usual map, or was it an out-of-date map?


I anticipated some curiosity on that point, and consequently I have taken the precaution of providing myself with a copy of the map, which I shall be prepared to show to my hon. and gallant Friend. It is the Ordnance Survey map as used by the general staff and supplied to pilots.


Will the hon. and gallant Member say whether there was an observer on board, and, if so, had he any experience of the route?


Yes, Sir, there was an observer on board, but he had no more experience of the route than the pilot. It is not a question of knowing the route any more than you can expect the man who takes a ship to New York to know the road to New York. It is a question of knowing the navigation. This pilot was qualified as an aerial navigator, and he should have had no difficulty in finding his road.


Was the passenger an observer, or simply a passenger?


I should like notice of that question.