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Aces of Aviation

De Havilland Airco DH2 of Lanoe Hawker

De Havilland Airco DH2 of Lanoe Hawker

De Havilland Airco DH2 of the 24th Squadron of the RFC (Royal Flying Corps), piloted by Major Lanoe Hawker, in November 1916.

Wingspan: 8.61 meters.

Length: 7.68 meters.

Height: 2.91 meters.

Engine[s]: Gnome Monosoupape of 100 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 150 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 4270 meters.

Range: 2.75 hours.

Armament: One Lewis 0.303-inch machine gun.

British pioneer and ace of air combat, and maximum exponent of the combative spirit in the Royal Flying Corps during the bloody Battle of the Somme, Lanoe George Hawker was as well the first war pilot who achieved the Victoria Cross. Born in 1890 in the bosom of a family of sailors in Longparish, Hampshire, Hawker obtained the titulation in the Royal Engineers in 1911 and learned to fly on its own in the Deperdussin School, in Hendon, obtaining the Aviator's Certificate number 435 of the Royal Aero Club the 4th March 1913. He studied in the Central Flying School at the outbreak of the First World War and was called to the 6th Squadron immediately after completing the course in the CFS.

For his characteristic aggressiveness in his sorties against the enemy, Hawker received the Distinguished Service Order after an attack with grenades that he performed against the Zeppelin anchored in Gontrode the 18th April 1915, a deed which also earned him the promotion to captain and the command of the A Wing of the 6th Squadron. In that time, the only armament that he carried for combat against the German aircraft was a carbine and his ordnance revolver, despite of which he shot down four enemy airplanes.

In June 1915 it was assigned to Hawker a Bristol fighter. With the help of his mechanic E. J. Elton he installed a Lewis machine gun in such a way that it fired outside the arc of the propeller. With this one and other airplanes armed in similar way, he shot down another five German aircraft, two of which were seen crashing against the ground ablaze. For these deeds - completely unequalled by other allied pilots in that time - Hawker was awarded the Victoria Cross the 24th August 1915.

It was in that time when the Germans introduced the Fokker Eindecker, armed with a machine gun which firing through the arc of the propeller provided a constant advantage in combat. To counter this, the Royal Flying Corps introduced the De Havilland DH2 and, the 28th September, Lanoe Hawker, promoted to the rank of major, received by mail on his home the order of taking the command of the first unit equipped with these aircraft, the 24th Squadron, which had been formed in Hounslow just four weeks before. Albeit the small DH2 could probably claim the honor of being the first British true combat airplane, it had not few disadvantages; it was slow and too prone to fall into a spin, and the rear placement of the engine deprived the pilot from his usual heat source. In turn, the Lewis machine gun had the advantage of being able to fire obliquely and upwards.

Transferred to France the 7th February 1916, the 24th Squadron was the first unit of combat single-seaters in the Royal Flying Corps. Thanks to the experience and aggressive leadership of major Hawker, the DH2 soon demonstrated its capability for matching the Fokker monoplanes. In the course of 774 combats fought by the squadron between the 8th April 1916 and the 25th May 1917, the DH2 pilots destroyed or captured 44 German aircraft, forced 17 of them to land in enemy territory and damaged a countless number of them.

For his condition of commander of the squadron, Hawker was forbidden to cross the enemy lines, but the 23rd November 1916 he was patrolling along with other two pilots when they spotted two German airplanes to the northwest of Bapaume. In one of the longest air combats of the war, Hawker fought with one of the enemy airplanes - piloted, as it was later known, by the grand Manfred von Richthofen - until the enemy machine gun jammed. Seeing his opportunity, the British pilot abandoned the combat and tried to reach the allied lines, but in the last moment Von Richthofen repaired his weapon and, with a very fast and supreme effort, he managed to hit the DH2 and killed Hawker.