A Brief History
On July 25, 1915, the somewhat appropriately named Lanoe Hawker became the first British aviator to shoot down 3 enemy planes in 1 day, earning himself the Victoria Cross. Hawker went on to become the first “Ace” in British history, as a pilot that shoots down at least 5 enemy aircraft. His total of 7 victories seems modest, but his career was shortened by being himself shot down and killed by the dreaded Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen in 1916.
Not just an “ace” fighter pilot, Hawker was also an innovator that experimented with various ways to mount and arm machine guns on warplanes. He developed a way to double the capacity of drum magazine of the Lewis machine gun, and also developed the disintegrating metal link for belts of machine gun ammo. He even came up with a “rocking fuselage” trainer for training pilots on machine gun aiming while on the ground, as well as a technique of wrapping the wooden propeller tips in cloth as protection and thigh high fur lined boots. (Unheated cockpits in those days.)
Hawker was only the 435th licensed pilot in Britain when he earned his Aviator’s Certificate in 1913. Hawker’s request for assignment to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was granted in 1914, and he had attained the rank of Captain when he was posted to France. (Note: The RFC became the RAF in April 1918 when it merged with the Royal Naval Flying Service.)
The airplane Hawker flew in his historic 3 victory sortie was a Bristol Scout C, a single seat biplane with a forward mounted radial engine of only 80 horsepower! This modest power plant could only propel the biplane to a top speed of under 100 mph. The Scout was armed with a single Lewis machine gun (some with a Vickers gun) in British .303 caliber. The machine gun could not be fired through the arc of the propeller, meaning the pilot had to be offset to shoot at the enemy at an angle, a difficult feat indeed. Only 374 of these planes were built.
Lanoe Hawker also has the distinction of the only “Lanoe” I have ever heard of. If you search the word “lanoe” via Google or Yahoo, Hawker is the first entry that comes up. Just sayin’…
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For more information, please see…
Hawker MC, Tyrrel M. Hawker VC – The First RFC Ace: The Life of Major Lanoe Hawker VC DSO 1890 – 1916. Pen and Sword Military, 2013.