The start of an era

DH.4A

“This machine is fitted with a special covered in saloon comfortably furnished, with sliding windows, and is used as a passenger machine by the Communication Squadrons of the Royal Air Force. It has also been in constant use between London and Paris for conveying Cabinet Ministers, &c., to and from the Peace Conference. This machine designed and built by The Aircraft Manufacturing Co. Ltd., [Air-Co] Hendon, London, N.W. 9.”
Postcard caption, 1919.

Described as a passenger carrying biplane for one pilot and two passengers – or 360 lbs of freight in a 47 cubic foot space, the 4A had been adapted from a WWI light bomber. The rear gunner’s position had been removed and a small cabin fitted, giving the plane a humped back look. When the conference concluded in mid-1919, some of these aircraft were sold to private companies and, on 25th August, one of them had the honour of opening “the world’s first daily aeroplane service for passengers and goods between London and Paris”.

Claustrophobia Airways.
The “comfortably furnished saloon” image was encouraged by the manufacturers and operators to give the impression of a luxury air taxi where an executive and his secretary could continue to work during their 2½ hour flight. The reality, of course, was a little different. You will have noticed a ladder on the side of the plane – but no door. That was on the top of the cabin. Air correspondent Harry Harper gives an eye witness account.

“I remember, quite clearly, seeing a couple of passengers, resigned but still somewhat apprehensive, being packed into one of these small aeroplanes like sardines in a tin. There seemed barely room for them to sit in the tiny cabin facing each other. And then when they had been tucked into their places, and seemed incapable of doing more than moving their heads slightly, a sort of metal lid was shut down with a clang and fastened into position above their heads. And so they flew to Paris. Not more than a few feet in front of them was the big engine, and the noise it made was so terrific, combined with the shriek of the propeller, that even if you put your head close to a fellow passenger’s ear, and shouted with all your might, it was doubtful whether he would hear you, and the best thing to do was to scribble a message on a piece of paper and pass it across the table.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

The hatch was “unscrewed” by ground crew at their destination. I wonder if they knew the petrol tank was conveniently located between the cabin and the pilot? Or if they thought about what might happen to them in a crash landing?

The 4A deserves its place in aviation history but its career as a passenger carrier was mercifully short. Comparitively bigger aircraft, adapted from bigger bombers, replaced it. The aircraft in the picture, F5764, was sold to Handley Page Ltd in April 1921 and scrapped the following year.

 

Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.

ca_flight2

It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.