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Days on the Wing

Today in Aviation :: April 25, 2013


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Belgium's top balloon-busting ace, Willy Coppens, would drop down from on high, his Hanriot HD-1 fighter plane swooping in toward his favorite target -- a German artillery observation balloon, the type known as a "sausage" or "dragon".  Time and again, his deadly fire would hit the German balloons, igniting their gas bags into an inferno of hydrogen.  Then, as fast as he had come, he would veer away and back across the lines while German anti-aircraft artillery would fire pointlessly in his wake.  In the summer of 1918, he knocked down dozens of balloons and became the recognized master of the art, a skill known on both sides of the lines.

If anything, his plane was unmistakable since he had it painted in blue and emblazoned the fuselage sides with the symbol of a thistle sprig wearing a top hat.  Recognizing the deadly killer as he came, again and again, the Germans finally decided that he had to be taken down.  Carefully, they developed a plan.  They would pack a balloon with explosives and winch it into the skies, then wait for him to come.  When he did, they would wait until he was near enough, making his attack pass, and then they would trigger the bomb, destroying not only the unmanned decoy balloon but killing Coppens as well.

Everything was prepared.  The Germans put the balloon into the skies -- and they waited, certain that this time, they would get him.

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Photo of the Day

The Belgian ace, Jan Olieslagers, poses in front of his Sopwith Camel.

Photo Credit:  Photographer Unknown

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Historic Wings & Thomas Van Hare
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