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Makepeace (pilot) and Hedley (observer), RFC, 1918

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While looking into the short career of Reginald Makepeace, MC, RFC, I came across an extract from a book: ‘Strange but True, America: Weird Tales from all 50 States', by John Hafnor (2009).

It recounts how John Hedley, British-born (but later a US citizen) serving in the ' Royal Air Corps', fell out of the observer's seat in a dogfight over France, but as he fell, Makepeace, the pilot put the machine into a dive and, hundreds of feet lower, Hedley was able to grasp the tail and haul himself in.

This does seem too good to be true. Has anyone come across other versions?

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I've seen an account of a German two seater hitting an air pocket and dropping, leaving the observer in the air. The aircraft came back up as the observer fell and he crashed feet first into the fuselage behind his cockpit, only his outspread arms stopped him crashing right through. The pilot had not noticed anything until the change in handling alerted him that something had happened.

Not WW1 but when the prototype Swordfish was being tested it went into a spin from which the pilot could not recover so he decided to bale out. He leapt from his cockpit but before he could pull his ripcord felt a massive thump and found himself in the capacious rear cockpit of the still spinning aircraft. He baled out again on the other side of the aircraft and got away. Relieved of his weight the aircraft straightened out and glided down making a near perfect landing in a field and rolled forward until halted by a hedge. This is believed to be the only time that an airman has baled out twice in the same flight.

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I suppose the seat-belt or harness, if fitted, was ignored then, as too often now in cars.

D

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There are other accounts on the forum about men regaining their places in their aircraft after falling out, but alas I don't remember the names. I'm sure some kind sole will leap in having completed a search.

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One summers afternoon in 1917 Grahame Donald attempted a new maneuver in his Sopwith Camel. He flew the machine up and over, and as he reached the top of his loop, hanging upside down, 6000 feet above the ground, his safety belt snapped and he fell out. He was not wearing a parachute; they were not issued to pilots in the belief their availability would impair their fighting spirit.

Hurtling to earth, with nothing to break his fall, Donald's death was seconds away—but it didn't come. In an interview given 55 years later he explained, "The first 2,000 feet passed very quickly and terra firma looked damnably 'firma'. As I fell I began to hear my faithful little Camel somewhere nearby. Suddenly I fell back onto her."

The Camel had continued its loop downwards, and Donald landed on its top wing. He grabbed it with both hands, hooked one foot into the cockpit and wrestled himself back in, struggled to take control, and executed "'an unusually good landing".

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He was not wearing a parachute; they were not issued to pilots in the belief their availability would impair their fighting spirit.

Bit of a myth this - there may have been a few fossils who thought it but the main problem was producing a reliable parachute that could be used from a plane (as opposed to a static balloon), was small enough to fit in the very cramped space available and didn't put the airman in more danger of being shot down because its weight adversely affected performance.. A lot of work was put into this. One problem was that the powers that be demanded an excessively high success rate which the designs available couldn't meet. They were looking for a 99.9 percent success rate whereas if your plane is on fire you'd settle for "might work". The Germans and KuK both of whom issued several patterns of 'chute in 1918 accepted a lower standard (and there were a number of their airmen who died when their chute didn't open properly, the lines got tangled up or the canopy snagged on the aircraft - but they were doomed anyway). 70% reliable seems to have been acceptable. In 1918 two types of parachute were ordered by the British but there were production problems and insufficient numbers arrived before the end of the war for a general issue (and the training necessary plus modifications to aircraft. After the war they were held in store whilst the Irving parachute was developed.

This has been discussed in the forum somewhere many moons ago.

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daggers,

I corresponded with John Herbert Hedley in 1960, when he was living in Hollywood, California, United States, as a

retired accountant. He was very unwilling to discuss any details of his wartime service and he gave his

birthdate as 1894 when, the birth & census records indicate, it was really 7 years earlier. He also misrepresented his birthdate in

his enlistment papers: there are at least two birthdates that are not supported by the birth records. When I offered to correct the erroneous birthdates, Hedley became upset and refused to communicate further. Given all of the foregoing, I doubt that this story has any real credibility; certainly, he did not mention the incident to me when he had the opportunity.

His usual pilot, by the way, was Capt. Robert Kirby Kirkman; both were shot down and made prisoners

on 27 March 1918. Hedley and Makepeace accounted for 1 E.A. on 4 January 1918; the remainder of their

victories were with other pilots and observers.

Regards

Trelawney

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There are other accounts on the forum about men regaining their places in their aircraft after falling out, but alas I don't remember the names. I'm sure some kind sole will leap in having completed a search.

The best known such escape, and undisputed AFAIK, is that of Louis Strange. Flying a Martinsyde S1 scout with a lewis gun on the upper wing (about April 1915), he reached up to change the drum, the aircraft inverted; he fell out, found himself hanging by his fingertips from the Lewis drum (no parachute at all), but managed to lift up his feet, and kick the control column so that the aeroplane rolled upright and he fell back in.

One summers afternoon in 1917 Grahame Donald attempted a new maneuver in his Sopwith Camel. He flew the machine up and over, and as he reached the top of his loop.....

Fitzee

this story or a very similar one has been discussed on this forum before. There are doubts on several levels. If there was no longer back pressure on the control column, why would the Camel complete a loop? Its natural tendency would be to enter a vertical dive, not go beyond the vertical underneath its falling pilot. And with the Camels well-known gyroscopic effect it is very unlikely to have remained in the same vertical plane and ended up under the pilot.

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One summers afternoon in 1917 Grahame Donald attempted a new maneuver in his Sopwith Camel.

This is going off on a tangent, but Major David Grahame Donald had an interesting career. He twice played as a prop forward for Scotland in pre-War internationals before joining the RNVR as a Surgeon Probationer in August 1914. He transferred to the RNAS and trained as a pilot, where he flew Camels with No 2 Wing in the Aegean, where he collided with a Farman while flying B3770 on 19 October 1917. He was credited with a probable victory over a Hostile Aircraft on 2 December 1917, while flying N6365. On 17 January 1918, flying N6365, he was credited with a victory over a Friedrichshafen seaplane, possibly the one flown by FlugzgObMtr Friedrich Gärtner and FlugzgMtr Aflons Keppeler, who were killed that day near Imbros.

As Major D G Donald DFC he commanded the air detachment on HMS Vindictive in the Baltic in 1919, and flew Short 184 seaplane N9056 in support of the raid on Kronstadt Harbour in August 1919; he was awarded an AFC for his service in the theatre. He went on to hold high rank in the RAF before retiring in 1947.

Gareth

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Daggers,

I neglected to mention in my last post that John Hedley had company in misrepresentations of age.

Reginald Milburn Makepeace, his pilot in the incident you mentioned, listed his birthdate as 1887

when he joined the service and when he emigrated from the U.K. to Canada in 1905. The birth

records (BMD & Census) list his birthdate as 1890 rather than the 1887 he claimed. In this

instance, the age adjustment may have had something to do with his decision to emigrate to

Canada--since he traveled on his own, without his family, he probably had to be 18 years old.

My research has shown that Hedley & Makepeace had a LOT of company with respect to declaring

birthdates that are not supported by the records!

Regards

Trelawney

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Trelawney

Thanks for your two pieces. I shall not put much weight on the Makepeace/Hedley story, and have noted the birth date business.

I found Makepeace's service papers online at TNA and his work in Canada had been as 'Agent, Dining Car Dept., Canadian Pacific Railway, 1910-16' in Montreal. As good a background as any for a future pilot, I suppose!

D

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I live round the corner from Reggie Makepeace's family home. It is in Anfield, a humble dwelling,but Anfield was a bit blue collar at the time and his dad was a print finished. He scored several if not all of his kills as a pilot in pushers, I think the record for assists and I am trying to find exact location of his grave in the local cemetery so far to no avail.

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