HOW does a would-be pilot learn to fly ?
First he selects his school and the particular kind of machine he wishes to be taught on, and the chances are that he will start with the 'school 'bus box-kite,'—popularly supposed to be safest and easiest to learn and control. As a first stage of instruction he is taken aloft as a passenger that he may realize what the near companionship of an extremely noisy engine feels like, and grow accustomed to the sensation of being in the air.
And this is not the awe-inspiring experience that some people imagine it. Aeronauts and aviators alike can testify that the fear of height, which affects so many of us on the earth, has no terrors aloft. The man who says he wants to jump out (but never does) of a fifth floor window, or whose knees become as cotton-wool when he peers over some beetling cliff, finds that he can look downwards from a balloon or aeroplane quite unmoved, and that 3000 feet is no more to him than 30. The fact is universal, though a curious exception is to be found in Henry Farman himself, who, in his racing days, flew habitually only a few feet above the grass, because he grew giddy and unnerved at any greater elevation.
Also the aviator is not sea-sick. Air-sickness undoubtedly does sometimes trouble pilots, of the bad-sailor variety, during long and stormy voyages when the machine rocks and pitches to excess ; but it is comparatively rare, and generally means the flyer is exhausted or out of condition. Bleriot, a proverbially bad sailor, made his first comfortable crossing the day he flew the Channel. The air-sickness that is akin to mountain-sickness only makes its appearance at heights very unusually attained by flying machines.
Next our tyro, who has studied the controls of the machine on the ground, is allowed to feel them in the air by placing his hand on the lever alongside his instructor's. In some aeroplanes there are duplicate controls, so that the pupil can take entire charge at times, while the teacher, when necessary, can correct his movements. In early days the controls of various machines varied widely. Some pilots steered with their feet and some did not. The Wright machine had a lever for each hand, the Antoinette two little wheels. Santos Dumont's comic-opera Demoiselle,—the 'Infuriated Grasshopper' that added so much to the gaiety of early flying meetings,—had the lever which controlled the warping of its bright yellow wings fastened by a tape to the pilot's waistcoat. Curtiss worked his ailerons by moving the back of his seat with his shoulders. These divers plans did not make for ease in learning to fly the different machines, and nowadays constructors have wisely come into line, and the controls are practically all alike for all machines, and so designed that the pilot in flight has to do just what his natural instinct would suggest.
With his feet he actuates a pivoted bar which moves the rudder, steering to the right by pushing his right foot forward, and to the left by moving the other. Everything else is done by means of an upright pillar surmounted by a handle or wheel. This pillar moves in all directions, and actuates elevator and ailerons or warp, and its movements are common-sense ones. To raise the nose of the machine the pilot pulls the lever towards him ; to dip it he pushes the lever away. -If the left wing is falling he makes the movement of lifting it up, and pulls the lever slightly to the right; if it is the right wing, he does the opposite. Always after each action he must bring the lever back to normal position. A very small movement suffices. Sitting behind the pilot in ordinary flight one hardly traces any motion of his steady hand as he delicately 'feels' his machine. This delicacy of touch is all essential to the skilful aviator; light hands are as necessary to a flyer as to a jockey, a cook, or a pickpocket.
To rise from the ground the pilot has first to run his machine over the grass to gather speed. This is known as 'rolling,' or, more popularly, as 'taxi-ing,' With a biplane it is not so difficult to accomplish, but to taxi a monoplane in straight lines across the field, with tail well off the ground, takes some doing, for the machine has a disconcerting habit of spinning round and slipping sideways. 'A pup chasing his tail' is a familiar spectacle at a flying school, and not infrequently ends in 'breaking wood' (school expression). But not until he has mastered the art of rolling must the beginner attempt his first hop. At the Bleriot school they make sure of this point by starting the pupil on a 'penguin '—a machine with engine not powerful enough to raise it from the ground. Afterwards he is promoted to a higher-powered 'bus' on which he can just rise ; but not on any account must he try to turn in the air, in these early stages, or fly more than a few feet above the grass.
And this for the simple reason that he has yet to learn how to come down again. To make a good landing is the hardest part of his task. To do it he switches off his engine, and at the instant the motor stops, pushes the lever well forward, so that the machine begins to glide downwards. Just before touching the earth—when it seems that the wheels are almost on the ground—the lever must be gently pulled back so that the machine is 'straightened out' into a horizontal position for alighting. To gauge the exact moment when to do this requires judgment and experience, especially on a monoplane where the wings interfere with the pilot's downward view. If the glide is not checked in time the machine will hit the ground at too great a speed, and if checked too soon it will 'pancake,'
Popular aviation nomenclature is both picturesque and expressive. The light-hearted crowd who 1 bung out the old 'bus' to' do stunts' on, and say they suffer from 'cold feet' when any rare occurrence causes them alarm, describe as 'vol pancake' what happens when the machine comes to a standstill before it has reached the ground, and flops flat on its chassis. As usual it is the chassis that suffers and not the aviator. It is extraordinary how tremendously an aeroplane may be broken up and the pilot remain unhurt. This is because the pilot's seat being, generally, well in the middle, so much of the machine has to be smashed up before the force of the impact reaches it. The whole thing does not smash simultaneously, but first one portion and then another, so that the shock is ' damped,' and the aviator, even though he has fallen from 100 feet and his aeroplane is matchwood, may yet escape with nothing worse than a shaking.