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Biggles Aircraft

W E Johns

At the beginning of the First World War, very few planes were fitted with guns.  This changed in mid-1915 when the Germans fitted machine guns, which fired through the propeller arc, to their Fokker planes. In 1916, the Allies countered with "pusher" aircraft, like the Bristol F2b (or "Biff"), which had propellers at the back and two machine guns at the front. Late in 1916, the Germans produced the Albatross fighters, which were much faster than the pusher planes. By the end of 1917, the Allies had countered with the Sopwith F1 (called the Sopwith "Camel" because of the curved faring, or hump, over the machine gun), the Scout Experimental SE5a and the French Spad S.X111. The German reply, the DV11, came in mid 1918; it was an excellent plane but came to late to have much effect on the War which ended six months later.

Allied bombers included the Airco DH4 and DH9, the RE8 (Reconnaissance/Bomber 8) and the multi-purpose Avro. German bombers included the Gotha and Friedrichshaffen. They also had over fifty different types of plane made by the Dutch manufacturer A. Fokker. These included the Dr1 triplane flown by the Red Barron.

After the War, many British pilots purchased surplus aircraft and made a living flying barnstorming displays and giving joyrides. In 1919, two of these British pilots, Alcock and Brown, in a Vickers Vimy became the first to fly across the Atlantic. Later the same year, two Australian ex-Royal Flying Corps pilots, Ross and Keith Smith, also in a Vickers Vimy, became the first to fly from England to Australia. These flights opened the way for commercial aviation.

As there were few suitable airfields, most early commercial flights were by seaplane. There are two types of seaplane: float planes have floats, like skis, under their wings whereas flying boats have a fuselage shaped like a boat. Flying boats were more popular as they could carry more passengers. 

Under the terms of the 1919 Peace Treaty, the Germans were prohibited from having an air force but manufacturers like Junkers, Heinkel and Messerschmitt built advanced civil aircraft which were readily converted for military use when Hitler created the Luftwaffe in 1935. The British, on the other hand, had not focused on military aircraft and, until the mid 1930s, still had planes similar to those which they had used in the First World War. From 1935, the British saw the threat of war and rapidly developed fighters like the Hurricane and Spitfire and bombers like the Wellington.

Biggles books & memorabilia now available (at eBay):

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The First Biggles Omnibus

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Biggles Air Commodore Pyramid Edition

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Biggles In the Blue

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Biggles Goes Home

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Biggles In Australia

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Biggles Buries a Hatchet

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